Intended for healthcare professionals


Choosing a core surgical training interview skills course

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 08 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3779
  1. Martin Van, core surgical trainee1,
  2. Thananjeyen Srirangarajan, core surgical trainee2
  1. 1Morriston Hospital, Swansea
  2. 2Withybush General Hospital, Haverfordwest
  1. martinmtvan{at}


Martin Van and Thananjeyen Srirangarajan describe the courses available to help prepare for the core surgical training interview

A successful appointment to core surgical training is the first step in qualifying for higher surgical training and becoming a surgeon in most surgical specialties. This is a competitive process and can be stressful: in 2015 the competition ratio for core surgical training was 2.3 to 1.1

The key element for a successful application and gaining a post is preparedness. The resources available range from informal advice from senior colleagues to paid core surgical guides and interview courses. Recent years have seen an expansion of interview courses, which differ in format and price. We aim to summarise the current courses on offer as a guide for core surgical training applicants.

Finding available courses

We looked at Royal Colleges of Surgeons websites and Facebook surgical groups, and we searched online for “core surgery interview course.” The seven courses included were tailored specifically to the core surgical interviews and offered courses in 2017-18.

Courses in 2017-18*

View this table:


One of the main considerations for any course is the price. The cost of these courses varies significantly, from free to £300. Of the seven courses available, the median cost is £175. Your budget calculation should also include the cost of accommodation and travel to the course location. Choosing a local course could save you a significant amount.


All seven courses provide lectures on how to tackle the three interview stations: clinical, management, and portfolio. Furthermore, they all include a critique of your curriculum vitae and offer a mock interview. Courses differ, however, in their candidate to faculty ratio for the mock interview. Most of the courses do not specify this ratio, but those that do range from two candidates per faculty member to one per faculty member.

Two of the courses also include small group teaching, and one offers video recording of parts of the mock interview segment. This video is then analysed and fed back to each candidate during the course.


Most interview skills courses are held in January, but some start in October. The core surgical interviews are held during the last week in January and the first week in February, which you should consider when booking a course. You can risk peaking too early or may not have enough time to make changes if your course is held too late.


The abundance of core surgical interview courses reflects a corresponding demand, as they often book up quickly. The competitive nature of recruitment to surgery has created a profitable market in this area, and we may see more courses offered by other organisers in the future.

The core surgical applicant has a variety of choices of interview courses, and it may be difficult to choose which to attend. They all offer the essentials: lectures regarding the structure of the interview, as well as mock interviews covering the portfolio, management, and clinical stations. The difference lies in the price, faculty, and other extras offered, such as small group teaching, video analysis, or one-to-one candidate training throughout the course.

Another factor to take into account is location, which can add extra costs for transport and accommodation for candidates. Whichever course you choose, be sure to look at the alternatives before you buy.


  • Competing interests: MV was a faculty member at Interview Skills for Core Surgical Training, held on 10 October 2016 at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. TS has no competing interests.