Acing the Medical School Interview (Questions & Answers)

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The Art of Getting Admitted - The Medical School Interview

If you’ve received an invite for a medical school interview, congratulations are in order! Take some time to celebrate your hard work and success. But then it is time to knuckle down again and prepare for the all-important medical school interview.

In this guide, Elizabeth Magill shares her secrets for impressing the admissions officer.

NOTE: This is more of an in-depth guide than an article – so it’s long! To make reading more digestible, we’d suggest saving/bookmarking it, or printing it out to review and make notes.

1. Why the Medical School Interview is So Important


The medical school interview is one of the most important parts of the admission process. No matter how well qualified academically you may be, a poor medical school interview reduces your chance of receiving an acceptance.

Universities and colleges understand the sacrifices you’ve made and the effort you’ve poured into your future to get to this point. But if they didn’t feel the interview process was vital to placing the candidates most likely to succeed in their programs, they would not subject themselves or potential students to the interview.

Norma Wagoner of the Association of American Medical Colleges points out that interviewing applicants is a process that is expensive and time consuming — one that universities would hesitate to undertake if it wasn’t important.

What’s the reason? The interview provides vital information that will never show up in entrance essays, academic records, or test scores. It helps interviewers see for themselves the type of presence you bring into the room, namely the patient room.

Your response to their questions lets them know how confident you sound when addressing others, how comfortable you are interacting with people, and whether or not you can put others at ease — all of which are important as a medical professional.

That said, for many medical school applicants, the most terrifying aspect of the application process is the dreaded medical school interview. While you’ve kept your GPA up, performed well on the MCAT, and taken painstaking care in preparing your written application, you certainly don’t want to risk making interviewing mistakes that will place your future as a medical practitioner in jeopardy.

This medical school interview guide will help you prepare for this vital step so that you can put your best foot forward once the interview begins.

2. Types of Medical School Interviews


The sooner you begin preparing for your interview the better your chances of getting accepted become. One important way to prepare is to understand that medical school interviews are conducted in several different ways.

There isn’t one style of interview employed by all medical schools. You may face any one of the following types of medical school interviews.

Action tip: Get to know each and every one of them, so you’ll feel confident whichever one is presented to you.

Panel Interview. In a panel interview, you’ll meet several interviewers in one single meeting. This is usually a cross section of the medical school faculty and may include a medical student. Prepare to address the specific concerns of numerous members in this particular interview.

Blind Interview. The person conducting a blind interview knows absolutely nothing about you. He or she has not seen your application, which makes this a literal, “first impression” type of interview. Be prepared when the interviewer asks you to tell about yourself that you must paint a vivid image of who you are and what you have to offer the university as a medical student and your patients and community as a medical professional.

Open Interview. An interviewer conducting open interviews may choose, at his or her discretion, the specific information to which he or she is privy. The interview may be an extensive one that questions everything about you. On the other hand, it could be an extremely detailed interview with follow up questions concerning your admission essay.

Stress Interview. Designed to judge behavior when you are placed under pressure, this interview style can feel extremely negative when you’re experiencing it. The questions may make you feel uncomfortable — that’s what they are designed to do.

The interviewer(s) want to see the real you beneath the surface of etiquette and interview niceties. These interviews often involve sensitive topics and even personal questions that aren’t allowed in admission interviews. It may even come across as critical of your admissions essay or academic performance.

Your interviewers’ goal is to judge your reaction and not necessarily to get an answer. Keep this in mind throughout the interview process. It will help you keep your cool if the questions begin to heat up.

Behavioral Interviews. This interview operates under the theory that past performance is often the best indicator of how you’ll perform in the future.

Interviewers try to get examples of past events and how you performed in them in order to predict how you will act, react, or perform in current situations.

They’re looking for specific attributes including critical thinking, willingness to learn, teamwork, professionalism, and the ability to be a self-starter.

Multi-Mini Interviews. While relatively new for American colleges and universities, at least eight medical schools, as reported by The New York Times, in the U.S. (including the University of California – Los Angeles, Stanford, and the University of Cincinnati) are using multi-mini interview, or M.M.I.

This interview style involves eight interview stations where six-minute (timed) interviews are conducted. With a likeness to “speed dating”, if you will, different faculty members are able to get specific questions answered that are relevant to them based on what they know believe are important characteristics of physicians in today’s medical field. You have a brief window of opportunity, at each interview station, to make an impression and stand out to your interviewer.

What’s the takeaway? Each type of interview presents unique challenges and benefits to you as the person being interviewed. You need to be prepared for any and all of these interview styles before your first interview because you never really know what a college or university is going to throw your way.

Regardless of the type of interview, though, the interviewers can be professional staff members of the medical school admissions office, practicing physicians in the area, faculty members of the school, or current medical students.

3. Preparing for the Medical School Interview


Being thoroughly prepared is the key to shining when it comes to any type of interview, particularly medical school interviews. One of the best ways to prepare is to learn about commonly asked medical school interview questions, compose good answers, and practice delivering them.

But before delving into the details of commonly asked medical school interview questions, there are a few preparation generalities to cover.

• Know your strengths and weaknesses as they appear on your academic records and test scores. Prepare to address them and put the minds of faculty members concerned about them to rest.

• Take time to reflect on your academics, accomplishments, experiences, personal characteristics and traits, and medical interests AND practice relating these areas with solid examples.

• Smile. Under a veil of nervousness and anxiety, remembering to smile can be easily overlooked.

• Know the school and the medical program it offers. Take the time to research the school and the details of the medical program, which can include speaking to current or past students, faculty, or medical practitioners.

• Anticipate ethical questions and moral dilemmas. You’ll face them constantly in the medical field and must be prepared to deal with them and the aftermath.

• Pay attention to the body language of interviewers as well as your own body language.

• Make your impression quickly. Most interviewers make up their minds about a candidate within the first five minutes of meeting him or her, says Dr. Dennis K. Flaherty of Lamar University, That doesn’t give you a lot of time to make an impression, good or bad, much less to recover from an unfavorable first impression.

• Prepare to offer your personal reason for pursuing a career in the medical field.

Keep in mind that the main focus of medical school interview questions is to help assess an applicant’s personal characteristics and traits beyond academic accolades and abilities. Interviewers will be looking for a candidate that has the ability to display an attentive ear and pleasant bedside manner.

Further, solo medical practices are diminishing and being replaced by larger health networks. Therefore, the ability to work within a team is an important trait for new medical professionals, and is one that interviewers will be looking for and assessing.

4. Commonly Asked Questions and Advice on Answering Them


You’re likely to come across a wide range of questions in your medical school interview that may or may not be specifically related to medical school. From the vague and general, “Tell Me About Yourself” and “What are Your Strengths” to the medical student specific “Why do you think you’ll make a good physician?” there are plenty of questions you’re going to experience during the interview that you need to be prepared to answer. You need a strong answer ready for each and every question (or as many as possible) thrown at you.

“Why do you want to be a doctor?”

Every medical school hopeful should anticipate this one question above and beyond all others. It is often one that stumps them the most. Don’t let that happen to you. While you may be crystal clear on why you want to be a doctor, you need to be able to articulate that reason clearly, confidently, and convincingly. This question may carry more weight than any other you’re asked in the entire interview process, make sure you have a standout answer prepared.

How to Answer Tip: Try to place less emphasis here on your academics — which can be extracted from your transcripts — and more focus on how you see yourself playing an integral and vital role for your patients and community.

“What is the biggest issue the medical field over the next ten years?”

There’s no real right or wrong answer to this question. It’s appropriate to the medical field and your answer reveals a lot about what your priorities in medicine are and your awareness of current events in the medical world.

The admissions board is looking to gauge your passion to help the sick, while taking into account the limitations in the healthcare system and advances in technology and medicine. It behooves you, as a medical school applicant, to hone in on your beliefs on today’s most pressing medical issues, whether that is healthcare reform or pharmaceutical drug shortages or some other current issue.

How to Answer tip: An overly vocal tirade about problems in the healthcare industry may not be well-received, so take this into account as you prepare your response.

“Explain a time when you contributed to a group effort.”

This is one of those medical school behavioral interview questions that is designed to display your ability to work as part of a team. Whether you’re a surgeon or a family physician, you must be able to work well with a team of people that help your medical practice run.

How to Answer tip: The beauty of this question is that you can use any example whether it’s related to work, school, community, or even play. The key is to keep your answer on task and professional. Explain your contribution and the experience of working with others to make it happen.

Overall Commonly Asked Interview Questions:

Because the Big Interview blog is focused on job search and interviewing, be sure to check out the post on Answers to the Top Interview Questions. You’ll find that medical school interviews include many of the most common job interview questions along with some specialized questions. After all, your medical school interviewer’s goal is to determine if you have what it takes to excel in the job of physician.

5. Questions to Ask


Doing the prep work to answer medical school interview questions will take most of your time and effort. But there is more to it than being prepared to be grilled.

You must also have questions in your arsenal to ask your interviewer. You should review the school’s website, the details of the medical program, and any available publications so that you can prepare intelligent questions.

Why should you have questions ready to ask?

It provides three important benefits for you.

First, you impress the interviewer by showing you did your research on the school and its medical school in particular.

Second, asking well-thought out, informed, and intelligent questions, helps you connect with the interviewer.

Third, you learn more about the particular school and its program to decide if it is the right medical school for you. This is key, if you were lucky enough to get more than one medical school application acceptance letter.

Now, that you know that it is critical to ask questions, let’s move onto the specific questions it behooves you to ask. Keith Bradley, MD Director, Research Associates Program at St. Vincent’s Medical Center recommends that you have “five (5) substantive questions about the school ready to go before the interview.”

Keep in mind that not all questions must be program specific. The following are some questions you can ask during your interview.

• “How is student performance evaluated?”
• “What is the curriculum like? How is it different in clinical and non-clinical years?”
• “What kind of academic and career guidance and counseling is available?”
• “What types of research opportunities are there, including assisting in faculty research”?
• “Do students need cars for clinical rotations?”
• “Is housing available on campus for medical students?”
• “Is there a mentor/advisor system in place?”
• “How do students from this medical school program fare on National Board Examinations?

6. Common Mistakes Candidates Make on Medical School Interviews


Medical school interviews are nerve wracking. It’s easy to make mistakes if you’re not careful. Make sure you avoid these mistakes in your interview.

Mistake #1: Not staying on topic. Nerves can make many people ramble and go off topic. Try to keep your answers to medical school interview questions on target at all times and avoid offering unnecessary and irrelevant details.

Mistake #2: Answering questions too quickly. First, it appears as if you’re not providing thoughtful answers to the questions you’re being asked when you answer too fast. Second, it means you’re not really listening to the entire question because you’re too busy formulating your answer. You may miss key parts of the question and provide an answer you didn’t intend.

Mistake #3: Being negative. This is true whether you’re talking about classmates, employers (past or present), and previous universities or professors. Keep it positive and professional.

7. Other Tips for Medical School Interviews

• You know how important the medical school interview is, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a robot spitting out answers.

• Show the interviewer(s) the real person being interviewed. It will serve you much better as that’s who the interviewer is ultimately trying to meet.

Salisbury University recommends listening to the person(s) conducting the interview carefully. Interviewers often provide clues or hints about the things they’re really interested in.

• Do fact-finding of your own before the interview. Learn about the specific programs and medical specialties the university offers as well as what campus life is like.

• Take the time, while you’re on campus for the interview, to try to talk to students who are in the medical program already. Ask questions about the town, the campus, the community, and, most importantly, the program. See how well you’re likely to fit in on campus. After all, you’re considering the university too.

8. After the Medical School Interview


Once the interview concludes, take a moment to thank the interviewer for his or her time. Remind the interviewer that you are interested in attending the university, about your qualifications, and what unique presence and contributions you can bring to the university and the medical profession.

Also, ask when you can expect to hear from them before you leave.
Once you leave the premises, it’s time to engage in the writing of a formal “Thank You” letter.

You should send one to every person who interviewed you. If you attended a Multi-Mini Interview, for instance, you’d need to write eight “Thank You” notes.

Make sure you include the following information on the note:

• Date of the interview.
• Restate your interest in attending the university.
• Reasons you make a strong candidate.
• Any points you missed pointing out in the interview.
• Eager anticipation of decision.

The Princeton Review suggests sending any supplementary material such as academic achievements, recommendations, etc. that weren’t available at the time of your interview along with a brief description in an effort to bolster your application. This can be helpful to your status if your application has been relegated to the “hold” pile or the university is comparing you with a few similar applicants.

Final Thoughts

The medical school interview is a long, arduous process, and one that is vitally important to the goal of attending medical school. It is often the final step between your application and acceptance into the medical school you’ve been working so long and hard to attend.

While the interview can be the most nerve-wracking part of the medical school admission process, with proper preparation, the interview can be viewed as a valuable opportunity — instead of a necessary evil — in this rigorous trek to medical school acceptance.

On a lighter note, here is a funny med school orientation scene from Scrubs:

Pamela Skillings