Applying for medical interviews is an incredibly stressful time for junior doctors. You have to find time to prepare for your interview whilst doing long on-call shifts and nights. Modern medical interviews have become viva exams where you can be asked questions on a range of different topics, both professional and academic. The stakes are high, with one wrong answer often being the difference between either not getting a job, or ending up having to move house or work in a specialty you are not interested in.
This puts considerable pressure on junior doctors and their families, leading to high levels of anxiety and depression. It is easy to feel isolated in this situation and many doctors struggle to cope. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone and that most of your colleagues will be going through the same thing. In this blog post, we’ve compiled a list of the key coping mechanisms doctors have used in the past to get through this difficult time. The list is not exhaustive, but does include some tried and tested tips and advice, which made the difference when we were all applying.
Since there is so much content to cover for your interview it is vital you give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Be realistic about what shift patterns you are likely to work in the months before the interview and how much free time you will have. One of the biggest, yet completely avoidable causes of stress in the interview period is leaving it all to the last minute, then realising you’ve got a string of busy on-call shifts to work and no time to revise.
Make a comprehensive revision plan and then stick to it. There is no ‘ideal’ amount of time to spend preparing as it depends entirely on your work schedule. Someone working a quieter job with minimal on-calls will be able to start preparing much later than someone working every other weekend in A&E. As a general rule of thumb, we’d advise you start gently preparing roughly 3 months beforehand, increasing the intensity of your revision in the last month.
There is a wealth of information available online to help you prepare. Blog posts like this one on the core surgical training interview will give you all the information you need to start revising effectively.
Add relaxation periods to your revision schedule
It is all too easy to try and fill every spare moment you have with revision. However, this can have a very negative effect on your mental health. You should try to have regular short breaks throughout the day when you’re revising and also try and plan at least one fun activity a week. This can be anything from playing a sport or seeing friends. Although it might feel like this is time lost, you will come back much more refreshed and will find that your revision is more effective as a result.
Talk to someone
Some anxiety is normal and can be useful in keeping you motivated. However, if you find that your anxiety levels have become unmanageable and are making you less effective, then it’s important you don’t ignore them.
Talking to someone you trust about your worries and concerns can be very helpful in this situation. Talking, in general, has been shown to be one off the most effective treatments for a wide variety of mental health problems and it’s no different here. Getting things off your chest and hearing someone else’s take on your situation can be very therapeutic and will often prevent your symptoms from getting worse. This should be the first thing you do and if possible we’d advise you try to make it a regular feature of your revision.
Exercise and eat well
It’s very easy to live on fast food during your revision period. You often feel like you don’t have the energy to cook each evening. One of the best things we did was cook a large healthy dish, full of vegetables at the beginning of the week and then eat that whenever we didn’t feel like cooking. Combining this with regular exercise will also have a huge positive impact on your mental health. It can be hard to find time to go to the gym so we tried to fit exercise into our normal daily routine, such as getting off the train/bus a stop early and then running home.
Plan a holiday for after the interview
This isn’t always possible for those with tight rotas or commitments at home, but where possible, we found having something to look forward to made a big difference in our ability to cope. Even a weekend away can make all the difference and give you a chance to blow off steam at the end of the process.
Most of all, try to stay positive. Remember this is temporary stress and things will get better!
Article written by Alexander Trevatt, Plastic Surgery Registrar, Co-Founder Medibuddy