Top Tips for a Veterinary Medicine Interview
Updated: Mar 21
It's once again interview season, and from MMIs to panel interviews, vet schools have turned to Zoom to meet thousands of vet med candidates from across the country.
The face of vet med interviews has changed drastically since I went through it - I trekked half the country for 4 interviews and I don't even want to know how much money we spent on petrol. This is one of the many benefits of Zoom interviews, particularly from an access point of view, and I've had messages from numerous students telling me that, although in person interviews are vastle preferable, they've actually been really pleased at getting to do them from the comfort of their living room, and not have to spend obscene amounts of money. Although of course not the point of this post, I think there are major lessons to be learnt here for the future for those universties that do interviews.
Now, I suspect many of you reading this will have an interview coming up in the next few days, and I'd like to provide a bit of context for why on earth I think I'm qualified enough to write about this. In 2019, I crossed most of the South of the country to attend interviews at Nottingham, Surrey, the RVC and Cambridge. As such, I've experienced every type of interview possible for veterinary medicine admissions - panel, MMI, group, and Cambridge (which really, is just a more academically focused rather than vocational panel interview).
For those who have never heard of any of these things before, here's a brief breakdown of what they entail:
1) MMIs - Multiple Mini Interviews
These are now common place across veterinary, medicine, and denstistry admissions assessments, and consist of 'stations'. Typical questions include motivations for studying veterinary medicine, ethics scenarios, and basic clinical aptitude - and, before you panic, no they're not going to ask you to diagnose some obscure disease. In my interviews these kinds of questions usually focused on xrays or an image of surgery and I was asked what I thought was going on.
2) Panel (and Cambridge)
You'll come before a 'panel' of people who work for the vet school, and they'll ask you some questions. These are generally similar to MMI format but instead of seeing 6 or 7 different interviewers each asking you a single question, you'll talk to usually up to 3 academics in one go. Cambridge focus a bit more on your academic aptitude (i.e. you'll be asked more questions about science and your understanding of it) whereas other panel interviews like Nottingham will instead ask more vocationally based questions, for example what you saw on work experience. Both types cover both kinds of questions, but the emphasis differs.
3) Finally, group interviews
These are more commonplace these days, although I'm unsure what they'll be like on Zoom. When I did them two years ago, we were given a task, and along with 9 other people I had never met before, we had to work together to answer a question. This could be an ethical issue, a question on anatomy, or a similar topic that would require discussion and debate.
Okay so great, now you know what an interview is and what to expect. Onto my advice...
If you've never seen an xray before, familiarise yourself with what they look like
When I was interviewing, in every single interview I had I was asked at least one question that involved looking at a basic xray. I wasn't asked anything complicated; often the question followed along the lines of 'what do you see here?' followed up by 'is this normal and why/why not?' It's worth having a look online at dog and cat xrays very briefly - don't get too bogged down in the details though, and certainly don't think you have to know everything about using them! (I don't, and I'm in the second year of my course!)
Just get used to positioning, what things should vaguely look like (i.e. where is the heart? the lungs?) and identify where the microchip is! Even having seen an xray before having your interview will help if you get this kind of question, and since mentoring new applicants I've discovered that actually it's quite useful if they've had some kind of experience with this before.
2. Remember it's not about what you've done, but what you gained from the experience
I'm conscious that this year many people have struggled to be able to get the work experience usually demanded of them by the vet schools. Remember that what you've managed to get, whether online or in person, is still really valuable experience no matter what it is.
Before you go into the interview, think critically about all your placements/online courses and try to pick one thing that really excited or interested you. Frequently, interviews will include the question 'tell me about something that excited you on your work experience'. Having a good idea of a) what you learned and b) what you took from the experience will help you to approach this kind of question well, and highlight that you're able to critically evaluate your experiences - a key skill for vets.
3. Have an awareness of 'hot topics' from the veterinary industry and why they're important in today's profession
Although probably an obvious tip, it's important to show that you have an idea about the profession you want to enter in to. To be frank, we have a problem with retention, with many young vets leaving the profession quickly after first entering it for a variety of reasons. Vet schools are now also assessing for resilience and ensuring that students are fully aware of the career they want to enter - it's not just about cuddly animals!
Things to consider are: antibiotic resistance, welfare in the profession (see the Not One More Vet campaign), BOAS (brachycephalic dog breeds), the ethics of breeding, sentience (see a recent change in law about the status of cephalopods as sentient beings), euthanasia, remote prescribing, microaggressions and mental health, Animal Health Certificates, and the impacts of Brexit.
I don't mean that you should be able to fully debate the ins and outs and be able to quote statistics off the top of your head. But having a vague idea of why there are problems and issues within the profession (and the good things too!) will set you apart from candidates who haven't done their research.
4. Read (or, in the case of Zoom, LISTEN) to the question you are asked and answer that one - not the one you wish you'd have been asked
I've had a few conversations with people who've conducted interviews, and one of the things that frequently comes up is that interviewees will often go off on a completely irrelevant tangent, and not actually answer the question they've been asked. Interviewers have different perspectives on this: some will let you ramble, others will cut you off and resteer you back to the question. But they all agree that it detracts from the quality of your answer and leaves them with less time to ask you more about yourself.
My tip is to take a moment to pause and consider the question. You don't have to immediately launch into an answer (unless you already know exactly what you want to say, in which case be my guest) and sometimes its helpful to collect your thoughts - it comes across like a more considered response. And, particularly if you have no idea what they're on about, it gives you a chance to come up with an answer or think about a route to pursue to get to an answer.
One great tip I heard was to have a cup of tea/water/nice drink next to you during your interview. It works two fold: if you're nervous, having something else to think about (i.e. don't drop the burning tea in your lap) is often quite good to help you distract yourself from your nerves and focus you. It also means that if you want to give yourself some time to consider your answer, take a sip of your drink! It gives you a brief interlude and is the perfect amount of time to collect yourself.
5. Smile - enjoy yourself!
This is a horribly cliched, unoriginal tip you've probably already heard, but I really wanted to reiterate it because it's so important. Remind yourself that this is what you've wanted to do for years. The things you're about to talk about are subjects that excite you, that you want to pursue as a career, that you think genuinely help to make a difference and that you are, above all, interested in.
These interviews are a chance for you to see what life as a vet student is life, and to get a glimpse of some of the things you'll be thinking and learning about. It's worth reminding yourself that this isn't something meant to be stressful, but rather an opportunity for you to see whether vet med actually is for you, and to meet some of the people who'll be teaching you.
Try to think of it as them trying to convince you to come to their university, not the other way around. They've invited you to interview because they think you have the potential to be a great vet - this is your opportunity to show them why they made that decision, and convince them that they absolutely need you as part of their student body.
I hope these tips were useful and gave you some extra things to think about/consider. I know a lot of the advice online is really generic, and to a certain extent it has to be as giving specific advice is really hard since a) the interviews change yearly and b) the content of interviews has to be kept a secret.
But I really hope I've provided some extra knowledge and things for you to learn from, because one of the things I strive to do here is to bring a student perspective on advice, and not regurgitate run of the mill responses. In short, I want to provide relevant thoughts you can't get anywhere else.
If you want anymore advice or have questions about vet school, my inbox is always open below so do feel free to get in touch. Vet school interviews are tough, and when you've finished the season please give your mind a break! It's a gruelling, taxing month usually, so be kind to yourself and remember - you are doing better than you think.