How to ace your specialty interview

8 minute read

Ten tips the author wishes she’d been given ahead of this stressful but unavoidable event.

This week, I will be focusing on 10 ways to ace your interview as a junior doctor and get into the specialty of your choosing.

I’ve had a few requests about interview tips, specifically for the RACGP Regional Training Organisation (RTO) Interviews, so I thought I’d share my two cents’ worth here.

Please keep in mind that I can’t disclose past interview questions but I can give you advice on how to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

The medical profession LOVES interviews. We do them to get into medical school, or to get an internship or a position as a junior doctor in a hospital. We keep giving interviews even when we become consultants. By this logic, it is impossible to avoid interviews, so you might as well embrace the beast and hone techniques to help you perform well and get the job of your dreams.

Interviews can be stressful and nerve-racking, especially when you don’t know what to expect. They can be especially stressful when you are a junior doctor trying to get on to the pathway of your dreams.

With that in mind, I’ve made a list of 10 interview tips that I WISH someone had told me before I sat my specialty interviews. 

Here you go! 

Tip #1: Understand the interview format

The first step is to understand how your interview will be conducted.

Some different formats include:

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs): These involve moving between a set number of stations (usually 8-10) and completing a set task at each station. It’s like musical chairs for medicine. The music is usually an irritating buzzer that gives candidates PTSD afterwards.

Panel Interviews: These interviews involve a candidate talking directly with two or more panellists for the duration of the interview. This is how my Regional Training Organisation conducted their interview.

Understanding the format can help you mentally prepare for what the interview will be like. It is also important to understand how many stations or questions there will be and the time limit for each.

For example, my RTO interview had five questions with 10 mins per question (two minutes reading and eight minutes to answer). This can vary depending on which RTO you are interviewing with, so it is best to check before interview day. You can find more information here

Tip #2: Invest in your tech!

This tip is especially relevant during pandemics (if you ever happen to be in one).

Nowadays, everything is conducted online, from grocery shopping and job interviews to yoga classes. When it comes to job interviews, it’s important to do the following:

  1. Ensure you have a high-speed, reliable internet connection
  2. Have a back-up device for the above or a Plan B in case technology fails you on the day (Murphy’s Law and all)
  3. Do a test run of your tech before interview day. Make sure you’ve got all the necessary equipment and an appropriate location to conduct the interview.
  4. Optimise your lighting. You want to appear well lit and easily identifiable on screen. You do not want to look like the Grim Reaper.
  5. Make sure you meet any of the specified requirements for the interview; for example, empty room, no noise, mobile phone turned off, only a clear glass of water on the table etc.

Tip #3: Reflect on the profession you want to enter

The interviews are designed to assess your suitability for a specific training program, whether that’s cardiology, ophthalmology or general practice. It’s important to reflect on what a good cardiologist, ophthalmologist, GP or “insert specialist here” would look like.

For example, if you were applying to the RACGP training program, it is important to reflect on why you want to become a GP. Questions that can stem from this include:

  • What does it mean to be a good GP?
  • Why do you want to become a GP over any other specialty?
  • What experiences have you had during your medical training that have prepared you to become a good GP?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a GP?

For further reference, you can check out the competencies of a fully qualified GP here.

Just remember that you won’t always be asked the question of “why do you want to be a GP/cardiologist/ophthalmologist/specialist” directly. However, if you already have a few reasons, you can try to weave them into your answers for other questions. 

Tip #4: Identify clinical, ethical and professional questions relevant to your specialty

Being a doctor is about more than just clinical knowledge. Our day-to-day practice is guided by a wide variety of ethical and professional obligations too. These include dealing with ethical dilemmas and unprofessional behaviour in a clinical setting.

If you are applying for a training program, your college wants to know that you are able to handle these situations in an appropriate manner (in addition to having a sufficient amount of clinical knowledge too).

For example, as a GP there is a wide variety of ethical dilemmas you may come across. How would you handle these? What would be the appropriate way to escalate these issues?

Tip #5: Be a safe doctor

This is a big one! Specialty colleges want to know that you are a competent and safe doctor.

To prepare for interviews that have a clinical component, I would recommend revising the management of certain emergency presentations or scenarios that you may encounter as a doctor in that training program.

This is where seemingly simple answers such as “calling for help” or “asking your supervisor or consultant” are worth their weight in gold. No one expects you to manage a STEMI on your own (we’re not superheroes).

However, colleges will expect you to be able to identify an emergency, realise you are out of your depth and seek help as early as possible. This shows them that you are a SAFE doctor.

Tip #6: Don’t forget to pause!

During any interview, you will be asked a series of questions. Don’t feel the need to respond to every question IMMEDIATELY. It is perfectly okay, and highly recommended, that you take the time to pause after a question has been asked. Take a few seconds to think about the question and formulate a structured response in your head.    

Tip #7: Structure your answers

Interviewers often have a checklist of answers they are looking for from candidates. As a candidate, you will come across as more professional if you have a structured answer rather than releasing some verbal diarrhoea into the abyss.

For example, a structured answer to the question of “why do you want to be a GP” could be signposted as three reasons (A, B and C) followed by further elaboration for each reason.

Tip #8: Examples are key

One of the best things you can do to prepare for any interview is to have a few examples at the tip of your tongue. These examples can relate to:

  • Clinical scenarios
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Professionalism issues
  • Showcasing your strengths
  • Communication, especially where cultural or language barriers exist.

My tip is to try to find examples that overlap across the clinical, ethical and professional fields. This will mean you having to find fewer examples on interview day. 

Tip #9: Breathe normally

This tip seems simple but you will be surprised how many candidates inadvertently hyperventilate during their interviews (myself included). Before you log in or walk in to your interview, take a deep breath, hold for three seconds and exhale for three seconds. Do it in between questions, as you are moving between stations and again at the end of the interview.  

Tip #10: Don’t beat yourself up

This is for managing your post-interview anxiety. Most of us have an impending sense of doom after an interview.

Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I said that. They must think I’m soooo stupid.

There’s no way I’m getting the job after THAT interview.

Have you ever felt that way? I have.

Try not to beat yourself up after an interview. We often chronically underestimate our performance (especially in medicine) and tend to extrapolate the most minor of mishaps into a disaster. This behaviour is not doing your mental health any favours.

Instead, try to plan an activity that (preferably) gets you out of your house (or wherever you sat the interview) and involves interactions with other human beings. Catch up with some friends for lunch, go see a movie or do something you enjoy! 

Final thoughts 

These are just a few of the tips and tricks I wish someone had told me when I was sitting specialty interviews. I hope some (or all) of these tips have been useful.

To all of you who are in interview-preparation mode, I wish you all the very best. You are amazing junior doctors who will one day make amazing specialists in your chosen fields.

Good luck!

Dr Nisha Nangrani is a Queensland GP registrar. This piece was originally published at

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