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Ace your Medical School Interview by Watching TV

By Deshani Shanmugalingam

· Interview

Taking time out to watch a little telly has to be one of the nation’s favourite ways to de-stress. In the run-up to your Medical School interview, however, you may feel that this is a luxury that you simply don’t have time for. Everything you’ve learnt about good time management over the years has shown you that when something’s got to give, it’s time spent watching TV.

I’m here to tell you that this is a big mistake. I actually got asked in my King’s College London interview whether I watched any medical dramas and what my opinion of them was. Showing an interest in medical TV programmes is a simple way of demonstrating your interest in the medical world. Conversely, a candidate with no interest in the wide variety of such easily accessible shows instantly sends alarm bells ringing in an interviewer’s ears. So what’s out there and how can it help you?


1. Let us Start by Watching Reality TV

I hear you groan. Yes, the general market is currently saturated with irrelevant fluff, but this does not detract from the fact that, for better or for worse, medical reality TV programmes provide you with unprecedented access to the field of medicine. You must take advantage of this.

As a GP, I’m obviously biased, but I highly recommend ‘GPs Behind Closed Doors,’ which is currently on Channel 5 and you can catch up with on My5. The BBC has also launched a competing show called ‘The Family Doctors’ on BBC2, currently available on BBC iplayer. Watching GPs talk to patients shows you not only the breadth of common problems GPs deal with but also the sensitivity with which they must handle their patients. It doesn’t matter what specialty you want to go into, you can learn a lot from watching the generalist skills of a GP.

For those of you who have not had the fortune to sit in on a GP clinic, and let’s face it, these placements are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain without the help of a close family contact, this TV programme is the next best thing. Pay close attention as these doctors display empathy and watch their mannerisms. You may well need to pull off that sympathetic look in a role play at your interview. Yes, it’s true you are not applying to drama school, but the role play is a common MMI station and it is here to stay. Read more here about how the MSAG can help you prepare for your MMI interviews.


Keeping in the genre of primary care reality TV, I recommend you also keep an eye out for ‘24hours in A&E’ on channel 4, with catch-up on All 4, which gives you incredible access to seeing doctors and nurses demonstrating excellent team-working skills in high-pressure situations. Think of it as 24hours of intense work experience condensed into every episode and available from the comfort of your own living room.

I cannot stress enough the importance of taking advantage of these sorts of programmes which give you such vivid insights into the challenges and rewards of working on the frontline in the NHS. In fact, I would say that it is crucial that you watch these programmes way before the interview stage before you even apply to medical school. It is never too soon. You need to know what you are getting yourself into.

2. Junior Doctor Programmes

Programmes which follow Junior Doctors are particularly relevant. In my own career, I found that the highs and lows of those first two years of being a junior doctor are unparalleled. You are so fortunate to have access to programmes that show you exactly what it is like, and to not take advantage of that is to do yourself a great disservice.Currently, on BBC iplayer you can catch Junior Doctors: Blood, Sweat and Tears’.This list is not exhaustive by all means, and if there is a show that you are aware of but missed, and find that it is no longer available on on-demand TV, don’t forget to check Youtube. For example, many episodes of BBC3s ‘Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands’ are available to stream from there.


3. Documentaries 

A distant relative of the reality TV show, the documentary is another genre that you should be familiar with. A week or so before my interview at King’s, by sheer fluke, I happened to be awake at 6am and caught a fascinating documentary about the placebo effect. Cut to a week later and the first question in my interview is all about the placebo effect.


If I hadn’t watched that random documentary my interview would not have got off to a very good start, especially as one of my interviewers was a research scientist. Youtube has a wealth of classic documentaries from all over the world and is a worthwhile resource to tap into, but it is also crucial that you keep up to speed with contemporary documentaries as they air on TV, particularly in the run up to your interview, because the issues raised in them could easily form the inspiration for those writing your interview questions.


Most notably, documentaries often cover new scientific developments that can help the medical world. Make sure you have a well-researched answer for the questions: “Tell me about an interesting new scientific development you are aware of”, and “What do you think is the most significant medical breakthrough that has been made in the last 100 years?.”

4. News

Another vital and obvious source of information that you must schedule time for is the news. Questions based on the news will come in different forms but are almost certain to come up. A few months before my interview at King’s there was a big debate on the news about whether Viagra should be available on the NHS. Lo and behold, at my interview I was asked my opinion on the situation. If a story is big enough to hit the mainstream news, you not only need to be aware of it but you need to have an opinion on it and be prepared to talk about it in a structured manner.


Questions based on the news may include those on the rationing of funds in the NHS, cases that raise ethical dilemmas, such as the Charlie Gard case, individual doctors behaving inappropriately or underperforming hospital departments. Remember that the news you get asked about may not be that recent, so you need to prepare from the earliest opportunity. It may well have been some months since the Junior Doctor’s Strike but the size of the story means it is still fair game to get asked about. Think outside the box too. Brexit, for example, may not be an obvious subject, but since it is taking up so much of the news, you may well be asked about its impact on the medical profession and you need to be able to talk about it intelligently. Read our latest blog on Brexit to D.


5. Medical Dramas

So watching the news is a no-brainer. It’s imperative, we agree. You cannot argue with the fact, however, that it’s never going to win an award for sheer entertainment value. Cue the medical drama. It will provide you with what the news, documentaries and even reality TV lacks. Now it’s easy to overlook these shows with their implausible romances and their dramatic soundtracks as mere fluff, an indulgence if you will, but I would argue that if you’re not hooked on at least one medical drama, you’re not that into being a doctor, and it’s probably the wrong profession for you. If the shiny, flashy glamourised version of medicine that these shows represent doesn’t entice you, the grimmer reality is even less likely to appeal!

These shows are all written with the help of doctors, and while we may laugh at the ineffective way in which actors perform chest compressions, we cannot deny that they each portray an element of truth. For the entertainment of the viewer, characters are put through challenging situations and placed in ethical dilemmas, and demonstrate, on the whole, how good doctors should behave in these situations. Don’t underestimate the learning potential for the jargon medics use and the general knowledge about common medical conditions that you can pick up. I first learned, for example, of the effects of carbon dioxide retention in COPD patients from an episode of ER.

In particular, if you are applying to a UK medical school, shows like Casualty and Holby City are good at demonstrating qualities that are valued in the NHS and often raise public awareness of a variety of health issues.

So from the glamour of the medical drama to the gritty reality of the news, there is much you can learn from simply switching on your humble TV. I would urge you, therefore, to ensure you schedule some quality time for watching these programmes because you may just find like I did, that what you have seen forms the basis of a significant portion of your interview. To learn more about how we can help you in your interview, view our interview services or email us and speak with an MSAG guide today!

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