Medical School Interviews and Interview Questions – How to Prepare and do Well! (2)
Ethics and Healthcare:
Many medical school interviewers like to ask about an ethical or moral dilemma. This can be about very controversial issues such as abortion or euthanasia, but it can also be about healthcare rationing, Medicare/immigrant healthcare, preventative medicine, withdrawal or withholding nutrition/hydration, assisted suicide, etc. Don’t answer what you think the interviewer would like to hear. State what YOU believe, but be able to back it up and explain why you believe that.
Interviewers also like to ask about managed healthcare and changes in the US healthcare system, such as the new regulations regarding residency hours. Read the paper, magazine articles, etc. You don’t need to have memorized the latest issue of Lancet or JAMA to speak to these issues.
The Medical School:
You will be asked why you want to go to that school. So, why DID you apply there? What kind of experiences are you looking for in a medical school? What is important to you?
Volunteer/student organizational opportunities… do you want to get involved with your med school class or do you tend to just want to do your work and go home?
Clinical exposure… When do you get it and what kind of exposure is it? What kind of patient population? Urban? Rural? Community or just in-patient?
Do you care about block classes or would you rather have semester long ones? Do you want a school with problem-based or case-based classes or just lecture? Are you interested in computer-based learning?
Facilities…computers, libraries, student lounge/area, labs, lecture halls… are they nice? Do you care?
Think about what you want out of a medical school and be able to address your issues. It helps to do a bit of research in advance about the school. So not only will you be able to tell the interview WHY you applied, but how the strengths of that school link into your own strengths and interests. You can also use the knowledge you already have about the school to ask specific questions of the interviewer. You can find out more about a school by checking out their web site or through books like Princeton Review’s Best Medical Schools book.
A final word of advice on your prep… reread your AMCAS application and your secondary application to that school. Take a xerox copy of both with you to skim over if you have time. Often in a non-blind interview you will be asked about things you mentioned in your secondary essays. Rereading and remembering what you actually wrote in your secondary can really save you from looking bad.
Different Types of Med School Interviews
Includes an example of a med school that uses that type.
Panel: Eastern Virginia Medical School
This is where more than one interviewer interviews you at the same time. It can feel like the Spanish Inquisition, but try not to get over intimidated. Make eye contact with the person who has asked you the question, but also try to look and engage the other interviewers as you make your points. Usually panel interviews are made up of people from different disciplines such as basic science/ research, clinical medicine, or surgery. There is often a medical student as part of the panel. So be prepared for a real range of questions…
Blind: George Washington SOM
This is an interview where the interviewer has not seen any part of your file. He or she does not know your grades or scores and has not read your essays. Be prepared for the worst of all possible interview questions: “So, tell me about yourself.” Expect to regurgitate a lot of what you have already written in your various application essays. Your previous prep to answer so why do you want to be a doctor questions will really help here.
Partial Blind: Loyola Stritch SOM
This is where an interviewer only sees part of your applications, such as your essays and secondary application, but not your grades or scores. This saves you from defending your C in second semester Organic Chemistry class, but requires that you look again at what you wrote. I was given a great ethical question at a partial blind interview.
MCV (up to the interviewer whether they look at your file or not)(MCV has only one interview/interviewer)
In this type of interview it is up to the interviewer whether or not he or she will look at your file ahead of time. Be prepared, therefore, for “blind” type questions as well as questions addressing what you wrote in your essays.
I haven’t experienced this personally. But my advice would be to keep your cool and composure and take your time answering your questions. If they ask personal questions (which you know they aren’t allowed to), there are different ways to approach the situation. You can choose to answer the question they ask, or turn it around and give an answer which asks why the interviewer thinks this is relevant, or one which tries to diffuse the situation.
The Day of the Interview
If you will need to travel more than 50 miles to your interview, consider getting a hotel room and staying over the night before. Also, many medical schools have students who have offered to put up interviewees the night before their interview. If this is the case, try to take advantage of this great opportunity to talk to the students and see the school on an informal basis. You can learn a lot!
Be prompt, if not a bit early. No matter what, you don’t want to be late to your interview. You also don’t want to show up more than 10 to 15 minutes early. The staff may not be ready for you yet and it can be a bit awkward to be milling about as they set up the breakfast tray or lay out the folders and name tags. If you ARE real early, take a stroll around the campus, read the campus newspaper, review your copy of your secondary application to the school or the school information you have. You might want to bring something to read (especially a copy of your application and secondary) because you may be waiting around in a smallish room for a while before your interview time comes up.
Have something in your stomach, but not too much in case those butterflies backfire. Take it easy on the caffeine… a cup or two of coffee or a Coke won’t hurt a bit but too much may make you jittery or hyper and those diuretics have a tendency to kick in at inopportune times.
To sidetrack back to personal grooming a bit, carry a comb or brush on you to run through your hair. I would also recommend that women have an extra pair of pantyhose on hand in their purse or briefcase in case the pair they are wearing runs. You might want to carry some powder and lipstick to refresh your makeup if it’s needed. Another recommendation would be to bring along some breath mints. Many interviews are after lunch and you don’t know WHAT will be served. But remember – don’t suck candy or chew gum during your interview.
Most interview days include a talk from financial aid and a tour of the medical school, if not the hospital. Often, the tour is given by first or second-year students. If you have questions, ask them. Pick their brains. Now is the time to get some of them answered.
It can also be beneficial for you to take a few notes if you have the chance. Jot down the names of your interviewers for later thank you notes, scribble any questions that arise as the day goes on.
For your interview itself be relaxed. Be yourself. I know easier said than done but try anyhow. Try to be clear, concise, and think about your answers. It’s easy when you’re nervous to go on a bit. Try to catch yourself and stop after your point is made. Try to remember to smile and make eye contact with your interviewer. Try not to fidget or fiddle with anything and don’t be weird. If you don’t understand a question the interviewer asks, ask them to rephrase it.
Most interviewers want to make this experience as painless for you as possible. These people are the ones who will try to sell you to the rest of the committee. They want to be on your side and generally are not out to get you.
Afterwards, many interviewees sit around and compare notes and questions. If this makes you uncomforatable at all, don’t do it. Even if you are comfortable discussing your experiences, don’t try to really compare or evaluate based on what you hear. It does NOT matter how long or short your interview was. And there are really no right or wrong answers in an interview, so don’t overanalyze or overcompare what Tom from the University of Arizona said when asked about organ procurement vs. what you said when asked a similar question.
After the Interview
Thank you notes to your interviewers and anyone who helped make your day there enjoyable. Not required but recommended. Remember you want to make yourself stand out (in a positive light) against the hundreds of other applicants they will be interviewing.
Be patient. It can take anywhere from one week to several months before you get a final decision from the school. Different schools have different policies and approaches (find out about this school’s process on interview day or before); often the committees fall behind schedule and it takes a bit longer than the four or six weeks they promised.
Interviews alone can’t get you into medical school, but they can definitely strengthen a borderline application or completely eliminate you from contention. You can no longer change your grades or scores… those are in. But you can stand out for who you are. Show them what a warm, charming, intelligent, thoughtful and professional person you are. They’ll want you… how could they do otherwise?
* The original version of this talk was given to the Pre-Med Society at Virginia Commonwealth University. I had been a founder of the group as a pre-med, and came back when I was a first year medical student at MCV to talk to them about interviewing.
More medical school admissions info and advice.
About the Author: Dr. Alexander is an original member of MomMD, and still proud to be a mom and MD!