5 min read

What is a Panel Interview?

Published on
May 13, 2024

In a previous article on medical interviews, Fraser’s covered the basics related to multiple-mini interviews. However, medical school MMIs are only half of the picture regarding both GEMSAS and non-GEMSAS medical admission. The other piece of the puzzle is the panel interview, also known as the ‘traditional’ interview format.

It is true that the panel interview structure for medical admission interviews is less scientifically rigorous than the MMI and has therefore fallen out of favor with the majority of GEMSAS interviews. Nevertheless, the medical schools that retain the ‘traditional’ interview format do so for very particular reasons. Indeed, these schools are not seeking to evaluate candidates against a standardized test, but rather quite the opposite. These specialty medical schools are interested in the alignment of their vision and values with the prospective students.

All the general qualities of ethics relevant to an MMI only address half of the panel medical interview requirements. The other half consists of demonstrating that your medical candidacy and the traditional interview university are, in fact, a good fit! In this article, we will be discussing the style and substance of panel interviews. It is important to note that while the format of this admission screening is different from an MMI, the advice for MMI practice is still very much relevant to panel interviews. 

How is a Medicine Panel Interview Different from an MMI?

Continuous Examination

We have previously discussed the fact that MMI interviews feature multiple ‘stations’ and multiple interviewers. As candidates rotate between the different rooms of an MMI interview, they face a ‘fresh start’ behind each door. That is, there is a different person with whom you must build rapport. Furthermore, each new station’s marker does not know your performance in previous interview stations, and therefore each question stem is a new opportunity for success. These benefits are absent in the panel interview format. Rather than having multiple stations, panel interviews take place in a single room. As is suggested by the interview title, the traditional medical admission format places a candidate before a ‘panel.’ Much like the case in the MMI, these interviewers are professionally diverse and often come from both members of the public and healthcare professionals. 

One Chance At Examiner Rapport

The major implication of panel interviews is that the candidate needs to build a rapport with the interview panel. While good rapport during the MMI may be a question of a polite introduction at the door and a firm handshake, the panel interview is different. In a panel medical interview, you discuss various topics with your interviewer over an extended period of time, upwards of half an hour (depending on the medical school). 

Increased Follow-up Question Difficulty

Another consequence of the panel format is that there is a greater opportunity for dialogue between the candidate and the panel. Indeed, while the interviewers may still ask questions requiring you to discuss ethical scenarios or demonstrate your knowledge of the healthcare system, the structure of the questions may be more open-ended. The reason for this is that interviewers can then probe the candidates' answers specifically. For example, if an MMI station asked a student to describe DNA in layman terms, then a panel interview equivalent may then ask the student to further elaborate and justify specific elements of their language choice. In other words, the panel interview discourse is more personal and perhaps requires more detail than its MMI counterpart. 

Outed for Inconsistency

Given that personal touch is a primary requirement for panel interview success, it is more important than ever to be consistent in your responses. When we recommend consistency, you need to focus on creating a personality that is appealing to the admission panel. The most straightforward method of achieving this is through honesty - authenticity is, without a doubt, the most marketable aspect of any medical candidate. 

Medicine Panel Interview Questions

In terms of questions, MMI and panel interviews are not dissimilar. Most medical schools that utilize traditional interview formats still require candidates to discuss topics related to ethics, professionalism, and specific values relevant to your university of choice. The primary difference in the discussion occurs when the panel specifically asks candidates to elaborate on components of their answers.

There are also question formats present in panel interviews that are completely absent from their MMI counterparts. For example, in past panel interviews, Flinders University has provided candidates with information that required 10-15 minutes of reading time. Subsequently, the candidate was required to present a particular aspect of the information they had been provided with, focusing particularly on possible solutions to the challenges outlined in the text. This type of traditional interview is the ‘semi-structured panel interview', as there is fixed material to be discussed. However, the questions are asked at the interviewer's discretion. 

Special Case Examples: JCU Medicine Interview Panel

A final important component of the panel interview discussion is that of medical school values. Many panel interview schools (such as James Cook University) are interested in candidates elaborating on their decision to select their particular medical education provider. In the case of JCU, the core values are numerous and primarily focusing on tropics, remote, and rural medicine. As such, candidates need to clearly and thoughtfully demonstrate a clear understanding of these topics and justify their own interest in these fields. 

While geography and medical program structure are key considerations any future medical student should consider when selecting a school, there is a responsibility that factors into this selection process. Please remember that every university you prefer and ultimately interview will have its own value set. You have a responsibility to thoroughly research your preferred university’s special interests and present this information at your medical school interview as a marker of your dedication to this future program. This is especially important in panel medical interviews, where a strong understanding of institutional values will significantly improve your rapport with admissions committee members on whom your future medical career depends! 

What Should You Read Next?

Now that you understand the ins and outs of Panel interviews, we recommend that you read through about MMIs or our article about what to wear to your panel or MMI interview!

Alternatively, check out our detailed guide on 'How to Perfect your Medical Interview Tone?' , Medical School Interview: Ethical Scenarios and  How to prepare for your medical interview: Solo preparation.