Group discussions in medical interviews

December 3rd, 2010

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Are consultant interviews fixed?

October 9th, 2010

This is a question often asked by candidates who attend our consultant interview courses, and to which there is no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The answer is ‘it depends’ and here is why.

Technically speaking, the NHS wants to appear to recruit candidates in a fair way in order to ensure that they make a decision based on the full knowledge of what the candidates have to offer (you neer know – an external candidate may be far better than the current internal candidate). As such the system will always be made to appear fair, even if in practice, it is not always the case.

The decision making system can operate in two ways:

  1. A voting system, whereby all panel members have a vote, with the candidate collecting the most votes being given the job;
  2. A points system whereby all candidates are marked separately, the points added up, with the candidate collecting the most points being given the job.

Whilst it is true without a doubt that some trusts apply the system in the fairest possible way (we have seen examples of preferred candidates losing out by as little as 0.5 points), both decision-making systems are opened to abuse. For example:

  • The regulations state that the panel must contain a majority of clinicians. As such, it can be easy for those clinicians to agree to vote for a particular candidate. This however makes the assumption that the preferred candidate performs roughly as well as the others, otherwise the panel will struggle to justify voting for someone who is clearly a poor performer at interview. That is also why “preferred” candidates should not be too complacent and should ensure that they can put on a good performance on the day.
     
  • The points system, on the surface, seems a lot fairer, but can also be easily manipulated. For a start, when do you mark? After each candidate? Or at the end once you have seen all the candidates. Marking after each candidate could be seen as unfair towards those who were interviewed first as experience suggests that those first in line tend to be marked more harshly due to the absence of a benchmark. Marking at the end (a widespread practice) can lead to manipulation of the results as interviewers simply have to make sure their favoured candidate is given a greater score. Such manipulation of the marks is made easier by the fact that the criteria used to select candidates are very loose. For example “Has demonstrated appropriate communication skills” is a very subjective criterion whicch could easily lead to a 0/10 or a 10/10 depending on whether your face fits or not.

There is a debate to be had about whether interviews should actually be fair or not. If you place yourself in the interviewers’ shoes you will rapidly see that in many cases it can be safer to opt for the guy you know, even if he has weaknesses, than for someone new whose weaknesses are an unknown quantity.  It is often argued that internal candidates are at an advantage, and they certainly are since (i) they have a better idea of the department’s needs and are therefore better able to push the right buttons at the interview and (ii) they are a known quantity. But, external candidates also have a major advantage: they can bullshit their way to the job a lot better than an internal candidate ever could, precisely because they are unknown to the panel and because most of what they say is unverifiable.

Added to all this is the fact that, even if a panel is intent on being totally fair, subonsciously interviewers have a tendency to mark internal cnadidates slightly higher anyway. In addition, still subconsciously, most people’s unwritten agenda is that the local candidate will get the job unless someone else can demonstrate that they are substantially  better or add much more value.

All that being said, there are clear examples of situations where some recruitment processes or interviews are being fixed or heavily influenced. These would include:

  • Publishing job adverts in the wrong section of a paper (so that only the chosen candidate knows where to find it).
  • Writing job descriptions which contain criteria that very few people would meet (such as publications on specific topics).
  • Telling people at pre-shortlisting or pre-interview visits that there is a favourite candidate and that therefore they should not bother applying.
  • Asking questions/presentation topics which require so much local knowledge that only an internal candidate would be in a position to answer them.
  • Deliberately shortlisting weak candidates to stand against the preferred candidate.
  • Refusing to see candidates for pre-interview visits, meaning that only the local candidate would be able to gather crucial information.

Although common practice, those behaviours do not affect the majority of cases and it is fair to say that most interviews are actually fully opened to competition, as the frequent failure of local candidates indicates. Indeed, local candidates run the risk of being complacent only to be beaten by a well prepared external candidate. In fact, many local candidates fail to carry out pre-interview visits and are often less informed than external candidates on the Trust’s internal matters.

But at the end of the day, does all this matter? If you go to an interview, you cannot turn up thinking that the job is someone else’s. Not only will this affect your confidence, it will also ensure that you perform badly and appear demotivated on the day. There are plenty of stories of outsiders beating the local candidate, even when the process was rigged. There are plenty of storied about preferred candidates falling apart through lack of preparation. And there are plenty of storied about second jobs being opened to accomodate an external candidate who performed well at an interview.

For more information about consultant interviews, visit our free information pages on consultant interviews.  If you want assistance with your consultant interview preparation, why not attend our famous consultant interview course!

Summary of the 2010 White Paper (Equity & Excellence – Liberating the NHS)

August 30th, 2010

On 12 July 2010, the coalition government released a new white paper setting out the proposed direction for the NHS. This white paper is designed to build on the successes of previous governments whilst addressing some of the key problems which have plagued the NHS over the previous years. The key points of the new direction include:

  • Giving patients greater choice and control, and equipping them to make decisions through the provision of a greater range of data.
     
  • Focussing on clinical outcomes rather than targets, building on Lord Darzi’s review and particularly its focus on quality.  The aim is to provide continuous improvement through reduced bureaucracy and greater focus on clinical outcomes.
     
  • Empowering clinicians and other healthcare professionals to use their judgement and innovate. This bottom-up approach is designed to draw upon the strengths and knowledge of front-line staff, ridding the system of the top-down approach much criticised in the past, with decisions taken centrally by less-informed politicians.

The following paragraphs constitute a summary of the main points raised by the white paper:


Liberating the NHS

  • Age discrimination to be abolished (e.g. patients above or below a certain age being entitled to certain drugs). Note that this is not so much a new policy of the government. It is imposed through a European Directive.
     
  • More power devolved to local NHS institutions with less interference from Whitehall. “We will be clear about what the NHS should achieve; we will not prescribe how it should be achieved”. 
     
  • Greater powers to local clinicians. This will involve a radical simplification of the hierarchy and the removal of several layers of management. Monitor (which currently regulates Foundation Trusts and ISTCs)will become the regulator. 
     
  • A greater focus on reducing inequalities and improving public health, with the creation of a new Public Health Service. 
     
  • NHS spending to be increased in real terms every year over the lifetime of the parliament (i.e. until 2015), but accompanied by efficiency savings. It is expected that the headcount will be lower in 2015 than currently (though this will be most likely through the elimination of managerial posts).

Putting patients and the public first

Shared decision-making

  • One of the key mottos of the white paper is “no decision about me without me”. The report therefore reinforces the idea of patient choice and patient involvement. This is to be supported by an increase in the amount of information being made available to patients on conditions, treatments, lifestyle choices and on how to look after their own and their family’s health. In essence, better informed patients are more likely to want an input in their own care, and less likely to defer to clinicians’ opinion blindly. 
     
  • It is planned to expand the Patient Reported Outcome Measures tool more widely.

Greater availability of information and more accountability

  • Data collected on patient experience and real-time feedback will take more prominence and will also be made publicly available, as will all data relating to the quality of services delivered by the various clinical services and departments. It is expected that the use of quality account will be perfected and disseminated to ensure that the public is made fully aware of the quality of care provided by the various services. 
     
  • Greater control to be given to patients over their own health records. Patients will be able to decide who can access their records and to see changes whenever changes are made. This is expected to apply to GPs to start with, to be extended to other services later on.

Increased choice and control

  • The paper quotes the 2009 British Attitudes Survey which states that 95% of patients think there should be some choice over which hospital they should attend and the treatment they should receive. In the interest of debate, note that this is not the same as saying that, once given the choice, patients would be prepared or happy to exercise it (in fact GPs often complain that patients end up either choosing on the basis of proximity or defer the choice to the GP). 
     
  • The paper complains of the fact that the Labour government’s attempt to introduce choice was too restricted to the choice of provider. The new government is aiming to:  
  1. Increase the current offer of choice of any provider significantly. 
  2. Create a presumption that all patients will have choice and control over their care and treatment, and choice of any willing provider wherever relevant 
  3. Introduce choice of named consultant-led team for elective care by April 2011 where clinically appropriate, and maximise the use of Choose & Book. Note that the patient will not necessarily be seeing the consultant, but his/her team. A patient may still be seen by a trainee or a nurse for example. 
  4. Extend maternity choice and help make safe, informed choices throughout pregnancy and in childbirth a reality – recognising that not all choices will be appropriate or safe for all women – by developing new provider networks. 
  5. Begin to introduce choice of treatment and provider in some mental health services from April 2011, and extend this wherever practicable. 
  6. Begin to introduce choice for diagnostic testing, and choice post-diagnosis, from 2011. 
  7. Introduce choice in care for long-term conditions as part of personalised care planning. In end-of-life care, there will be a move towards a national choice offer to support people’s preferences about how to have a good death. The government will work with providers, including hospices, to ensure that people have the support they need. 
  8. Give patients more information on research studies that are relevant to them, and more scope to join in if they wish. 
  9. Give every patient a clear right to choose to register with any GP practice they want with an open list, without being restricted by where they live. People should be able to expect that they can change their GP quickly and straightforwardly if and when it is right for them, but equally that they can stay with their GP if they wish when they move house. 
  10. Develop a coherent 24/7 urgent care service in every area of England that makes sense to patients when they have to make choices about their care. This will incorporate GP out-of-hours services and provide urgent medical care for people registered with a GP elsewhere.

Patient and public voice

A new consumer champion called HealthWatch England will be created within the Care Quality Commission to look after the interest of patients and ensure that patient views and feedback are taken into account.


Improving healthcare outcomes

The government is intent on building on the principles of quality set out in the Darzi report. Having already modified some of the key targets for the year 2010-2011, the government wants to ensure that targets with no clinical relevance are scrapped and replaced by evidence-based measures and targets.

The NHS outcome framework

The government will set out the key outcomes that need to be achieved and will leave it to local authorities to determine how those objectives are best achieved. This will target 3 distinct areas of quality:

  • the effectiveness of the treatment and care provided to patients – measured by both clinical outcomes and patient-reported outcomes;
  • the safety of the treatment and care provided to patients; and
  • the broader experience patients have of the treatment and care they receive.

Quality standards and incentives for improvement

  • NICE will develop 150 quality standards over the next 5 years.
  • Quality is expected to be rewarded financially (an old idea formalized by Darzi but never really put into practice to date).
  • Tariffs will be refined and the implementation of best-practice tariffs will be accelerated.
  • The CQUINs payment framework will be extended and poor quality care may be penalised by fines (Note that this penalisation policy is one which was adopted by the Labour government for underperforming schools – this backfired, with underperforming schools having less money to invest to make improvements, causing them to underperform even further. Such policy will therefore need to be carefully implemented and managed).
  • Payments to pharmaceuticals are expected to be reviewed to provide better value.

Autonomy, Accountability & Democratic Legitimacy

GP consortia

Commissioning powers will be devolved to GPs through the creation of GP consortia. They are expected to be responsible for 80% of the budget.

NHS Commissioning Board

This new independent board will oversee the commissioning process and issue guidelines. It will design the structure of the tariffs and other incentives, though actual tariff levels will be set by Monitor. The Board will also ensure full patient participation and involvement, and will overseas the GP consortia. In addition it will commission services not commissioned by consortia such as maternity services and very specialised services. This means that the commissioning function will be taken out of the PCTs’ hands and PCTs will therefore be abolished, saving £1 billion in administration costs alone.

Freeing existing NHS providers

All Foundation Trusts are to be freed of current constraints and it is expected that all trusts will become foundation trusts within 3 years (Note: the Labour government had set a deadline of December 2008, which was never met).

The Care Quality Commission will monitor the quality of healthcare provided whilst Monitor will act as an economic regulator from April 2012. Monitor’s role will be to promote competition and regulate prices.

The different learning styles

May 23rd, 2010

Have you ever found yourself trying to explain something to someone who stares at you blankly? Here is a brief explanation of the different learning styles and their characteristics.

One famous categorisation of the different learning styles is the Honey-Mumford model. See if you recognise yourself in one of these descriptions:

Activists enjoy themselves the most when they have new experiences. They will try anything once and are very open-minded. Their motto is “carpe diem” – Enjoy the present moment – and they like to get stuck in, troubleshooting and brainstorming. They don’t like sedate environments. They are sociable but mostly like to be the centre of attention. Activists can be disruptive to a group. They keep challenging, ask questions which are likely to be addressed later on in the teaching session and generally could take over a group.

Theorists are ultra-logical. They don’t like the big picture and prefer to approach problems step-by-step. They analyse everything and are perfectionists who like to create tidy and rational systems. They tend to be detached and objective and hate ambiguity. They find it difficult to conceive lateral thinking. Theorists would come across as studious and thorough during a teaching session, and teachers may find that they sometimes spend far too much time focussing on unnecessary detail rather than the big picture, particularly when dealing with abstract topics.

Reflectors are cautious and thoughtful and like to collect and analyse as much data as possible, before coming to a decision. They are the type of people who like to ‘sleep on it’. They are usually the quiets ones at the back of the room, who prefer to observe and listen to others. Reflectors can be frustrating to teach because they rarely give you feedback, stare at you blankly, looking as if they are not enjoying themselves when they are in fact internalising. However, they may well give you the best feedback.

Pragmatists are enthusiastic about trying out new theories and techniques in practice. They like to “get on with it”, acting quickly and confidently with their ideas. They don’t like wasting time with long-winded and open-ended discussions. They are very practical, enjoy challenges and solving problems, and are always looking for better ways of doing things. Pragmatists will enjoy sessions which progress at a good pace.

Teachers often make the mistake to assume that their students have a similar style to theirs. A good understanding of the different styles and a strong ability to detect their students’ approach of learning is therefore key to being a good teacher.

Do you want to know more about the different learning styles, other models being used and how you can become a better teacher? Why not join one of ISC’s medical teaching and presentation courses? We take a maximum of 12 candidates per course, with a 1:6 tutor to candidate ratio. Full CPD accreditation (12 points). Only £495.

“Teach the teachers”, “Train the trainers”, “medical teaching course”

NHS reforms – Key changes by the conservative-lib dem coalition

May 22nd, 2010

The coalition has wasted no time in announcing its policy on health for the forthcoming parliament. Here are some of the key features which may interest those of you attending interviews soon:

  1. Primary care trusts will be partially elected to give patients a strong voice locally, with the remainder of the board appointed by local authorities. But the chief executive and principal officers will be appointed by the secretary of state on the advice of the new commissioning board.
  2. The board will allocate NHS resources and provide commissioning guidelines. The Conservatives’ original proposal was for a strong board that would oversee the whole of commissioning, a role that looked to be stronger than just appointing people and issuing guidelines. So that proposal has obviously been watered down as part of the coalition agreement.
  3. GPs will be given a stronger role in commissioning, though for the moment it is not clear as to whether this will be simply be an advisory role or actually a budget-holding role. The government will “strengthen the power of GPs as partients’ expert guides through the health system by enabling them to commission care on their behalf.
  4. Development of a 24-hour urgent care service in England, “including GP out-of-hours services”. The GP contract will be renegotiated and an incentive system will be implemented to improve primary care in disadvantaged areas.
  5. Promise to fund some cancer drugs that Nice  has turned down.
  6. Promise that patients will be free to register with any GP, not just their local one.
  7. A number of health quangos will be cut (though it is not clear which).
  8. “Give every patient the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards, within NHS prices”.

In addition, the health secretary has put a halt to current plans to change the NHS in London and issued the following statements: 

“As I promised before the election, I am calling a halt to NHS London’s reconfiguration of NHS services.

“A top-down, one-size fits all approach will be replaced with the devolution of responsibility to clinicians and the public, with an improved focus on quality.

“It will be centred on a sound evidence base, support from GP commissioners and strengthened arrangements for public and patient engagement, including local authorities.”

Want to know more about NHS issues? Why not join our medical management course on NHS issues. One day, max 16 candidates to make it an interesting interactive course. Only £249.

Body language at medical interviews

March 21st, 2010

Body language plays an important role in medical interviews because this is what helps members of the panel relate to you. An interview is as much  a test of confidence and maturity as it is a test of content, and your body language is crucial in ensuring that you come across well.

Following several requests, here is a summary of the key rules of body language:

  1. Maintain eye contact with the person who is talking to you. At your interview you will face between 2  interviewers (for ST interviews and some locum consultant interviews) and 8 interviewers (for some locum consultant interviews and for substantive consultant interviews). In some regions/trusts, you may have up to 14 people on a panel (not uncommon in Northern Ireland and Scotland). It is impossible to look at everyone all the time, and if you did you would soon get dizzy! Conversely, it is important to try to involve everyone whenever possible to avoid having a situation where the panel member at the end of the table has to wait for 45 minutes before you look at them. So, look principally at whomever is asking you the question and, occasionally, look around to ensure you connect with the others.
     
  2. Put your hands on the table. Most of the panel members will have their hand on the table, taking notes, playing with their pen , or simply being attentive. It is crucial that you place yourself at the same level as the panel by also having your hands on the table. If you don’t, the table will act as a barrier between you and them and you are more likely to end up looking like a schoolboy/girl waiting to be interrogated. If you are worried about fidgeting, slightly interlock your fingers to stop yourself from moving your hands too much.
     
  3. Do not place your elbows on the table. Elbows on the table not only are rude/familiar, they also make you invade the buffer zone between you and the panel, with the risk that you might come across as threatening. Leave your elbows slightly outside of the table. This is typically achieved by sitting approximately 20 cm from the table.
     
  4. Move your hands if you want, but only in front of you. No need for Shirley Bassey impressions. Arm movement outside of the area in front of you will take the attention away from your face. To ensure that the attention remains on you and not on your hands, do not go left or right of your body; and do not move your hands above chest level in order to avoid obscuring your chin or face.
     
  5. Dress conservatively. The interview is a business meeting. You must wear a suit, preferably of a dark colour (navy/black for men, any dark colour for women). Wear a lighter shirt/blouse/top so that it frames your face. Don’t forget: they want to look at you, not your clothes! Most colours are fine, though men should avoid wearing pink (tie or shirt) because this is a colour better fitted to mediation and team playing which does not convey a strong sense of leadership. As such, though it would be suitable if you were going to a meeting to resolve a conflict, it is less suitable for an interview setting.
     
  6. Avoid anything that can take the eye away from your face. This would include any big items of jewelery (small is okay), as well as items such as poppies, red/pink ribbons, daffodils.
  7. If there is no table, you may cross your legs, but with the crossed leg always facing in the direction of the person who is talking to you. This will enable you to turn your body towards them whilst at the same time being able to rotate to engage wit the other panel members.

If you want to discuss any of this or anything relating to a forthcoming interview, why not join us in one of our consultant interview courses. They run 3 to 6 times per week in London so that you have plenty of choice for dates.

Consultant interview questions on how to reduce costs

March 8th, 2010

In an era when the NHS is asked to demonstrate austerity, there is an array of questions asked at consultant interviews on the topic of cost reductions, of the type:

  1. How can we maintain quality of care whilst cutting costs at the same time?
  2. If I told you that we needed to cut costs in your department by 15%, where would you find the cost savings?

In giving answers to such questions, the majority of candidates are having trouble distinguishing between cost savings and cost efficiency. Some then picked on by interviewers or get feedback that they had a poor graps of basic business concepts. I thought it would be useful to deal with this topic in an article in an attempt to remove any ambiguities.

Cost efficiency means that for a given cost, you are making the best use of the resources available. So for example, if a nurse costs the department £35,000 p.a. then she is cost efficient by being made to see as many patients as possible. In other words, you are getting the most out of the cost.

Cost cutting however refers to the fact that the cost of employing the nurse in the first place would be lowered. In other words, this would involve demoting her to a lower salary (tricky!) or making her redundant (tricky too, but far more feasible). 

Note that when you are making the nurse see more patients, you are actually cutting the cost of dealing with one patient (since her salary is spread over more patients than before but you are not cutting the cost of her employment.

When you get questions on cost-cuttings, they refer to cutting the overall cost and not the cost per patient. Overall, there are many ways in which costs can be cut in an NHS environment, which would include:

  1. Making staff redundant (salaries are the biggest expense).
  2. Using cheaper drugs (drugs are the second largest expense).
  3. Moving to day-case surgery, thus enabling a cut in the number of ITU beds, lowering the number of infections and readmissions (thus enabling redundancy of staff)
  4. Using cheaper staff to carry out tasks (e.g. replacing doctors by nurses, consultants by senior staff grades.
  5. Using permanent staff instead of locums
  6. Replacing one consultant by increased PAs for the other consultants in the team (the total cost to a Trust of paying 8 consultants £10,000 more is lower than paying one consultants £80,000)
  7. Encouraging follow-ups to be done by GPs (thus enabling redundancy of staff)

So for example, in anaesthesia, implementing pre-operative assessment clinics would lower the number of cancellations because patients would be better assessed and any risks identified. This would result in a fuller utilisation of the resources available and therefore greater efficiency, but not in cost savings because the trust would have to pay the salaries, theatre time, etc just the same.

Hope this helps! Good luck to everyone!

UKCAT – Here we are again!

February 14th, 2010

Registration for UKCAT 2010 (entry into medical & dental school in 2011) will open again in May with the exam taking place between early July and early October.  Many people contact us every year to enquire about how the UKCAT is being marked and how it is taken into account by medical / dental schools. The answer is not as simple as the answer because the marking of the UKCAT does not follow a simple linear approach and because medical & dental schools use the results in various ways.


Marking of the UKCAT

The UKCAT is marked by first allocating a score based on the number of questions attempted and the accuracy of the answer. However, each candidate’s score is then compared to a sample/test population, which is essentially the first 3000 candidates who first took the test in 2006. This then leads to a score of between 300 and 900 for each category. That means that, it is possible to get a high score even if you cannot complete a full section or, if you did, even if you don’t get everything right. For example, let’s assume that the best candidate at the time only managed to answer 80% of the QR questions and got them all right then you could get a very high score even if you only answered 70% of the questions.

How medical schools use the UKCAT results

Each medical school uses the results in its own way.

  1. Some medical schools have a cut-off mark below which they will not interview candidates. That cut off mark can be fixed (i.e. say 675 marks every year) or set in accordance to a percentage(e.g. they will look at candidates who are in the top 20% for UKCAT results, in which case the actual number of marks required may vary from year to year).
  2. Some medical schools translate the UKCAT results in a number of points (e.g. 5 points if score is above 700, 4 if above 600, etc) which are then added to the UCAS score, and used in the overall assessment of candidates.
  3. Some medical schools ignore UKCAT generally and use it only to decide on borderline cases.

For full details on how each school uses the results, please refer the UKCAT description page on the ISC Medical website

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The questions mirror the level of difficulty that you can expect at the exam, from relatively easy to stretching. Each chapter contains comprehensive techniques to help you handle each of the four sections of the UKCAT. The breadth and depth of the explanations, tips and techniques provided will ensure that you are fully prepared to answer all questions confidently, correctly and within the short period of time allocated.

You can purchase this book:

  1. Directly from the ISC Medical website
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I have 2 consultant interviews one week apart. I want the 2nd job. What shall I do?

February 10th, 2010

What to do if your preferred job is the second one? This is a dilemma which many people face when applying at consultant interviews

The authorities (trusts, GMC) have been very careful to remain very vague on the topic, preferring to leave it to both candidates or trusts to judge the matter on individual merits.

This is where one must differentiate the legal position from the moral position i.e. what you are entitled to do versus what would annoy people the most.

Legally, there is nothing that stops you from accepting a job from Trust A and then a week later, on receiving an offer from Trust B, resign from Trust A before you have even started your new job.

However there are other factors coming into play:

  1. The GMC has issued further guidance saying that as far as they were concerned this was a matter of patient safety. In other words, if you are announcing the day before you are supposed to start a job that you are no longer willing to accept the post, this will mean that patient care will suffer through lack of coverage, it may take time to get locums, etc, and you could potentially get into serious trouble. You could argue of course that the job is not meant to be starting until much later (3 to 6 months) but if you are in a specialty where recruiting people is difficult then you may still get into trouble.
     
  2. You will annoy greatly a number of people in your specialty and if they are influential this may well work against you, particularly if your name starts circulating with a trouble-maker tag attached to it.
     
  3. If you pull out of a job after the recruiting trust has rejected all other candidates, then they may well have to readvertise and this may also affect your reputation since, essentially, they will have wasted their time and money because of you.

So there is no strict yes/no answer but one which very much depends on the people involved, the type of jobs you are applying for, your own attitude towards your career, and most importantly, the likelihood that you could actually be successful at the second interview.

In such situation, most people I know have pulled out of Trust A to have a good go at Trust B and not risk the wrath of the establishment. Other candidates have been honest with Trust A, hoping they would be understanding and that way there would be no issue. Having said that, if I were Trust A, I would not give the job to the candidate unless this was a locum job.

 The only easy option is when you have two interviews within one or two days of each other. You would simply switch your phone off and not accept the first job until you had the results of the second one, but anything longer than one day is too long to wait.

Want to discuss any individual circumstances? Why not join one of our consultant interview courses? Courses are run several times per week in London.

NHS Issues at Consultant Interviews

February 9th, 2010

“There is so much to read. I just don’t know where to start”. Sounds familiar?

Candidates applying for consultant posts are very good at scaring themselves about NHS issues during their preparation for the big day. Across the range of thousands of candidates that we coach every year for their consultant interview, it is common to hear comments of the type: “I heard they can ask you anything about NHS issues” or “I don’t understand anything to all this management stuff”.

In reality, although it is of course important to understand what is going on in the NHS, the emphasis is not so much on knowing a lot of facts, but on understanding at a more global level how this will affect your speciality in the forthcoming years and therefore your role as a consultant in the unit which you are aiming to join. Doctors have always been trained to learn information which is then tested at exams. At the interview, it is your awareness and analytical power which is being tested rather than your ability to regurgitate information.

As such, it is unlikely that you will be asked very factual consultant interview questions such as “What are the 8 ways in which the clock can stop for the 18-week target calculation?”; and you will only be asked questions of the type “Tell me what you know about Darzi.” in the 4 to 6 weeks or so following the publication of a report.  Instead, you are far more likely to be tested on the broader implications of those reports, which, by itself, does not require any detailed knowledge of those issues. For example, currently, consultant interview questions associated with the Darzi report are more likely to be of the type:

  • “How can we improve quality of care in a cost-cutting  environment?”, a question which refers both to the emphasis on quality in the Darzi report and to the forthcoming cuts in NHS budgets, but requires no specific knowlegde of the Darzi report. Instead, it requires a good knowledge of the areas of inefficiencies in your speciality in general and in the department that you are aiming to join.
     
  • “How would you measure quality of care in your specialty?”, a question which relates directly to the Darzi report, Patient-Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMs) and patient experience, thus linking to the auditing of key performance indicators and patient feedback, neither of which are fully developed in the Darzi report.
     
  • “How can we improve the quality of training in the current environment?”, a question which relates not only to the diminishing hours of training imposed by the EWTD, but also to the fact that spending time on training juniors is not always compatible with a drive towards efficiency and cost-cutting. No report will give you the answer to this question.

Consequently, although it is of course important to read and understand the key reports published by various organisations, you should not fall into the trap of trying to learn their content with a view to regurgitate it. Instead, you should make note of the key issues and try to understand their practical implications.

One of the greatest difficulties in reading about NHS issues is that it seems like there is an endless supply of documents. So don’t make the mistake that many candidates at consultant interviews make, which is to start right back to 1948. No one really cares about the old issues, and even the Tooke report which dates back to 2008 is no longer talked about. Look at the key documents published in the last 18 months or so, both at a global governmental level (e.g. Darzi) and at speciality level (e.g. recent NICE guidelines, Royal College strategy documents, etc). You may start with one and find that it refers to 2 or 3 others, which in turn refer to 2 or 3 others. It is important that you follow the trail so that you can appreciate how they all interlink. This should take about 4 or 5 hours of your time. If you feel that you are spending excessively longer then you are probably spending too much time on the detail.

Then, once you have a rough idea of what it going on, think of the implications. Try to do this by yourself to start with because at the interview there will be no one to help you, so it is important that you forge your own opinions and ideas about the implications of what you read.

Some of those implications may be common sense (for example, if you are place an emphasis on productivity and cost saving then training may be affected) but others may be less obvious to you simply because you are not involved in the day-to-day management of their unit. For that reason, as a second step. it is useful to discuss issues with your educational supervisors as well as  clinicians in their team how this influences their speciality and their department in practice. If you are applying for a job as an external candidate, it is also extremely useful to raise those issues at pre-interview visits so that you can get the local point of view on all important matters (knowing you may well be quizzed on those at your consultant interview).

All those impostant NHS topics are also obviously discussed on our consultant interview courses.