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NHS interview questions and answers

It is, of course, difficult to generalise on the most common NHS questions that could come up across the huge variety of healthcare roles – questions will vary depending on medical speciality, grade, trust and culture of the organisation.

However, having coached hundreds of healthcare professionals applying for NHS roles, there are definite regular themes, so this blog might be helpful to drill down into a few of them. Part 2 questions to follow in another post.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the same question can be asked in a number of different ways whilst still requiring a similar answer. Prepare to listen deeply to the question to quickly ascertain what it is precisely that the panel are seeking eg. “Why should we hire you? & What are your key strengths?” should each require you to name and evidence clearly three or four relevant qualities that you will bring to the role.

1)   Tell us about yourself  

There will always be the usual opening questions such as “Tell us about yourself”, “Talk us through your career to date”. This answer can often be a long unstructured, ramble but it’s actually your ‘elevator pitch’… 3 mins in an elevator to get your experience across! Use the CAMP acronym – Clinical, Academic, Management, Personal to stay focused in your answer. Avoid giving long, chronological details of your career history, including dates, places of work, etc. Instead, focus quickly on your clinical skills and expertise, before moving into the other subject areas.

The ‘P’ in personal is actually your personal attributes such as ‘good team worker, strong communicator, proactive’. Again, try not to be tempted to list off a list of your hobbies and interests as it’s not quite suitable for this answer.

Once you’ve mastered your pitch, record and time yourself – aim for approximately three minutes. Four or five is starting to get too long and medical interviews are often fairly short so you might even get cut off. If that should happen, don’t worry, it’s not personal, they’ve just got a lot of questions to get through. Just breathe and refocus on your next question.

2)    Which one of our trust values most resonates for you?

The ‘values’ question pops up nearly every time, no matter the grade. Every trust shares their values on their website (often in the form of an acronym) which you should know and be able to reel off what each letter stands for.

Try to avoid the common mistake of saying how you agree with the values, eg. “patient care is very important to me and I regard it highly too and consider it in all aspects of my work.”

That hasn’t demonstrated how you demonstrate you put patient care at the top of your agenda. Always, always evidence through an example – you will find that in fact, a good example, will cover at least two or three of their trust values, which is even better.

3)    What do you know about the NHS long-term plan or XXX report?

Here’s where many of my clients often panic! But you don’t need to. The common mistake I see is that candidates feel they need to know everything about the latest relevant report (such reports are often difficult to digest) but the panel are not expecting you to regurgitate the contents of the report.

Try reading summary versions of the NHS long-term plan – the Kings fund can provide a helpful breakdown. and think about the impact this could have specifically on your area of healthcare or medicine. Equally, if there are reports that have been written and are more relevant to your speciality, find out what they are and think about the practical application of their suggestions.

It’s definitely worth talking through them with someone in your field as through discussing the purpose of the reports, you can find ways to think about how you may already be integrating the proposals or how you might want to develop them in the future eg. building stronger links with primary care.

4)    Tell us about a clinical mistake you’ve made

Ideally, this should be within the last couple of years (as should most of your answers) so don’t use an example from medical school if you’re applying for a medical consultant role.

It’s not designed to catch you out but it’s more about your professional integrity, willingness to continually learn and self-reflect and stay calm in a crisis.

Of course, your example should not include any aspect whereby the patient came to any harm but it might be that the event has now increased your vigilance, led to new risk guidelines being implemented and that the learning has been shared with the wider team eg. through an MDT meeting.

Medicine and healthcare is continually evolving and you need to demonstrate that you are too to remain a safe and effective practitioner.

5)    What is more important – empathy or clinical judgement/knowledge?

Again, it’s not a trick question so don’t think you have to literally answer the question with one or the other.

I often tell my clients to think about the way politicians speak, whereby they give an answer but on their terms. At the same time, you don’t want to annoy the interview panel but in this scenario, it doesn’t warrant a ‘this or that’ type of answer as of course, a good medical or healthcare professional will say that both are equally important and explain how that is the case. ie. you may be the best brain cancer surgeon in the world but if you don’t have any communication skills to break the news to the patient about their prognosis, the patient’s whole experience of their disease can be far more negative than someone who uses empathy alongside their medical expertise to explain the patient’s condition fully, their prognosis, potential treatment, support etc.

The best practitioners are well-rounded in all their skills – including knowledge of their speciality but also their communication skills. Patients now have much more access to knowledge about their illness or condition, thanks to the internet, but this can make it much more challenging for practitioners as such information may not be accurate or relevant for that particular patient. But the ethos of medical care has changed to be much more patient-centric, rather than ‘doctor knows best’ meaning that patient expectations are higher and medical and healthcare professionals need to demonstrate both of these skills at interview level and beyond.

6)   Ethics: Your patient refuses to be treated by a non-white doctor but he is the only qualified medical professional available. How do you deal with this?

This is just one example of a myriad of ethical questions which can be proposed but the key principles remain the same.

Firstly, bear in mind that ethical examples are not necessarily right or wrong – more importantly, they require you to think laterally and from a broad perspective.

Your starting point is to know the four ethical principles – autonomy, maleficience, non-maleficience and justice. You don’t need to name them in your answer but they each need to be considered. An ethical dilemma is often just that because each of the four pillars will often contradict each other ie. on the subject of euthanasia … is it right to keep someone alive who relies heavily on medical equipment to live if it is their wish to die?

Prepare to be challenged in ethical questions, but try to hold up your own arguments, even when under pressure which should demonstrate you can think fairly, openly and have a strong mind without being opinionated.

…. And finally, ff you get the opportunity, visit the hospital or place you will be working at to find out more about how they operate or at least arrange Teams meetings/phone calls with key individuals. This will give you a lot more insight to the role that you will get merely from the job description and will demonstrate that you are keen to make the effort and meet members of the team.

If you would like support with your forthcoming NHS interview, please get in touch to book one or more sessions.