It’s coming to that time of year when UCAS applications have been filed and the early birds are clamouring for the last few places left on nursing courses up and down the country. With England losing the bursary (RIP NHS) effective September 2017, the race is on for those coveted spaces in universities offering a Jan-April 2017 intake.
So how can you best prepare for your student nursing interview and wow your chosen university into giving you an offer? I managed to bag interviews at all five of my choices, and despite pulling out of two options, was offered a place at the remaining three. So hopefully I can help with a few interview tips and what to expect.
NOTE: As a condition of my interviews I am bound to keep the exact questions and nature of sessions confidential. Therefore any questions or scenarios mentioned here are given as general advice and not specific to any university.
Before you start: Know the format
Some universities require applicants to pass an English and maths test before they can proceed to the actual interview stage. Others offer a one-to-one interview. Others are MMI (multiple mini interviews, click here for more information about how to pass one of those bad boys) formatted which sees you speaking to five or six people from the university, from the local trust and also service users. Others are more panel-focused, where you sit in front of lecturers and talk about, well, whatever they want to talk about. In MH and Child nursing you might be split up into groups and asked to debate a current issue in nursing.
So before you even start reading the NHS Constitution, know what you’re up against and how it can play to your strengths. If you’re confident, will you be seen as being a little too cocky and loud? If you’re shy will you be too quiet? Do you have interview experience you can draw on? Being confident or shy won’t be an issue if you know how to use those qualities to your own advantage.
Pre-interview prep: It’s all about you (kinda)
What would make you a good nurse? Yes yes, you want to care for people, you want to make a difference, you want to single-handedly save the NHS. Blah blah blah. That’s all well and good but that tells your interviewers nothing they haven’t heard a thousand and one times before.
You need to know why you want to be a nurse (more than just ‘caring for people’) so you can accurately convey that to the people who’ll be deciding if you’re good enough to make the cut. If you’re experiencing a radical career change, are you ready to basically adapt to a completely new way of life – for good? Are you able to endure the length of the course? What skills and qualities match those required of a nurse? Are you a good leader? Are you empathetic? Can you sell sand to a camel? Use your skills to prove you’re worth the cut.
Half of all nurses who start a nursing course leave. That’s right. 40-50% quit. Sometimes it’s financial issues, some realise nursing isn’t for them. Others are due to family circumstances and others just don’t realise how tough and how much literal blood, literal sweat, and literal tears are shed in the first few weeks alone. Given that it costs around £70,000 to train each student, how can you prove you’re worth the investment?
One-to-one interviews: Speak clearly and confidently
You’ll be nervous, and your interviewers will know that so don’t worry if you stumble or even burst into tears. However, you need to come across confidently. Confident that you know why you want to be a nurse, confident you know the role of a nurse, confident you know how hard it’ll be. You need to have in your mind a clear thought process. Practice answering the following questions:
What is the role of a nurse?
Why do you want to be a nurse?
Why do you want to be a/n [adult/child/mental health] nurse and not [another] nurse?
What challenges is nursing facing at the moment?
Can you name all of the 6Cs?
What does the NHS Constitution mean to you?
What is the NMC?
Why do you want to come to our university?
If you can get through these questions confidently, without stumbling and grasping for ideas, it’s a good start.
Panel interviews: Research your chosen university
We’ve already said it costs £70,000 to train each nurse. So you need to be 100% confident the university you’re applying to is the right one for you. Each has their own way of going about things. Some start placements after 8 weeks of study. Some don’t have exams or essays. Some don’t go into placement in their first year at all and focus on the academics.
Know the structure of the course inside out and if possible try and find a module guide so you know roughly what you’ll be studying. Has the faculty been placed well in university guides and satisfaction surveys? Do they have any achievements such as award wins to shout about? Mention them and show your research skills. Know the way the uni functions and the trusts they work with. Are you prepared to travel to the deepest reaches of each placement area? Tell them.
For example, I’m studying in Chelmsford and my nearest placement is 45 minutes away from home. That’s the NEAREST placement. That’s the minimum time it’ll take me to get to placement. Maximum will involve bus, train, bus and another train and take 90 minutes each way. Meaning a 4:30am alarm. Are you prepared to do that? If not, then save your time and pull out at this stage.
Panel interviews: Revise your personal statement
Sounds weird, no? Well, they selected you for a nursing interview based on this so it only makes sense you know it inside and out. Refer to it when you answer their questions, it’s likely they’ll have a copy when it’s your turn to speak.
Face to face interviews: Commitment
Be honest. Can you afford this course? The bursary only goes so far, and it would be heartbreaking to start and not be able to finish. If you’ve thought about every penny, be sure to convey that you’re fully committed and prepared to eat beans on toast for the next three years. If you have children, how will you ensure they can be looked after if your shift starts at 7am and you live an hour away? The NMC requires students to work a minimum of nine night shifts, as well as weekends and public holidays. Can you commit to that?
If you will be working, can you ensure it won’t affect your study and placement time? Remember, you’re committing to 37.5 hours a week (less lunch breaks which aren’t counted) on placement, sometimes working 12-14 hour shift PLUS travel time. Will your needing to work make you too tired to reflect on your placement?
Just a note: You aren’t paid to go on placement. I repeat: You Aren’t Paid To Go On Placement. I say this as one gent got the shock of his life during an interview session when he asked the interviewer (in front of all of us) how much we get paid when we’re on placement.
Passing the situational scenario interview: Be people-centred
Now, truth be told, I don’t like people all that much. I don’t. I would rather be snuggled indoors under a fluffy duvet reading a book and sipping silky hot chocolate than step foot outdoors and *eurgh* socialise. But I’m inexplicably driven to people who need help, and my sense of empathy has me second-hand crying when I feel someone is hurting. The key to being a good student is feeling that empathy and letting it shape you as a future nurse, and if you can’t relate on a personal level, then at the very least sympathising with a situation. Even if your personal beliefs are diametrically opposed to the person sat in front of you, you need to still be able to put that person first and your own ideas last.
Imagine having to see the same drug-abusing woman week after week, giving her help all the while knowing the next week she’ll be back with the same problem and you’ll need to treat her again. Could you understand and give her that same level of care as when she first walked in the building? Or will you huff and puff about wasting time and resources?
The service user is the centre of everything we do. If you’re given a scenario, you need to prove that’s how you work.
The group interview: Teamwork
If you can’t work in a team, you can’t be a nurse. You just can’t. Even if you’re a community nurse seeing patients one to one, you still need to work as a team with local trusts and health care enterprises. If you want to be a lone worker, I would suggest becoming a freelancer of some sort, or perhaps finding work in an Arctic station somewhere.
In fact, at my uni, we don’t have an essay in our first module, we have a team presentation in which we’re marked not only by assessors but also by our own team members. MY TEAM HOLDS THE KEY TO 20% OF MY OVERALL MARK. You want to know what working with four other people is like? It’s tough. I’d rather have a 10,000-word essay, to be honest. It’s not all about YOU. It’s not all about THEM. You need to learn how to articulate your opinion without being overbearing. You need to be able to challenge viewpoints without being rude. If you’re shy you need to be able to speak up. If you’re loud you need to be able to shut up. You need to be able to negotiate and negotiate hard if needed.
Show compassion when in a group interview, too. If you see someone isn’t offering much then include them. This shows you’re observant.
The seventh C…
There are 6Cs (Google them if you don’t know them by heart) but there is also a secret C: candour. Being a nurse will involve having really difficult conversations with service users and their families. Will you be too harsh in delivering bad news? Will you be able to do it at all? What if you think a service user is making a bad treatment decision or refusing treatment that will save their life?
We are bound by the Duty of Candour, the ability to be honest and open in every situation.
Honestly, this is what interviewers what to see. They don’t expect you to be able to recite the NMC Code of Conduct to the letter, and they don’t expect you to have in-depth knowledge of medical scenarios if they present you with one. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the Mental Capacity Act. I was given a scenario that was kinda similar to this: An elderly man with a stoma needs to have his bag changed urgently, a lady in another bed pressed the call bell as she’s thirsty, and another gent is struggling to get our of bed as he needs a wee. What do you do? I have no idea. I’m not medical in the slightest and have never worked with patients before. It doesn’t matter. Why? Your reposnse tells the interviewer the type of person you are. Throughout it all, it’s simply about using common sense, being polite but confident, and knowing nursing is in your blood.
You’re going into the course as a lump of clay. You’ve got to the interview stage so clearly you have the ingredients needed based on your personal statement and current experience. You just need a little bit of shaping to make the grade. So make sure you’re being you. Brush up on your GCSE maths for the numeracy test and practice your best handwriting for the literacy. Read up on nursing issues and understand the issues the NHS faces. Make people the focus of everything, and I’ll see you on the other side with our NMC pins, ready and raring to go.