The medical profession seems in total disarray about the role of group discussions at medical interviews. As of this year, group discussions will be taken out of the selection process for GP trainees, but are now playing a increasingly important role in consultant interviews, CT/ST interviews and even interviews for medical school entry.
On the whole, group discussions can be done in two ways:
- Group discussion berween several candidates taking place in the recruitment process (typical of medical school interviews, consultant interviews, and in the past, GPST selection centres).
- Facilitation of a group discussion by one candidate, the rest of the group being made up of different members of the recruitment panel (sometimes found in consultant interviews)
Topics to be discussed in group format at medical interviews include ethical issues, current political issues or difficult work-related issues such as the handling of a difficult colleague.
What do group discussions test and how can you succeed in them?
Group discussions are designed to test two key aspects of your personality: your ability to put together and communicate good arguments on a given topic, AND your ability to work well within a group to achieve a successful outcome (e.g. actually reach a conclusion on the topic being debates). The latter is often forgotten or ignored by candidates, who often focus on “trying to appear clever”, and can sometimes appear too brash and uncompromising. To be successful at group interviews, here are a few rules that you may want to take on board:
- Make sure that you contribute to the debate with actual ideas.
- Explain your point of view in a confident manner, without giving the impression that you are trying too hard to convince the others. There is no mark for passion.
- Make sure that the group is set up to reach a conclusion by the end of the time alloted. There should be clarity at the start about who is keeping the time and who is keeping notes. You will score points for suggesting this should happen.
- If you are a natural leader, by all means take the lead in the discussion but see this as a facilitation role i.e. do not take the group over.
- Watch out for extreme personalities within the group. Make an effort to involve those who are being too quiet (“I think there have been a lot of good points made so far. Andy, what do you think about all this?”. If someone is taking over the group with their strong personality, try to even the speaking time out (“John obviously has a very strong view about this topic. Could we go round the table and see what everyone else thinks about it?”)
- If you feel that the group is losing track of time, or is going off topic, make an effort to refocus the discussion (“I think we are losing sight of the outcome we want to achieve here. If I could sumarise what we have done so far, <then summarise the discussion>, what do we need to consider next?”)
- Close to the end of the time alloted, summarise the discussions and ask the group if they could start thinking about a conclusion. They may not find one but the fact you suggested it will score points.
- If you are assuming the role of facilitator, be mindful that some of the panel may be playing roles (obstructive, passive etc). Watch you for the people you know who may be performing roles that are different to what you expect (e.g. a normally nice person becoming obnoxious).
There is controversy as to why group discussions are being scrapped for GPST but their use increased for consultant interviews and medicals school interviews. As a tool they can be effective to reveal true personalities (expecially for those who have a tendency to demonstrate extreme passive or active behaviours). However their major downfalls lies in the fact that the mix of candidates is pretty random and can work against some candidates. For example, someone who is a natural leader may well find themselves in a group with much stronger personalities and not have a chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities. Similarly, some fairly quiet but normally effective may completely vanish when surrounded by strong personalities. Conversely, someone fairly active finding themselves in a group where no one speaks may well take over the group far too much for their liking.
Nevertheless group discussions are there to stay and their use is set to increase.