Post 28 A Bizarre Medical Interview

 It was 1966 and 70 newly qualified doctors were applying for their first medical job as house officers at Manchester Royal Infirmary.  Frederick Swindles, the secretary to the Medical Board, appeared holding a clipboard.   He called for attention, then detailed the arrangements for the interviews.     Eight posts were available.

 “You will be called into the interview room in two groups,” he said.    “The first group will be doctors with surnames from A to M.   The second group will be doctors whose names range from N to Z.  

I will lead each group into the committee room.   Inside, you will find the consultants sitting on the right hand side.   You will line up opposite the consultants with Dr Abbott at the far end and Dr McDonald, as the last one to enter the room, by the door.   When you are all in place, I shall call out your names one by one.   You will answer to your name in turn.    At the completion of this exercise there may be a pause and some conversation between the consultants - but when you get a signal from me, you will exit the room.    You should not speak unless spoken to, other than to answer to your name.   

   These arrangements sounded ludicrous and for a moment there was a stunned silence.    Then the inevitable flurry of questions began.

   “Are we subsequently to be interviewed separately?” 


   “How can the consultants possibly interview so many applicants at once?”

   “The consultants make the arrangements for these interviews,” replied Fred defensively, “not me!”

   “Will there be any opportunity to ask questions?”

   “No.    As I said, you will answer to your name and you should not speak unless spoken to.”

   This sounded to be a bizarre and highly unsuitable way for a prestigious teaching hospital to appoint its medical staff and there was a general muttering of discontent.   However, it appeared that there was nothing that we could do about it, and no time for further grumbling.


Just as Fred had described, the consultants were seated behind leather topped tables on the right hand side of the room.    It was difficult to know where to look and how to stand.   It seemed impolite to look at Fred and to ignore the interviewing panel, yet equally inappropriate to try to catch the eye of one of the consultants.    I decided that the best option was to focus on a point on the wall just above the consultants’ heads.  Standing with hands in pockets was clearly too casual but standing rigidly to attention didn’t seem appropriate either; so I settled for the hands behind the back ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ pose.  Suddenly I realised that Fred had started to read out our names, and had already reached Dr Green.   In response, some of the candidates replied ‘Sir’, some said ‘Good morning’, some simply ‘Present’.   The whole exercise seemed utterly ridiculous and reminded me of the attendance register read out every morning when I was at primary school.   It struck me that there was a danger that I might reply ‘Here, Miss,’ when my name was called, but I managed a polite ‘Good morning,’ when the time came!

At the end of the roll-call there was a pause, whilst some muttered conversation between the consultants occurred, interspersed with surreptitious glances at the line of candidates.   In due course, each consultant nodded to the chairman, who in turn nodded to Fred, and we were led out of the room.   In less than five minutes the whole charade was over and we were back in the corridor.  There was a general disbelief amongst our group at what had happened.

   “That was a fiasco,” said one.

   “I felt like a model at a seaside beauty competition,” one of the girls remarked. “I should have brought my bikini.”

   “Or a suspect in a police identification parade,” was another view.

   We presumed that the consultants must have decided in advance whom they planned to appoint, presumably from knowledge of the student’s performance during the clinical attachments on their wards or from the marks gained in the final examination.  The purpose of the exercise was simply to check they had put the right name to the right face and to ensure that two consultants didn’t appoint the same candidate. 

    If we thought that the results of the interview had been predetermined, this impression was reinforced when Fred re-appeared within two minutes. 

   “I am pleased to say that the committee have now passed to me a list of the successful candidates.

“Surgical One; Dr Green and Dr Leach.”  The jobs on the Professor’s Unit always went to the candidates who had scored highest marks in the final examination and that definitely excluded me!

   Two other posts were also effectively unavailable to me.  One was William Warrender’s job.   His nephew, Johnny Nolan, was one of the interviewees!  The other was the post working for Sydney Potts, the hospital’s Casanova; he always appointing the prettiest female graduate to be his house officer, irrespective of any academic or practical ability and standing next to me was Elizabeth Chambers.   She looked stunningly attractive, with a black pencil skirt that ended two inches higher - and a sheer white blouse with a neckline plunging two inches lower - than one might expect for a formal interview.

   Finally only Mr Potts’ job was left and I was certain that this was destined for Miss ‘Miniskirt’ Chambers.  Disappointed but not surprised, I turned to leave.

“Finally, the house surgeon for Mr Potts will be Dr Sykes.”

   For a moment I was completely stunned.   There must be some mistake.    Had I heard correctly?   How had I got a job at the teaching hospital - and with Mr Potts of all people?   He always selected the prettiest female graduate.

Johnny, William Warrender’s nephew and my best mate, came bounding over to my side, a huge smile on his face.  

   “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books!” he said.   “Potts always goes for the classy young birds and your figure and legs aren’t in the same class as hers at all!   Maybe Sydney is having a midlife crisis, or perhaps changing his sexual orientation.”

   As we continued to chat, the disappointed unsuccessful candidates trooped past.  They included Liz Chambers, who looked hard in my direction.   She remained tight-lipped and looked extremely angry but held her head high as she stomped out of the room in her high heel shoes.

   “She’d better wear something a bit less revealing for her next interview,” Johnny remarked.   

   It had been a most bizarre interview but somehow or other it had turned out well, and I was absolutely delighted.   Good fortune, I realised, tastes all the sweeter when it comes unexpectedly.   It was only when I returned home and gave the good news to my parents that I learned that Mr Potts and my father had previously served together in the Army Medical Corps.    Perhaps Johnny was not the only one who had benefitted from a little favouritism!

This is a description of my interview at the Royal Infirmary in Manchester. All characters have been given pseudonyms.

This story is an extract from 'The First Cut' which is an account of a young man's hesitant and at times embarrassing early days as a rookie doctor. It is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook

Thoughts for the day  

‘Every time I make an appointment, I create a hundred malcontents and one ingrate.’                                                                   LouisXIV  1638 – 1715

‘Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many, for appointment by the corrupt few.’                                      George Bernard Shaw 1856 - 1950


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