Specialised Foundation Programme – Introduction to interview

The Specialised Foundation Programme (SFP – formerly known as the AFP or academic foundation programme) is a highly competitive application process for final-year medical students. The fact that you are considering applying is testament to your commitment and hard work. So, congratulations on getting this far, you should be hugely proud of yourself.

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This article contains some tips and tricks for preparing for the interview primarily for London deaneries. Unfortunately, when roaming outside of the big city, the interview format changes dramatically. Therefore, we are starting with the most consistent region to provide you with some key information about the interviews. That being said, a lot of tips and advice surrounding the clinical and academic stations are applicable to other deaneries so have a read if you are so inclined and we promise it won’t be wasted time.

Please note that the information within this article is based on personal experience and advice handed down from generations of applicants. We have no affiliation with any organisations involved in running the SFP programme or the interview and allocation process. Please take the following information with a pinch of salt.

One final thing, the SFP is a great programme to undertake during your foundation years and is an early insight into medical academia, but it most certainly is not the be-all and end-all. F1/2 by and large is challenging, exciting, tiring, and a hugely educational experience that most enjoy, irrespective of the path you take. So regardless of your result at interview, look forward to the next few years of your life because you are going to have a lot of fun.

If you can give a little more information about white space questions or the styles of interview outside of London, please get in touch with [email protected].

Overview of the format

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, interviews were held in person and required more logistical planning in travel and even overnight accommodation. For the foreseeable future, this will remain the case.

The academic and clinical stations are held back-to-back, and it is our experience that the academic station is usually first.

The preparation station will last 15 minutes, with the academic and clinical stations allocated 10 minutes each.

Settings and Preparation

It almost goes without saying but; wear formal interview attire, find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed, have good lighting and ensure you have a good quality internet connection. Put a large do not disturb sign up on the door, unplug the doorbell, and send the dog/pet/parrot/miniature horse off to a friend’s house to avoid any unwanted disturbances.

We won’t bore you with the usual interview preparation advice, but as always… smile, relax, and try your very best to enjoy it. The interviewers genuinely want to help you and don’t want to trip you up, they are doing the job because they care about your progression and are excited by the quality of candidates that the job attracts. 

So, a quick run-down of the interview process from start to finish….

Join Microsoft Teams/Zoom

Please ensure you join the meeting at the scheduled time in the email. Double check if you have been admitted to the waiting room by ensuring you have clicked “Join now”. We know stories of candidates who thought they were not let into the waiting room because they had not clicked the “Join now” button! The deanery will provide you with an emergency contact email/number in case of technical difficulties on the day. It’s worth writing this down in the (rare!) event you’ll need access to it.  

You will meet an administrator who will ask you some questions and check your identity. Please bear in mind that it is possible that the whole interview process may run behind schedule, which could mean waiting to be admitted, sometimes for up to several hours. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a drink of water handy.

The panel

You will be greeted by a panel of two clinicians or academics, who will introduce themselves and kick start the interview process. In general, one will focus on the academic station, whilst the other takes over for the clinical station. There may also be an additional observer that will mark but will not interact with you at any stage.

It is very variable how they conduct the interview. Some let you speak and guide the whole interview with minimal interruptions, others will interrupt you and ask lots of questions. It doesn’t reflect on your performance – so please don’t panic! It is important to prepare for both of these eventualities, most likely on the day you will have interviewers with a style somewhere in the middle.

The interviews will run back-to-back for 20 minutes in total and then they will ask you to log off. You will receive no feedback at the end of the interview. Our advice would be to plan something fun for after the interview to prevent the inevitable self-critique that will follow.

So that’s the overview. What about the specifics!? Well, you can read more about the academic station and clinical station below:

The academic station
The clinical station

Written by Dr Jack Barton, Dr Daniel Richardson, Dr Jack Teh, Dr Abigail Whittaker, and Dr Rachel Millar.

With thanks to all our tutors who have supported SFP applicants, as well as those that dragged us through our preparation in previous years… we are trying to leave the ladder down behind us, as you did for us.

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