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So, you’ve secured an interview for Medicine at Oxford or Cambridge. Exciting! But you’ve also heard that they can be a little different to the way other medical schools interview. To make sure you’re fully prepared, we’ve got a complete guide to interviews at Oxford and Cambridge.

How are they different from other medical school interviews?

At most medical schools you may have panel interviews or the multiple mini interviews (MMIs) typically associated with applying to medical school. But Oxbridge medicine interviews are very different. 

Unlike at other medical schools, where you get questions such as “Why Medicine?” and “Why this medical school?”, Oxbridge will focus on how you approach new material. They want to see how you cope with not immediately knowing an answer, and see how you adapt your ideas to foreign information. 

The medicine interviews at Oxbridge are also predominantly academic, focused on science, rather than an investigation into you and your personal and extracurricular achievements. Oxbridge Medicine produces a lot of academic doctors, and therefore your interviews will differ from other medical schools by being wholly scientific

Unlike interviews at other medical schools, where you might be asked about your extra-curriculars or personal motivations, Oxbridge Medicine interviews will be focused on your academic, scientific abilities.

Oxbridge interviews are also longer than MMIs (clue’s in the name: mini). They usually last between 30-45 minutes, whereas MMIs are very short, often only 10 minutes. 

Mimicking a tutorial or supervision

Your Oxbridge interviews are designed to mimic a tutorial or supervision you would have as a student. The tutors therefore want to engage you in a discussion, about a piece of information they have given you, or about a question you have just answered. 

For example, you may get asked a question such as, “How do painkillers work?” The interviewers will want to enter into debate with you about lots of different elements of this question: the placebo effect, the science behind painkillers, whether painkillers should be sold over the counter etc. You want to show them that you are intellectually curious and an engaged student, who they want to teach. 

Therefore, they are not trying to catch you out. If they offer you a clue or hint, take it! They want to see how you respond to new information, and that you would respond well in a tutorial or supervision. This is slightly different from an MMI or panel interview, where certain interviewers may have been told to act in a certain way. 

One of my best friends at sixth form was telling me that for one MMI, she got asked to talk through the classic consent problem of giving contraception to a 14-year-old without the parents knowledge, but the interviewer had clearly been asked to roll their eyes at everything she said! They were just testing you on different skills that became important as you progress through clinical stages of your degree: the ability to stay calm under pressure, and to communicate with a patient who isn’t quite giving you their full attention, for example. So it’s definitely not about being scary and now that you know, you won’t be thrown!

Claire, Medicine, Oxford

In contrast to that…

I was honestly surprised at how friendly the tutors were. I made so many mistakes and even messed up on things I’d written in my personal statement but not once was I made to feel like I’d down something wrong.

Claire, Medicine, Oxford

Prompts

In your Oxbridge Medicine interviews you may get prompts: objects or pictures which act as stimulus in the interview. For example, you may get asked to read something before the interview, and then asked questions on it, or to describe a picture of a part of the anatomy. Or you may even get objects. 

I was presented with 3 objects (won’t say what – but medically related) and asked to pick one and speak about it for a minute.

Julia, Medicine, Oxford 

Testing if you could be a doctor

Although your Oxbridge medicine interviews will be predominantly science based, the interviewers still want to see that you have the human skills to be a doctor, and you understand the social, legal and political issues surrounding medicine. You will also be expected to show good communication skills in your medicine interviews, another essential part of being a doctor. 

It is likely that you will be asked some question focusing on medical ethics in one of your interviews. 

I was asked about medical ethics at both the colleges I was interviewed at – they gave me a few scenarios and I had to talk through what I would do. This surprised me slightly as I had the perception that Oxford only really cared about academics.

Julia, Medicine, Oxford 

Although the focus of the interview will be your academics, it is important that they can visualise you succeeding in the clinical stage of the degree, and later as a doctor. Some standard medical ethics questions you may get are: 

  • If a new extremely expensive technology was generated to help lung cancer, but it was in very high demand, should you use it to help a smoker? 
  • Should you prescribe a 14 year old the contraceptive pill, behind their mother’s back? What about the morning after pill?
  • What does ‘patient confidentiality’ mean? Is there ever a situation where you should breach this?

What’s the difference between Oxford and Cambridge?

At Oxford, you will be expected to stay in college for a few days over your interviews. You will have between 2 and 6 medicine interviews, and you may be interviewed at more than one college. 

At Cambridge, you will probably only have 2 interviews, and they will likely all happen in one day (although this may differ between colleges). You may also have a general interview, where you all be asked more personal questions, and generic ones such as “Why medicine?” and “Why Cambridge?”

You may also get given some text to read and digest before the interview, and then asked questions on it. At Cambridge, you are also sometimes given a pre-interview test to do the hour before the interview, and then you will go through your answers during it.

But what about my MMIs? 

So that’s enough about Oxbridge Medicine, what about other medicine interviews? MMIs and panel interviews are a lot shorter, and less academic than Oxbridge interviews. In MMIs, you will move round, and each station will be testing a different thing.

At some stations you may be faced with a situation that a doctor may be faced with, for example, you may need to break to the interviewere that they have a terminal disease. At others you will be asked questions about yourself, and at others you may be given some academic questions. Here are a list of things you can expect from your MMIs or panel interviews:

  • The classics: Why medicine? Why not nursing?
  • Give an example of a time you showed resilience/ team working skills/ effective leadership
  • Acting stations where you have to interact with a ‘patient’
  • Talking though a key medical ethics principle such as choosing which patient should receive the organ donation, or deciding whether a smoker with lung disease should be treated with a new inhaler that is fairly expensive
  • Why did you choose this medical school?
  • Describe this photograph; a random scene, where something relating to medicine is going on that may not immediately meet the eye. 

Conclusion

If you’re starting to get ready, take a look at our guide to preparing for Oxbridge Medicine interviews. If you want to explore Medicine more, why not check out our Medicine reading list?

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