5 min read

Body Language During Your Medical School Interview

Published on
May 13, 2024

Making sure that your patients feel safe, and attended to, is a central part of practising medicine. As a medical school student, there is a possibility that you will be learning from patients, in the hospital environment, as early as your first week of training (at ANU and UOW). This is precisely why the medical school interview will have a specific focus on assessing your understanding of body language in healthcare. This includes considering your body language, as you open the interview and discuss pertinent issues. 

Also important is your understanding of the importance of body language in the hospital setting, and a capacity to analyse the behaviour of others and remark on possible shortcomings.

In this article, we will be discussing the importance of body language in an interview. Aside from pure verbal communication, we will be covering how to read body language in an interview, as well as the importance of nonverbal communication between the doctor and patient. 

Body Language in Healthcare

Let’s first begin by discussing the context of non-verbal communication. In the hospital setting, you will often be faced by individuals who find it challenging to communicate their concerns and anxieties. Many patients are understandably distressed, but will try to put on a brave face when discussing situations with clinicians. This is why it is important to consider - how should a doctor interview a patient, to ensure that the patient feels comforted, and at ease?

Firstly - it is important to understand the difference between positive and negative body language for interviews. The definitions of these terms are quite intuitive. Positive body language, also known as ‘open’ body language, involves having your chest open towards the patient. In other words, you should be facing your conversation partner, and your arms should be by your side rather than crossed on your chest. 

Negative or ‘closed’ body language is the exact opposite - and generates an atmosphere of defensiveness (even standoffishness) between doctor and patient. You should always opt to engage in open body language. 

The second key facet of body language is active listening. In terms of establishing rapport, it is critical that nonverbal communication between patient and doctor emphasise mutual engagement. In other words, look directly at your conversation partner, and ensure that your face is expressive in response to their statements. Furthermore, it is useful to nod and gesticulate (use your hands) to support your patients in their storytelling.  

These are 5 common medical interview mistakes you can definitely avoid, so read through our aticle to familiarise yourself and ace this challenging medical interview.

Body Language During Video Interview

Like the GAMSAT, many interviews are now being conducted over online platforms.

Body language is critically important regardless of the interview format that your chosen medical school opts to utilise. However, body language during an online interview is particularly challenging to communicate. The best way to counteract this discomfort is through early, well-structured, in-depth preparation.

Firstly - it is important to familiarise yourself with the space that you will be recording your interview. What we mean here is that you need to understand where the borders of your camera image line. This ensures that you are framed properly in the interview recording, and that you can communicate proper sitting posture during the interview. You need to align yourself with the midline of the camera frame, sit upright, and leave some space between the top of your head and the top of the camera frame. 

Positive body language in recorded or online interviews is communicated by straightening your back, and holding your shoulders back (avoid slouching). This medical school interview posture communicates openness and professionalism, and this is of course compounded by appropriate interview attire

Secondly - as mentioned in the previous section, make full use of hand gestures and subtle nods. These are invaluable in emphasising the various points of your interview responses. You can think of these minor body language adjustments as bold text in an advert or essay. It helps the interviewer focus on the standout features of your response, and therefore makes your admission an easier decision for the medical school committee!

Thirdly - regardless of interview format, you may be asked to respond to video prompts during your MMI or panel process. One of the many video response questions that may be asked requires a student to identify ‘what are red flags in an interview?’. You will be given a patient-doctor interaction video, and will have to respond with an analysis of the appropriateness of the behaviour in the ethical scenario. This is why it is important to have a systematic approach to body language, and plan it carefully, rather than leaving this detail up to chance. The specific red flags of body language will be discussed in this article, below.

Read our article about common medical interview strengths and demonstrate your qualities in a clear and conscise manner. 

Body Language During Live Interview

The importance of body language in interviews is even greater when it comes to live, in-person MMIs or panel discussions. 

The best body language for an interview taking place in person begins outside the door of the interview station. As mentioned in the previous section, you should draw your shoulders back, open your chest, and straighten your back. Make sure to not over exaggerate your posture - you should look collected, but generally relaxed. Standing outside the door of the interview station, appropriate etiquette dictates that you knock on the door, even if you are expected. 

Once you have entered the interview room, you should engage in all of the relevant principles of body language in healthcare. This means looking directly at your interviewers and smiling. As a general rule, you should aim to mirror the body language of your patient or conversation partner, in order to appear most supporting. 

Judge your seating position and proximity to your interview based on both the existing furniture arrangement, and the prompts of the staff present. A good body language tip to impress your next interviewer is to sit yourself at a 45 degree angle towards your conversation partner. There are exceptions to this rule of course (i.e. if you are both seated across each other at a table), however as a general rule a slight angulation allows for a less confrontation discussion. This is especially relevant in acting stations, where you need to converse with an agitated or distressed patient. 

What Are Red Flags In An Interview?

Distinguishing the red flags of a poor interview is critical both to your individual performance, as well as your responses to the video MMI stations mentioned in the above sections. In this section, we will briefly outline the absolute mistakes that should be avoided at all costs. 

Jittery/Fidgeting Motions

It is understandable that many students will feel nervous in an interview. There is a tendency among some students to rock in chairs, or even play with their hands as they respond to interview questions. This is unprofessional, and does not instill your conversation partners with confidence in your ability to communicate under pressure. Make sure to film yourself responding to interview questions, to make sure that you identify any inappropriate behaviours and work on strategies to eliminate them.

Avoiding Eye Contact

This is yet another unfortunate consequence of nervousness. It is incredibly noticeable to an interviewer or a patient when their treating doctor is avoiding eye contact. This inevitably leads to frustration, as the conversation partner does not feel that they are being heard. In online/recorded interviews, body language preparation involves practising looking directly at the camera lens, rather than at your image on the screen. To perfect this skill in real life, rehearse your responses under time conditions with your friends, or interview tutors

Inappropriate Contact

This red flag involves attempts to support your conversation partner in unfamiliar ways. Specifically, this refers to acting stations. It is unacceptable to touch the actors that are role-playing distressed patients in any way! You would never make physical contact with the patients in the hospital setting as this is both unprofessional, and an infection transmission risk. 

Another relevant note concerning inappropriate contact is the dilemma of handshakes. It is generally accepted that in highly professional environments (i.e. the hospital rather than the local pizza shop) handshakes are offered by superiors to their co-workers (rather than the reverse). 

Therefore, when you enter a live interview, do not attempt to shake the interviewer's hand unless they offer you a handshake in the first place. This is especially considerate when you reflect on the fact that the interviewer likely does not wish to shake many dozens of hands in a single day, especially in a post-COVID world. 

Negative/Absent Body Language

Finally, when analysing videos of other clinicians body language, it is important to remark on negative or absent body language. We have already mentioned the role of negative body language in the nonverbal communication between doctor and patient. This involves crossing your arms or legs, looking at patients over your shoulder, as well as dropped back and shoulders. 

Beyond this however, it is also good to recognise that poor communication can also involve an absence of body language altogether. This includes standing too far away from the patient, avoiding eye contact, and failing to show signs of active listening during conversation. 

Some Final Notes and Resources

Above, we have outlined a guide to body language for your medical school interview. These are only the basics, and it is important that you take a more practical deep dive into this issue. This should involve discussing these ideas with your friends and family to reflect on their interview experiences - medical and otherwise. Also recommended is a chat about body language with your tutor. Last but not least, YouTube has an excellent collection of both good, and bad doctor body language videos. Make sure you browse through some of these patient interactions and comment on their strengths and weaknesses

Finally, many students struggle most with the big question about why they want to study medicine, causing both their verbal and non-verbal communication skills to drastically decline.

Where To From Here?

Hope our article helped you understand the difference between body language during video interviews and in-person. Also, the main takeaway from this article is that the role of body language plays a crucial role in demonstrating your calibre as an applicant. Hence, work on displaying a positive body posture to better deliver your medical interview response.

Also, before you head out, check out our range of FREE Resources and Tools that is intricately designed to guide you through your medical interview, be it an MMI station or a panel interview. The team at Fraser’s has got your back.