Specialty Assessment Centres

Interviews for Specialty Training are called Assessment Centres.  Assessment Centres can vary depending on specialty, location and training level. Assessment Centres involve a programme of competency-based interviews and activities to assess an individual’s effectiveness in a specific specialty. Research is proving that Assessment Centres are a better indicator of future job performance than panel interviews alone.

The assessment centre comprises of a number of assessment stations. The stations may be set up in an open plan area, segregated by partitions or in private rooms. Usually two to three Consultants will assess you in each station and a lay chair will rotate between stations to make sure the process is equal and fair to all candidates.

A. Before the Assessment Centre

Each specialty has a lead recruiting office, for example:

  • Core Surgery Training, Core Surgery National Recruitment Office lead recruiter
  • Core Psychiatry Training, the Royal College of Psychiatry is the lead recruiter

NHS Specialty Training has information on who the lead recruiting office is for each specialty.

For most specialties there is an applicant guide, make sure you have read the applicant guide.

Study the job description and person specification as these documents detail the criteria you are been assessed against.

Have a variety of strong examples from your own experience ready so you are able to answer the questions appropriately.

Ensure you have ‘quizzed’ people already training at that level and beyond as to the skills they use on a regular basis and the details of their daily responsibilities.

Make sure you have spent time researching the specialty. Ensure that you really know why you are applying for a particular specialty and what you can bring in terms of skills, personal attributes, enthusiasm and experience e.g. rotations, tasters etc.

Be aware of the challenges of the specialty.

Talk to doctors who have already been through the recruitment process and have secured a training post/job. This will give you a feel for the range of questions asked. Do not expect the same questions to be asked at your interview, this will just give you a flavour of styles of questioning.

Research the Postgraduate Medical Education/LETB (Deanery) you are applying to.

Are you up to date with wider NHS issues, and possible future changes within the specialty?

Spend 20 to 30 minutes re-reading the GMC Standards of Good Medical Practice.

Wear business attire.

Check and double check everything such as location, time, required documentation etc.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression!

B. Assessment Centre Stations

Below are some example assessment centre stations. All stations have a strict time limit which is usually ten minutes, but this can vary. This is not an exhaustive list of assessment centre stations.

Structured Interview Station

The structured interview may consist of two consultants asking set questions. In some specialties they may also review your portfolio at this station.

They will often be assessing your suitability, motivation and commitment to your chosen specialty. This is your opportunity to evidence that you meet the criteria set out in the person specification.

The following two techniques are useful during the structured interview station:

STAR technique – A framework to use when an example is needed as evidence
Situation – What is the context of the story?
Task – What did you have to achieve?
Action – What did you do? How did you go about achieving it? And why did you do it in that way?
Result/Reflect – What happened at the end? Why did you feel you did well? If the example is about a mistake, or a difficult situation, what did you learn? How did it change you?

CAMP structure – A framework used to answer background and motivation questions such as: “Why are you applying for this post?”
Clinical – You may want to discuss the type of hospital you want to work in, and any clinical skills or interests you wish to develop.  
Academic – at this stage discuss any teaching or research reasons for wanting to train/work in the area.
Management – You may want to develop particular management skills such as audit or risk management.
Personal – It is worth mentioning any personal reasons for settling in the area and any interests or hobbies relevant to the role. This part of the answer should be a small part of the overall answer.

Portfolio/Evidence Folder Review Station

The review of your portfolio/evidence folder may take place within the structured interview station or there could be a station entirely devoted to reviewing your achievements.

This is not your e-portfolio. This will be evidence of your achievements to date in a hard copy version.

Usually the applicant guide will give specific guidance regarding the contents of your portfolio/evidence folder.

Some specialties will require you to self-score your achievements to date before the interview. At the interview you will be asked to talk through your portfolio and justify why scored as you did.

See leaflet CPIS/2 in this series

Presentation Station

Assessment centres for hospital specialties may include a presentation station. This station could be aimed at exploring your level of competency in a variety of the key skills on the person specification, along with your knowledge and presentation skills.

The presentation station can vary in format. You are usually given a topic, you are then given time to prepare the presentation (usually ten minutes, although this can be longer)

You will normally have five minutes presentation time and five minutes of questions from the panel; again this may vary from specialty to specialty.

Clinical Scenario Station

You are normally given a few minutes to read a clinical scenario. Once you have read the scenario you will either discuss with the panel how you would deal with the scenario or you will present to the panel.

It is important to talk through step by step how you would deal with this scenario. The most common mistake at this station is missing out the basic information. Candidates can assume the Consultants know that they would, for example wash their hands. It is important to put yourself in the situation. What is the sequence of steps you would take?

Communication Station

A communication station will consist of an actor playing the role of a patient, relative or colleague. You will often be given the scenario five minutes before having to deal with the actor, as you would deal with the patient/relative/colleague in real life.

Simulator Patient Station

This is one of the local stations and involves the candidate interacting with a sim man in a given scenario to assess their ability to work under pressure, situational awareness and team working abilities.

C. After the Interview

  • Write down the questions you were asked for future reference
  • If you are not successful, you can request feedback as detailed in Specialty Recruitment Handbook

D. Useful Resources

  • Medical Interviews – A comprehensive guide to CT, ST & Registrar Skills  ISBN 978–1-905812–17–2
  • how to get a specialty training post: the insider’s guide  ISBN 978–0–19–959080–3
  • Getting into specialty training  ISBN 978-1-85315-893-3

Leaflets in this series

  1. Medical CVs – CPIS/1
  2. Medical Portfolios – CPIS/2
  3. Specialty Assessment Centres – CPIS/3
  4. Working Abroad – CPIS/4


The advice and Information contained in this article is current and to the best of our knowledge. Peninsula Postgraduate Medical Education (Health Education South West) cannot be held liable for any actions/decisions made as a result of this article and advise the reader to check the facts with the relevant body to their own satisfaction. We have no control over the content of any external links contained within this article.