How to prepare for an academic foundation programme interview
A run through how you should approach the different interview stations
Medical students applying for the academic strand of the foundation programme (AFP) must undergo an interview to secure a place. AFP posts are a good way to explore academic medicine and represent 1 in 20 of the foundation programme training places. Trainees have time-protected periods away from their clinical commitments to undertake academic activities, such as teaching and research.
Many AFP interviews follow the multiple mini interview (MMI) format, requiring applicants to rotate between two to four different stations to show a variety of different skills in rapid succession. Each station lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. In their responses, candidates should clearly outline their personal, clinical, and academic interests while providing concise, well structured answers to the broad range of questions asked.
You may not have had an interview since your application to medical school. This article offers guidance on how to answer different interview questions as well as managing clinical scenarios, tips for giving a presentation, and advice on how to perform critical analysis of research papers to maximise your chances of getting your desired post.
The different interview stations
The academic station
The questions in the formal interview station cover topics such as your interest, motivation, and prior experience in academia and the specialty that you have chosen. You may also be asked questions about difficult scenarios and questions requiring you to give examples of skills, such as working as a part of a team or showing initiative. Other questions you may be asked are what makes a good clinician or what skills and qualities are required by academic and clinical researchers.
When giving your answers you should use a logical structure. Common structures used to answer these different types of questions are given in box 1. If you have a lot to say, signpost near the beginning what you are going to talk about so that the examiner is aware that you are providing a structured answer. Also, if you feel that you are running out of time, you will still have managed to mention the main point.
Box 1: Structures for answering different question styles (adapted from Picard and South Thames Foundation School)
For questions related to interest, motivation, and prior experience, use CAMP:
- Clinical—Clinical skills and interests
- Academic—Research and teaching
- Managerial—Service evaluation
- Personal—Any personal connection to the topic
For questions regarding specific skills, use STAR:
- Situation—What happened?
- Task—Your aim?
- Action—what you did?
- Result and reflection—What happened and what you learnt?
For questions regarding how to manage challenging scenarios, use SPIES:
- Seek more information
- Patient safety
- Initiative—Things you can do
- Escalate—Which colleagues to involve
- Support—For yourself, for the patient, for the team, for any colleagues affected
Be aware of cues from the interviewers. If they appear rushed, and are trying to hurry you, it may be because your answers are too long and they have more questions they want to ask you. Time will always be short for your interview, and it is important to answer concisely. The best interview preparation you can do is to practice, either with friends or by organising a mock interview with your medical school. There are plenty of resources to help with prospective interview questions in books or free online resources. Ideally you want to have rehearsed how you will answer different questions in advance but also make sure your answers do not seem too scripted.
You may also be asked to present some of your academic work from your portfolio. Not all academic units of application (UOAs) require you to bring one, but you should double check whether it is needed for your interview. If you do need to bring a portfolio give yourself enough time to prepare it with enough examples to talk about. It should include your CV, additional qualifications, publications, presentations or posters, prizes, audits, teaching experience, and courses or conferences attended. Know your portfolio back to front and be ready to talk about any aspect of it.
Dermot Burke, associate professor in surgery, University of Leeds
“Don’t count yourself out before you have had your interview and ignore any others who may put you off. How you come across is more important than the achievements. I look for enthusiasm and interest most of all. As academia is full of pitfalls, what keeps people going is not their intelligence or ability in examinations but their determination and enthusiasm to succeed.”
The critical appraisal station
Some AFP interviews will require you to show that you can critique an academic paper. There are many good sources of information about how to do this such as The Pocket Guide to Critical Appraisal by Iain Crombie and Making Sense of Critical Appraisal by Olajide Ajetunmobi.
Work through the paper systematically and do not feel intimidated if you are not familiar with the methodology or the topic. If, after reading the paper, you are still uncertain of the rationale for the study, how it was performed, and how the authors arrived at their conclusions, then this is likely because the paper was poorly written rather than any fault of yours. This in itself is an important criticism. Do not get obsessive about identifying all of the weaknesses of a paper. A good critique includes a balanced review of both strengths and limitations of the data and methodology. Be polite and professional in your response: be aware that the author of the paper you are appraising may also be the examiner.
The clinical station
This usually involves talking a scenario through with a clinician rather than an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) style where you interact with simulated patients. The scenario will often follow a typical on-call situation which may start from taking a handover from a nurse who is concerned about an unwell patient. You will need to ask for the important clinical information and obtain a structured handover. In the UK this is commonly an SBARR (situation, background, assessment, recommendations, and repeat back) handover. You should then undertake a structured clinical approach outlining what questions you will want to ask the patient , examinations you will perform, tests you will request (bedside, blood, imaging, and further tests), any further action required (such as informing your senior), and what your likely and differential diagnoses are.
Alternatively you may be given a situation and requested to provide an SBARR handover to your consultant over the phone. The purpose of these scenarios is not to test your diagnostic accuracy, and few, if any, marks are generally awarded for getting the correct diagnosis. Interviewers want to see that you can think widely around a clinical presentation, so coming up with a list of differential diagnoses is important.
Ultimately, the aim of this station it is to ensure that you are a safe practitioner, that you exclude potentially life threatening causes of the patient’s symptoms, and that you know when you need to call for help. You can read about how to be effective on-call in our Student BMJ series “You’ve Been Bleeped” (see http://student.bmj.com/student/section/clinical/juniordoctor.html).
Dermot Burke, associate professor in surgery, University of Leeds
“The interview is more about creating an impression than about testing knowledge. I don’t mind people getting things wrong provided that they have a go.”
The presentation station
You should be told in good time before the interview about any presentations you will be giving. Dare Olakudan, a previous academic foundation trainee, says, “You get a lot of time to prepare it and the questions are designed to give you multiple opportunities to sell yourself.”
Avoid having too many slides and too much information on each slide. It is better to say a few things clearly than to say many things at a rate that the interview panel cannot digest. If your presentation is only three slides long, you should still have an introductory slide signposting what you are going to talk about and a conclusion slide to reiterate your key points.
Remember that the panel have never seen your presentation before, so if you miss something out you can carry on or slip it in at an appropriate point later. A large part of academic medicine involves communicating concepts clearly and generating interest in your work. This is your chance to show the interviewers your enthusiasm and how interested you are in the post. It is also important to prepare in advance answers to questions the interview panel may ask you.
It is easy to speak faster than normal because of your nerves, but this is less likely if you start by taking a deep breath and thoroughly rehearse your presentation, especially your opening sentences, so that you can present without needing to look at your slides.
Questions commonly asked at an AFP interview
- What does an academic clinician do in a typical day?
- Talk me through a research project you have been involved in. What did you enjoy/hate?
- Where do you see your academic career going in the next 5-10 years?
- Tell me about a teaching session you have delivered. What did you learn from it?
- Why did you choose the academic foundation programme?
- How would you design a study/trial to investigate?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of this research paper?
- How would you deal with conflict between two colleagues?
- Your fellow foundation year one doctor missed work because she was hung over. What would you do next?
- What area of research are you interested in and why?
- Tell me about the academic career pathway.
- What kind of study is this, and what are its strength and weaknesses?
- How is research funded?
- Why have you chosen to apply to this deanery?
- Your work colleague is always off sick. How would you deal with this?
- What do you think makes a good researcher?
- Tell me about any challenges you have faced in research. What did you learn from the experience?
- You have two patients presenting with [name of symptoms]. Who will you see first? Why? How will you manage them and who can you call for help?
1Saint James’s University Hospital, Leeds
Correspondence to: M.firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
- Brettell R. It’s not just academic: the academic foundation programme. BMJ Careers 27 Sep 2012. http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20009022.
- Picard O. Medical interviews: A comprehensive guide to CT, ST & registrar interview skills. 2nd ed. ISC Medical Interview Skills Consulting, 2013.
- South Thames Foundation School. Example interview questions for F2 interview practice. www.stfs.org.uk/sites/stfs/files/Example Interview Questions for F2s.pdf.
- Crombie IK. The pocket guide to critical appraisal. BMJ Publishing Group, 1996.
- Ajetunmobi O. Making sense of critical appraisal. Hodder Arnold, 2002.
- Oladokun D. LEADERS guide to academic foundation programme application. Part 2: The interview. Leeds Academic Development Education and Research Society. Available from www.leadersleeds.co.uk/resources/.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h5937