That’s right. J., in his limited capacity as a newly graduated, haven’t-started-work, no-longer-as-idealistic-or-fresh-faced-as-first-entered-med-school house officer, is going to offer tips on what to say in the interviews to enter the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. He’s not going to talk on ‘duh’ tips like “wear a tie! look neat! don’t wear a miniskirt! speak well!” because that’s just pointless.
No wait, he is. Be sincere. Be honest. At the least, be great at pretending you are. And think, for crying out loud. Remember, at the medical interviews, everyone’s bleedin’ Mother Theresa.
Practise at own risk (AOR). Interview season’s coming!
Addendum: J.’s med school buddy has pointed out that in answering such questions, you should always address the science and the art. For instance, in the first question below, the care for patients and treating the sick is the art, and the cerebral understanding of the situation of a doctor is the science.
Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Watch Grey’s Anatomy. Watch House. Watch Channel 8 medical dramas. Now throw all that out the window. Let’s talk about some potential types of questions.
- Why do you want to do medicine? What makes you so sure?
Allow J. to rephrase this question for you. “Are you a naive or pretentious bastard?” No, seriously. Let’s look at the ultimate cliché: because I want to SAVE LIVES. (pffft)
Now, unless you’ve spent 3 months doing medical work in 3rd world countries and seen first hand the versatility and importance of doctors in improving the lives of folks, or have been working as a volunteer in hospices and am thus inspired to be a palliative physician AND have the eloquence to say that AND have proof of it… this statement is more likely than not going to make your interviewers roll their eyes.
Someone once told J. when he was a bright-eyed CSFC student that doctors only cure about 20% of patients, and control disease for slightly more, and just relieve symptoms for a larger percentage. So the curing thing really falls short.
So what to answer? The truth. There’s no single quality of a doctor, but a combination of everything. A big part of why you want to become a doctor because a medical professional is in a prime position to allay/prevent suffering, but you’d be lying if the combination of social respect, intellectual challenge and a comfortable but not luxurious living didn’t contribute.
- What field of medicine do you have in mind?
Translation: Are you a pretentious narcissistic son-of-a-bitch? Wrong answer: “I’m going to be a neurosurgeon! Patrick Dempsey gets all the ladies.” As a 19-year-old without much clinical experience, it’s obviously way, way, WAY too early to think of entering a medical specialty. Medical officers struggle with the question, much less somebody who hasn’t entered medical school.
What to answer? The correct answer is either a humble one or an inspired one (to not sound pretentious, see above). Do not state a glamorous specialty like plastics/cardiothoracic/ophthalmology. Humble: Sirs, given my lack of clinical exposure, it would be premature for me to state a single specialty. However, I enjoy working with my hands, so I suspect the surgical field might interest me more. Inspired: During my volunteer days at BrightVision hospital, I was very inspired by the knowledge and empathy demonstrated by the doctors on the team and would definitely consider geriatrics/palliative medicine.
- What do you think is the most important quality a doctor should have?
Ans: Compassion. Yes, sure, other stuff’s important too.
- Name a flaw of yours.
A classic, classic question. The answer is not a brutally honest exposure of your toe fetish, neither is it a boring old “I’m too much of a perfectionist” answer. The answer is an innocuous flaw that demonstrates your self-improvement… such as “I can sometimes be too honest, to the point of bluntness which offends people, but I’ve been working on being more tactful and broaching subjects with more consideration.”
- I see that you used to be a netball player. What other hobbies do you have?
Translation: Are you someone who will bore me to death if you’re ever on team? The yes answer goes something like “I enjoy reading medical magazines like the Singapore Medical Journal. Also, in my time in SAF as a medic, it was challenging setting IV cannulas on my buddies. I also keep up to date with the latest clinical practice guidelines for interest’s sake.”
Zzz… The better answer would be something interesting that sets you apart from the run-of-the-mill candidate. Like, “I’m a big fan of adventure sports, which actually consumes a fair amount of my tuition income. But it’s amazing the places and people you can see on a tight budget. I’ve been trekked in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, China, but there’s still so many places. Diving costs more, so it’s been a bit difficult for me. My aim is to see the coral reefs in Australia next.”
- What do you think about Singapore’s medical system?
This is the place to demonstrate your interest in Singapore’s medical system. Remember that your interviewers can have many different opinions so it’s best to keep politically correct in an intellectual fashion. For instance, “There is no perfect medical system, and Singapore is no exception. However, I find that it works well and strikes a decent balance. The co-pay system helps manage patient expectations to keep healthcare costs down as compared to welfare systems like Canada and Scandinavian countries, but at the same time, no one is every denied medical treatment because they cannot pay, a situation that occurs sometimes in the United States.”
- What will you do if you can’t get into medicine?
Commit suicide. No, of course not. For J., his options were to do it overseas, including a 1/2 and 1/2 program in Malaysia. He would not be denied! You’ll have to search your heart for this one. The thing is, J. only put medicine in his application.
If you’ve put dentistry, science, law, whatever in your application, be prepared to defend your choices.
- You’re a doctor driving along the expressway when you see a car accident occur on the left-most lane and a man thrown out of the car onto the side of the road. You’re in the centre lane of the expressway 20m prior to the accident site, am post-call and have no medical equipment with you. What do you do?
This is amongst the easiest of the ‘challenging’ questions.
A life’s at stake. I would manouevre my car to the side of the road, bring the triangle sign with me, walk the distance to the accident site. Call 995 the ambulance and check on the victim, perform basic cardiac life support (learnt in the army) without respiration and wait for the ambulance to arrive.
- Let’s say it was a hard decision but you chose to drive on and ignore the accident. How would that make you feel? What would you do about it?
This isn’t that bad of a question. These are questions designed to make your think and at the same time assess your moral values somewhat. The wrong answer would be to feel slightly guilty and thus guzzle gallons of beer, beat up the wife, step on the cat’s tail and spew vulgarities at the neighbour for stress relief.
The right answer would be realistic yet show empathy. You would of course be very bothered, but in a fashion that does not affect your function, and do healthy stress-relieving techniques, confiding in a friend, etc.
- What are your views on complementary and alternative medicine?
Wooo! This is dangerous territory, so tread lightly. CAM includes things like acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine. There are consultants who are invested in things like Bao Zhong Tang in SGH and acupuncture as adjunctive treatment in pain clinics. They might be your interviewer. Then again, your interviewer might hate CAM. Tread carefully… Remember, politically correct (like GP essay) but intelligent. Don’t be seen as someone who regurgitates stock statements like the layperson.
Wrong: “CAM is a bunch of nonsense.” or “CAM and Western medicine should work hand in hand.”
Right: “CAM, while not exactly evidence-based, still plays an important part in healthcare, largely due to the widespread acceptance and use of modalities like acupuncture (e.g. for sportspeople) or traditional chinese medicine. As such, while the evidence for most CAM modalities might be lacking, I supported the opening of Bao Zhong Tang TCM clinic in SGH last November because of 3 reasons: (1) being able to know the components of and hence offer patients unadulterated herbs (2) allowing doctors and pharmacists to more easily know what herbs the patient’s taking (and hence drug interactions) (3) there’s a market for TCM.”
- What will you do if one day you find your brother/sister smoking?
Kick his slimy little ass all over the floor, that’s what! Show him who’s boss!
This is another of the ‘harder’ questions that few people prepare for. In this case, a few points should be covered: (1) you know that smoking is bad, and one of the things that’s been most strongly linked to a multitude of diseases from heart disease to every cancer (2) he’s your brother (or sister or whatever) and you have strong Asian family values, yah? (3) you understand that behavioural change is best approached with one of the models of behavioural change, like the stages of change.
Well then, hope that’s been helpful to some degree. If you don’t get into medical school, well, there’s always the financial field. You could buy your condominium decades before doctors.