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How to prepare for your hospital preregistration interview

Well done — you have secured a preregistration interview in a hospital. How are you going to make that all-important first impression and secure a job offer? Gill Shelton and colleagues offer an insight into the interview process and the characteristics that the recruiter will be looking for.

Preregistration interview at hospital

Source: Wavebreakmedia Ltd /

Outstanding candidates demonstrate insight into what attitudes and behaviours, as well as skills and knowledge, are desired of NHS workers

Undergraduates often have the same questions about the interview process, which include:

  • Will there be clinical questions?
  • Will I have to do a test or calculations or both?
  • If I am not a “first class student”, will I still have a chance?
  • What are interviewers looking for?

Although each hospital interview will vary slightly, there are likely to be some common themes. Having great university grades alone is not always the ticket to securing your chosen preregistration position successfully.

General interview tips

The general principles of any interview will obviously apply. These include reading the job description, person specification and your own application form because initial questions at an interview are often based on the information that you have provided about yourself and your previous experiences. Because hospital interviews are often short, ensure you can answer questions with enough detail without rambling. Make sure your enthusiasm for pharmacy shines through your nerves. More general tips can be found here.

Outstanding candidates demonstrate insight into what attitudes and behaviours, as well as skills and knowledge, are desired of NHS workers. In addition, interviewers will be expecting the candidates to be able to put these into the context of a preregistration position.

Transferable skills

A strong understanding of the General Pharmaceutical Council preregistration performance standards is a good starting point for identifying any transferable skills you may have. These fall into three key areas:

  • Personal effectiveness
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Medicines and health

During the preregistration year, it will be your responsibility, with the support of your tutor, to identify and demonstrate your competence in each of these areas.Thinking about where you currently stand in relation to these standards will allow you to consider the strengths and weaknesses that you would bring to the role.

Most hospital departments have a large team of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, support staff and other preregistration trainees. You will be expected to work not only within these teams but also within the multidisciplinary teams outside the pharmacy department.

Teams need all kinds of people in order to be successful. Do not panic if you are not a natural leader. Give examples demonstrating your strengths and show insight into the need to develop the other skills to enable you to take on this role. Likewise, if you usually take on the lead role, consider whether this is always going to be appropriate in your future position and reflect on this to demonstrate insight into team working in the NHS. The use of non-pharmacy examples is fine as long as you are able to relate your answer to the skills that would be required of a preregistration trainee.

Communication skills can never be underestimated especially when working within the multidisciplinary team and with a wide range of patient groups. What experience do you have so far? Where have your communication skills been tested? Can you identify areas that would need to be developed?

Although you will have an outline training programme for your year, neither your patients nor the NHS will wait to see where they fit into this. Service demands on pharmacists and the pharmacy team are likely to impact on this plan, so you will need to demonstrate that you can adapt as necessary and cope with last minute changes. Alongside this you will need to demonstrate your initiative as an independent learner because this will be key to your success in making the most out of every minute of your training year.

Whenever you are asked to talk about the skills that you will bring to the role, try to avoid the temptation to just list every transferable skill that you think the interview panel wants to hear. It is better to concentrate on a few key skills and describe situations which demonstrate these skills and how they might apply to the role of a preregistration trainee.

Attitudes and behaviours

However, in today’s NHS great transferable skills alone are not enough to make you the “best” candidate for the job. So what else do you need to demonstrate during the interview process?

Recent high profile events such as the inquiry into the failings of basic care which occurred at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust have led the NHS to look ever more closely at the attitudes and behaviours that staff need to demonstrate consistently in order to provide patients with the quality and standards of care which they deserve.

The NHS Constitution lists six values which are considered essential to inspire passion in the NHS and which should underpin everything that the NHS does. These values are:

  1. Working together for patients to ensure that they come first in everything we do
  2. Respect and dignity to show an understanding of an individual’s needs and priorities
  3. Commitment to quality of care so that patients can trust that we strive to get it right every time
  4. Compassion to ensure care is provided with humanity and kindness
  5. Improving lives by cherishing professionalism and excellence to improve the patient experience
  6. Everyone counts to ensure that resources are used for the benefit of the whole community

When you are preparing for an interview, you need to think about how these values fit with your own and how you will be able to demonstrate to the interviewers that you understand these values and can apply them to the healthcare environment.

Think about situations that you may have faced during placements or work experience where you “went the extra mile”, where you helped someone even though it was inconvenient to you or where you showed empathy and understanding. Ensure that you can describe how you were involved in these situations and how your actions were consistent with the values of the NHS.

Assessment of practical skills

“Will there be a practical test?” This is one of the most common questions people ask before an interview. Many trusts incorporate an assessment of your practical skills during the interview process so you should be prepared for this possibility. The skills assessed relate to those abilities that a preregistration trainee would be required to demonstrate if he or she got the job, for example, identifying pharmaceutical care issues, performing calculations or communicating with other members of the healthcare team.

Further details of some of the different types of practical assessment which you may come across, including clinical, calculation, communication and presentation skills, are shown in the box below:

Type of assessmentWhat might be includedPreparation tips

Clinical skills

Looking at drug charts or patient scenarios in order to identify pharmaceutical care issues. The British National Formulary will usually be provided to assist you.

Ensure you are familiar with the BNF— in particular, checking doses, contraindications and identifying drug interactions.

Calculation skills

Calculating doses or volumes to be administered. You will commonly be expected to complete these tasks without the use of a calculator (as is the case for the registration assessment).

Practise answering sample calculations from university workshops or calculation text books. Ensure you are able to convert dosage units. Always check that your calculated answers look reasonable.

Communication skills

A group discussion of a pharmacy or healthcare topic or a role-play scenario requiring communication with another healthcare professional.

Reflect on your own communication style in order to communicate at your best throughout the whole interview process.

Presentation skills

A presentation on a given topic for five to ten minutes. You would normally be given the title before the interview.

Be sure to answer the presentation title you have been given — stick to the point. Think about what questions you might be asked about your presentation.

You will normally be advised before an interview if a practical assessment will be included. This may assist you with preparing for the interview day, but do not focus solely on preparing for a practical test and neglect to prepare for the interview questions.

When designing practical tests, interviewers will create scenarios appropriate to third year undergraduates. Therefore, you should approach any test with a positive frame of mind and try to focus clearly on the task that you have been asked to undertake. There should not be any “trick questions” included in an assessment but there may be questions of varying difficulty. This is to allow interviewers to differentiate between the abilities of different candidates.

If you find a question difficult, then do not be afraid to have a go. Often, candidates do know the correct answer but are afraid to write down an answer that could be wrong. A blank page tells an interviewer nothing, but an attempted answer may well be correct and can also show us your thought processes. Similarly, in a group discussion, speak up and tell others your opinion of the subject being discussed. Have confidence in your knowledge, abilities and opinions.

Many undergraduates understandably find the prospect of the assessment of practical skills to be daunting. Therefore, the following points may be of reassurance to you:

  • Practical skills are just one of the areas assessed at interview
  • All candidates will be undertaking the same assessments
  • Recruitment decisions focus on a candidate’s performance across all sections of the interview. Therefore, you may still be offered a position even if you have not performed strongly in a particular practical assessment

In summary, academic excellence is an advantage but should not be seen as a guarantee of a job offer.  NHS employers are looking for well rounded individuals who are able to communicate effectively, demonstrate high standards of patient care and can fit into the local pharmacy team.

Citation: Tomorrow's Pharmacist URI: 20066022

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