Semmelweis University Interview

Today was the day of my Semmelweis University interview.  

I wanted to make sure I’d be in pyjamas while writing this post. I need some cosiness and that’s the best idea I could come up with. 
 
I was interviewed by a professor who teaches in Szeged. Not sure why or how they organise the interview rounds but people do get different interviewers. 
So here we go. I don’t recall the exact words but you’ll get the idea.
Why did you come to Norway? 
 
I needed a change and I wanted to live somewhere else other than in Porto. The idea of getting to know other people and work in another country was exciting to me.
 
Looking back at it: do you think that was a wise decision? Couldn’t you get to know other people in Porto?
 
Yes. I don’t regret it at all. People grow faster when they get out of their comfort zone.
How did you learn Norwegian?
 
At the beginning with some basic books at home. After a while, I had to go to a language school to improve my level of Norwegian. It took me about 2-3 years to crack the code.
Why do you want to become a doctor? You are turning 27 this year. I finished medicine when I was 24.  Why are you applying now? 
 
I have been working in healthcare in the past years and I truly enjoy it. However, I want to help people on another level. I feel it would be more rewarding for me. I am only applying this year because I am not Norwegian and in order to apply to Hungary I needed to fulfil certain criteria. For instance, I needed to pass a Norwegian language test, pass the science subjects that I didn’t take in high school (biology and chemistry), etc. It’s been 2-3 years since I have started this process but I am finally able to apply.

Have you done volunteering?

Yes. I volunteer in a group who patrols the streets of Oslo during the weekends in order to keep certain areas safe. We help people who are too drunk to find their way home, for instance. 

Any hobbies? Sports? How do you keep yourself in shape? Do you have a gym membership? What kind of exercise do you do?

Yes. I enjoy running very much. Swimming as well. Love it in fact. I do have a gym membership. In the gym, I do practice on the treadmill and rowing machine. I enjoy mostly cardio exercises. 
Why are you applying only to Semmelweis and not to other Hungarian universities?
 
I enjoy living in a big city. I’d rather live and study somewhere like Budapest than moving to a small city. 
Moving on… Let’s talk about mutations. What is a mutation?
 
A mutation is an error that might occur while copying our DNA. 
 
What is repairing the error when it occurs? – he asked this question in another way and I didn’t understand what he wanted from me. He read me instantaneously and understood that I would not be able to answer this question. So he just told me the answer. Again, I have no idea what it was. 
 
Please write on the piece of paper in front of you the words that I am going to tell you. Point, Chromosomal, Frameshift, Nonsense, Missense. You should know these types of mutations. Tell me what you know about them.
 
(Ooooooooh! I know basically nothing about this.) 
 
I am not sure about some of them but chromosomal is a mutation in a chromosome. We have the purines and the pyrimidines which connect by hydrogen bonds and a mutation occurs when the pairing of the nucleotides does not match. Adenine goes together with Thymine and Cytosine goes with Guanine. 

Give me an example. – interrupted him.

(Many genetic disorders came to my mind immediately but at that moment, with all the pressure on me, I wasn’t able to think clearly and did not risk a wrong answer). 

Hum… I am not quite sure… – Silence. Awkwardness. 

Ok. Shall we change topic then? We will not go far with this one. Let’s just hope that the next topic I pick does not get any worse than this. What about the reflex loops in the spinal cord?

Reflex loops? 


Yes. Reflex loops. Tell me about them. 

Yes. The spinal cord is a part of our central nervous system. We have afferent signals from the neurons located under our skin, in our hands for instance, which communicate with the spinal cord and after a decision is made in the integration centre (the brain) a response is fired by an efferent neuron. 

Yes. What about the reflex loops? Could you please clarify the type of reflex loops you would like me to talk about? Movement? 

Mr Monteiro, I brought here my friend skeleton. Don’t be afraid to touch it. It’s plastic, you see. – says he, while dragging a skeleton towards us. – Can you tell me where is the patella? 

(Gosh… From all the bones I know do you have to ask me about one that I don’t know? He wouldn’t let me run away from the question. I’d have to try against all the odds of getting it right. At this time I am really confused because we have just talked about the spinal cord…)

This is the patella. – I risked as if I was completely sure that the patella was there. Fake it until you make it! 

No Mr Monteiro. That’s not the patella. Try again.

This one? – I tried again, pointing at another bone.

No. – He answered as he lifted one of the skeleton legs and put it on the desk. 

That’s the femur obviously. – I needed to say something in order to fight my level of internal despair. By this time I was really feeling ridiculous.

And this is the patella. – Told me him.

(It is actually located on your knee. I knew all the other bones from the leg – not on the foot or the knee – and I am pretty sure that I have heard about the patella at some point in my life but it didn’t stick to my head.)

Now feel your patella, Mr. Monteiro. What do you have under your patella?
Tissue.

What is it? 

Erg…. Not sure… Connective?

A tendon. Have you never heard about this reflex loop in your life?

Not that I can recall, professor.

This is why when the doctor hits you with a hammer in your knee the leg moves. Hum… Mr Monteiro, I see that you are good at writing but when it comes to speaking not much comes out of you. 

At this point, I just felt so small that I couldn’t even think. I just felt extremely disappointed because both topics were so out of my comfort zone. There was no way to cover my lack of knowledge about them. I remember to have gone over some questions about mutations in multiple-choice format and I had actually heard about the reflex loop. I just didn’t know that it was called a reflex loop in the spinal cord.

Mr Monteiro, what is pH?

It is a measure of the acidity of a solution.

Again, what is pH?

pH measures the concentration of H+ in a solution. – I thought I was being more exact this time around.

Last chance Mr Monteiro. Focus on the word pH. 

My head was spinning!

pH = -log ([H+]) – I said the formula out loud.

This was the best answer you have given me since this interview started. What do you know about alkanes and how do you name them? 

They are molecules composed exclusively of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The formula for alkanes is C2H2n+2 and they are named according to the number of carbon atoms sitting on the molecule. 1 is methane, 2 is ethane, 3 is propane and so on.

At this point, I wanted to draw the different ways one can write these molecules and started using the pen and paper in front of me. And then he cuts me again.

Mr Monteiro, as you can imagine I don’t have the entire day. In fact, I have very limited time to interview all the other students. Good luck to you in case you get into Semmelweis. – He reaches out his right hand and I shook it with mine while answering back.

Thank you for your time. Have a nice day. 


I left the room with a heavy heart. Not my first interview of this kind though. You are in a more vulnerable position than your interviewer and therefore you have to ignore all his/her unnecessary comments. Answering back is suicide. It feels horrible afterwards. Especially if you are applying for a position you really want. 

On the way home I couldn’t stop feeling like an idiot. Seriously. It hasn’t happened in a long time. 

This professor was actually the only one who was on time though. All the others were running late and the number of students queuing was increasing every hour. 
 
I am sure that every interview is different but this was my experience as a candidate for medicine. Hopefully, it will help someone who is preparing for the same in the future. 

At the moment I just feel like relaxing and listening to music. I’m still trying to process that interview. No high hopes for getting a place in Semmelweis anymore. Very soon I should think about start preparing for the second round in June.

Good luck to all those who went through the interviews today. 
Whatever happens, it happens for a reason. 
Check this post for more information about the Semmelweis University entrance exam.

Weekly goals

1st-year final exams

The lagging strand

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