Intended for healthcare professionals


Interview practice for foundation doctors

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 21 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3806
  1. Shan Shan Jing, foundation year 2 doctor
  1. 1Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Ealing Hospital
  1. shanshan.jing{at}

What is it?

Interview preparation is an anxious and stressful period for all foundation doctors who are about to move on to higher surgical training. This one day course provides an overview of the interview process for core surgical training and a practical approach to gaining interview skills. In addition, it provides individual feedback.

Who is it for?

This course is recommended for foundation doctors, mainly year 2 trainees about to go through the specialty recruitment process.

Why did you do it?

There is a lack of information and understanding about the recruitment process. Changes are brought in every year. Competition is fierce, particularly for popular deaneries such as London. For all these reasons I wanted to learn more about the system, understand what the interviewers are looking for, and gain interview skills from the clinicians who sit on the panel.

When does it run?

The course runs annually, usually in November before the start of the core surgery application process. A top tip would be to do the course in foundation year 1 so that you can identify any weaknesses early and have enough time to improve before your interview.

Where does it take place?

The course takes place at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London. The course organisers are from Mayday University Hospital in Croydon; they also run the course there.

How is the course structured?

It is led by a consultant surgeon who is experienced with the interview process and a Royal College of Surgeons training educator. It is delivered in an interactive style to a group of about 40 attendees. The day starts with general information about the structure and format of the specialty interview followed by tips on self presentation, non-verbal communication, and effective interview preparation.

The rest of the day involves practising intensive interview questions. Each candidate is encouraged to answer a question in front of the rest of the group in order to be assessed individually. Questions are based on three themes that are examined in the actual interviews: clinical governance; surgery under pressure; and research, audit, and portfolio. Individual feedback is given to each candidate in terms of his or her non-verbal communication and the content of the answers. Improvements are suggested.

The day ends with a discussion about portfolios and setting individual action plans to improve applicants’ interview skills on the basis of information taught during the course.

How much effort does it entail?

No formal preparation is required, nor is there any precourse study material. However, it would be useful to bring your CV and portfolio so that the course directors can review them and make suggestions.

How much does it cost?

The course is free for those who have subscribed to the Royal College of Surgeons’ e-learning course, STEP Foundations. For others it costs £150 for the day.

How does this course help junior doctors?

This course will improve your chances of securing a training post. It provides a scheme for what you should be aiming for; however, practising the key skills gained is essential.

Was it worth it?

The course was well structured and achieved all the objectives. It provided useful information about the specialty interview process, outlined what the interviewers are looking for, provided individual feedback, and clarified common questions. It could be improved by recruiting more instructors to the course and dividing the large group of attendees into smaller work groups to encourage more one to one tutoring. The course could be extended to allow discussion about application forms as well.

Top tips

  • Be prepared and do the course early in your foundation training

  • Read about the interview structure for specialty training posts

  • Prepare answers for anticipated generic questions, as you would for an actual interview, to make the most of the course and get feedback

Contact for further information

Education Department, The Royal College of Surgeons of England, 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE; tel: 020 7869 6328; fax: 020 7869 6320;


  • Competing interests: None declared.