What is the interview actually like? There are many stories and myths about what goes on, but in this post, we hope to demystify the intricacies of the interview format. The take home message is that time is tight, and you need to approach each station with a strategy. During your interview practice, try to imagine the interview stations by reading the descriptions below. You can also use our General Surgery ST3 Interview Question Bank to prepare for each individual station.
On the Day – What to Expect
- Arrive at the designated time for your interview slot. There will be lots of time for document checking before your interview. The organisers do not want candidates to arrive early as this can affect the organisation of the day.
- You will be led to a room with the staff responsible for document checking and asked to read a laminated document describing the operational guidance for the interview process. The staff will call out your name when they are ready to begin checking your documents.
- You will be asked to sign a few documents, including one confirming you have read the operational guidance as well as confirming you will not discuss the interview stations with other candidates.
- You will be given two stickers with your name, candidate number and panel number. One will be attached to your portfolio and you will need to stick the other one to your lapel. Make a note of your candidate number as you will be asked this in every station.
- The staff member will then ask to see original documents and copies of everything mentioned in the application guidance. Ensure you have all the required documents, as not having an individual document (e.g. valid ALS certificate) can lead to unnecessary anxiety and delays on the day.
- You will then be asked to give your portfolio to another staff member. This person will check and sign your Portfolio Declaration form (where you have stated how many years have passed after your primary medical qualification) and original degree certificate.
- There will be a secure area to leave your coats and bags.
- You will then be asked to watch a short Powerpoint presentation which summarises the interview process. There is drinking water available here and after this there will be a brief break for candidates to use the bathroom.
- After this you will be led to your circuit. There are usually 3 or 4 circuits with 5 stations, each running simultaneously. You can start on any station and there is no ‘rest’ station like the MRCS.
- The facilitators will be time-keeping and briefing you on every station. They will knock on the door at certain specified time intervals. There will be water available here if you need it.
- The instructions for each station will be on laminated cards left outside every station. There will be copies of these instructions inside every station. There will also be a clipboard with paper and a pen outside certain stations: Clinical and Management, Professional Communication, Academic and Technical. For these stations, you can take your notes in with you (leaving the clipboard and pen outside). However, any notes you bring in must be left in the station. Time is very tight on all stations so make sure you read the scenarios/abstract fully before writing any notes, as you must ensure you understand them. Candidates have failed in the past for missing out a vital point in the scenario which was the last piece of text on the instructions.
- Once you have finished the last station, you will be free to collect your portfolio and leave.
The Interview Stations
There are 4 stations with a total of 6 components. Each station lasts approximately 20 minutes. You will be assessed and scored at each station by two Consultants. All stations except for the Portfolio station are scored using a Rasch analysis which compensates for ‘hawk’ and ‘dove’ interviewers as well as ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ scenarios. There is usually a lay person in the station to ensure the interview process is conducted fairly. You can prepare for the interview using our interview question bank here.
- You will wait outside this station for 5 minutes while one of the Consultants scores your portfolio against the mark scheme. You will then enter the station for a maximum of 15 minutes.
- You will be asked to show and clarify evidence in each of the areas specified in the application guidance. More information about how to present and structure your Portfolio is in the ‘Portfolio’ section of this website.
- The same score sheet is used for all candidates, but extra weighting is given to candidates with less experience. This is because the interview process is designed to favour applicants who are currently in their second year of Core Training. Candidates with many years of experience after qualification will be at a serious disadvantage on this station unless they have accumulated many extra degrees, publications, presentations etc.
- Candidates with well-structured portfolios usually finish this station early.
Clinical and Management
- You will be given 5 minutes to read two scenarios and make notes. There is usually 1 side of A4 text for each scenario containing a lot of clinical information.
- You will then have 7.5 minutes to explain your management for the Clinical Scenario. Make sure you identify all the issues at the beginning. The interviewers will provide you with more information and ask you to suggest management plans. These can usually be anticipated (e.g. CT reports).
- You will then have 7.5 minutes to discuss the Management Scenario. Again, identify all the issues at the beginning and utilise all available human and institutional resources.
- For both scenarios, you will be marked down if you are prompted to highlight a key issue or aspect of management.
- You will have 5 minutes to read all the patient scenarios (can range from 8-12), which is usually a list of admissions during a busy on-call. Use this limited amount of time to categorise patients, prioritise them and construct your plans.
- You will then be given 15 minutes to speak to a Consultant over the phone. Ensure you introduce yourself fully and summarise the situation from the start.
- Go through each patient in order of clinical priority. Be prepared for an argumentative Consultant who will challenge your decisions and suggest unsafe management plans. You must be prepared to defend your management plans or adapt them with different information.
- Common suggestions by the Consultant are that you send patients home who are clearly unwell, or you are asked to perform a major operation by yourself. You must challenge these statements in the interests of patient safety. If you need them to come in to assist you with an operation, you must be adamant that they should come in.
- This station is deliberately challenging and many candidates do not finish covering all the patients due to interruptions. The difficulty of this station is its unrealistic nature as it is difficult to talk about patients that you have not seen. The purpose of this station is to test your ability to cope under pressure, prioritise and provide sensible plans.
- Time is tight, so do not read out the patient information again in full to the examiners. Highlight the salient points and suggest your management plan.
Academic and Technical
- You will be given 5 minutes to read an abstract.
- The abstract usually covers a subject of importance to general surgeons and the Technical Station asks you to teach and demonstrate a Basic Surgery Skills course skill to a Consultant as if they were a junior trainee with limited experience in the procedure
- You will begin with the Academic Station for 7.5 minutes. The first half of the station is your chance to summarise the abstract, highlight the strengths and potential weaknesses and suggest improvements.
- The second half of the Academic Station will be designed to test your knowledge of study design and statistical terms.
- After the Academic component, you will begin the Technical skills for 7.5 minutes. You will have a large variety of instruments in front of you. You will need to identify and select the correct instruments. You will also need to select the correct type of suture material.
- You should use the Peyton four step approach and Pendleton feedback models, which are the preferred methods for teaching on the Training the Trainer course at the Royal College of Surgeons.
- Peyton four step approach:
- Demonstration: Trainer demonstrates at normal speed without commentary (usually omitted due to the timing of the station – state you would do this normally).
- Deconstruction: Trainer demonstrates while describing steps
- Comprehension: Trainer demonstrates while learner describes steps
- Performance: Learner demonstrates while learner describes steps
- Pendleton model of feedback:
- Ask the trainee what went well
- List the tasks you thought the trainee did well
- Ask the trainee what could be improved
- Add any other things you think could be improved
- The key technique for this station component is to be able to speak and demonstrate at the same time.
- As you demonstrate the skill, the interviewer will ask you questions e.g. why do you suture from inside to out with vessels? Practice answering questions like this while performing the skill at the same time, otherwise you will not be able to finish the task.