Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan School of Medicine

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan School of Medicine

Congratulations—you’ve landed the interview!  What’s the best way to prepare for a medical school interview? You should practice. At the very least, you should review common questions and think about how you would answer them. Then you should PRACTICE answering them and do a mock interview with someone who understands the interview process. You should be comfortable discussing your experiences and your motivation for a career in medicine.

Medical schools offer a range of interview types:  traditional (one on one), group interviews (panels of either applicants or interviewers, and sometimes both), or multiple-mini interviews in which hypothetical scenarios are posed.

Here are the most common questions for the traditional interview. Review these to get a good idea as to the types of questions you might be asked:

  1. Tell me about yourself. (This is often used in the “blind” interview, when the interviewer doesn’t have access to your application.)
  2. Why do you want to be a doctor?  Why not another health profession?
  3. What traits are most important in a good physician?
  4. How do you handle stress?  Tell me about a very stressful time in your life and how you got through it.
  5. Tell me about a time when you struggled to achieve a goal. What did you learn from this experience?
  6. In your healthcare experiences what did you find most and least interesting?  How did these experiences prepare you for a career in medicine?
  7. Why should we admit you, instead of other outstanding applicants, to our incoming class?
  8. Why are you interested in our school?
  9. What do you think your contribution to the medical profession will be?  Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
  10. What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  11. Humility is an important trait for doctors to have; tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from it.
  12. What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
  13. Do you consider yourself a leader or follower?
  14. Give an example of when you were in a leadership role and what made you effective in that role.
  15. Teamwork is important in medicine. Tell me about a time when you were disappointed in a teammate and what you did to improve the situation.

There are many more that you will likely encounter but these are the types of questions asked. If you want to do a mock interview please contact me at liza@thompsonadvising.com Good luck!

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted October 10, 2018; updated August 28, 2019 and September 22, 2021

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A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed across the country. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity (“the ability to read their own and others’ emotions”). Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is one school that is doing its part to foster medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes students’ participation in the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post.

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician. An article on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website states that focusing on the humanities helps to develop well-rounded physicians and a new initiative, titled The Fundamental Role of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education (FRAHME), has taken shape.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Posted in 2019 and updated in 2020 and 2021.

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Photo courtesy of umhs-sk.org

Receiving an invitation to interview is an exciting step in the medical school application process. If you’ve been selected to interview it means that the medical school has vetted your application and you have passed the academic threshold for enrollment. Congratulations!

Now the medical school wants to meet you to gather more information through an interview. To prepare fully for the interview you should understand its purpose, which is multifaceted. During the interview the following elements are assessed:

  • Communication skills. Are you comfortable interacting with others, both students and faculty? Would you be a good member of a team and work well with your peers and others?
  • Personal traits and characteristics. Do your interpersonal skills project that you would be comfortable caring for patients? Do you add depth and breadth to a medical school class? Are you mature and able to handle the responsibility of patient care?
  • Experiences and knowledge of the medical profession. Can you speak convincingly about your past experiences and how they have informed your goal of a career in medicine? Do you truly know what you’re getting into?
  • Good fit. Are you a good “fit” for that particular medical school?  Do your goals and personality align with the school’s ethos?

The medical interview is also used as a recruitment tool; it’s a chance for the school to showcase its offerings and to entice you to enroll if admitted. Also remember that the interview is your chance to decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

While the prospect of a medical school interview is incredibly exciting for medical school applicants, it can also induce fear. Rest assured that the vast majority of medical school interviews are not stressful. Think of the interview as an opportunity to have a conversation with someone who is interested in learning more about you, your background, and your motivation for a career in medicine. Continue reading

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books

As a premedical advisor and medical school admissions consultant, I encourage prospective medical students to read books that will expand their view of the medical profession. Reading literature allows us to better understand the human condition which, in turn, makes doctors better practitioners. In addition, during medical school interviews applicants are sometimes asked about books they have read about the medical profession; interviewers want to know whether the applicant has been curious enough to read about his or her chosen profession.

The books I have selected cover different aspects of the medical profession, from practicing medicine to understanding global health challenges to navigating the complexities of cultural competency. I have compiled a list of helpful books for premed and med students. Out of that list of 38 books, I have chosen 10 as essential reading material:

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  3. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  4. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  5. My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story by Abraham Verghese
  6. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures by Geri-Ann Galanti
  7. Strong at the Broken Places by Richard Cohen
  8. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  9. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
  10. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Take a look at the full list and let me know if there are others you would suggest including.
Goodreads also has a list of Best Books for Medical Students. In addition, the Daily Beast has an excellent article about books written by doctors.  A medical student at Stanford has also recommended specific books for medical students. STAT has come out with a list of 39 health and science books. Continue reading

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The National Health Service Corps provides scholarship opportunities for health professions students. Students taking the scholarships must pursue a primary care field (defined by the NHSC as Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, Geriatrics, or Psychiatry). Funding opportunities exist through scholarships for medical school and a loan repayment program, called the Students to Service Program, which is available after physicians have completed their residencies and are in practice. Doctors and a dentist provide advice as to helpful electives to pursue in order to prepare for serving in the NHSC, via an informative video. Each of these practitioners is in a different setting, and they share helpful advice about the best possible preparation.

A recent $800 million infusion of funds into the NHSC program will hopefully expand its reach and make primary care physicians more readily available.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Posted in 2014 and updated in 2021

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CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is an online exam that is used by some medical schools in the admissions process. It assesses an applicant’s situational judgment in various scenarios.

New this year are two additional components of CASPer, now known as the “CASPer Suite.” This includes Snapshot, a video interview (one way–there is no person interviewing you) consisting of three questions. In addition, an inventory of your preferences in a medical school is called Duet.

Most medical schools do NOT require CASPer and of those which do require it, most do not require Duet or Snapshot. This information is still fluid, in terms of which schools want applicants to complete the entire suite.

Here is the most recent list of MD schools requiring CASPer. Check with individual schools regarding their requirements of Snapshot and Duet. If a school has made it clear that it does not require Snapshot/Duet, it has an asterisk beside it. Continue reading

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Secondary applications arrive soon after the primary application is transmitted to the medical schools. It is important to return secondary applications quickly; an application is not considered complete until the secondary has been received. The suggested time window for returning a secondary application is within two weeks of receiving it.

Do the math—if an applicant applies to 20 schools, that’s 20 applications to complete within two weeks, all with several essays to write. Let’s say the average secondary application has three to four essays–that’s 60-80 essays. Writing that many essays in a short period of time obviously creates a tremendous amount of work. Medical school applicants rarely anticipate the amount of work that secondary applications entail.

To streamline the process, many applicants pre-write secondary essays, putting the finishing touches on them when the secondaries are actually released. Bear in mind, as well, that secondary application prompts can change from year to year—so sometimes prewriting a secondary can result in wasted time if an applicant writes an essay that is no longer relevant.

The secondary applications are as important as the primary application; they should be completed carefully and with great care. 

There are several ways to approach pre-writing secondaries:

  • Look for common themes amongst secondary applications and focus on fleshing out ideas for those topics and prewriting a paragraph or two on each. You can then focus those essays for particular schools, tailoring them to the exact prompt, when you receive secondaries. Common themes can be found in my blog post on common secondary prompts.
  • Do a quick Google search for secondary application prompts and you will easily find them for particular schools. Start writing.
  • Be mindful that some essays can be recycled from one school to another but only with great attention. Always read the prompt for each school carefully—and tailor your response specifically for that school, answering it precisely. Keep in mind each school’s mission and focus, and tailor your essay accordingly.

If you have questions about secondary applications feel free to reach out to me via email at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted 2017 and updated in 2019 and 2021

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The CASPer test has been around for a while and is now required at many medical schools. It is a situational judgment test that presents scenarios via video after which applicants must write an essay about how they would handle the situation. It is open-ended in terms of the responses (no multiple choice questions). The results are shared with medical schools but not with applicants, leaving them in the dark regarding their performance on the test.

New last cycle was the AAMC’s Situational Judgment Test (SJT). It was piloted at only a few medical schools, and has been expanded this year to six medical schools (Geisinger Commonwealth, Morehouse, University of California-Davis, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Des Moines University). This test assesses eight pre-professional competencies that medical schools value highly (and which overlap with the VITA):  social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, reliability/dependability, resilience/adaptability, service orientation, capacity for improvement, ethical responsibility to self and others (the additional competencies tested on the SJT as opposed to VITA are bolded). The SJT is designed to promote holistic review of applicants such that schools can assess them more broadly. It is a remote proctored examination that tests applicants’ understanding of effective preprofessional behaviors; they are not expected to have mastered these behaviors. Unlike the VITA, the SJT is a scored exam with results between 1 and 9 (9 being high); the score is reported on a scale with a rank. For the details on scoring and other particulars of the test, please visit the link above and the AAMC’s other materials on the SJT.

It remains to be seen whether both the SJT and CASPer will be required in future application cycles; my guess is that the SJT may supersede the CASPer and obviate the need for the latter exam. The CASPer is not designed specifically for medical school whereas the SJT was designed by medical schools in conjunction with the AAMC.

For information about how to prepare for these exams or to schedule a mock interview please contact me at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Originally posted in August 2020 and updated in April 2021

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As a premedical advisor for over 25 years and as a medical school admission consultant, I have read thousands of personal statements. I have read countless essays written by applicants and have helped them refine and focus their essay into a cogent, convincing piece of prose. I know what’s important to include in the personal statement and am an expert in helping applicants sharpen their message.

The personal statement is a vital and central component of the medical school application. Think of the personal statement as an opportunity to tell your story and convince the medical schools that they need to meet you. The personal statement should be engaging and compelling, while being simple and straightforward enough that admissions committee members can read them quickly. Admissions committees have thousands of applications to read; do what you can to make yours shine!

There are five essential elements of an outstanding personal statement. Once you have a draft of your essay, review it to make sure you have included the following:

  1. Motivation: Have you conveyed your motivation and reasons for wanting to be a physician clearly and logically? If not, tweak your draft. It should be abundantly clear to the reader why you’ve chosen this path.
  2. Evidence:  Have you showed, with concrete evidence, that you’ve tested, explored, and confirmed your interest in the medical profession through a variety of experiences in the field?  Medical school admissions committees will want proof that you’ve gotten your hands dirty and know the realities of patient care and the challenges of the profession.
  3. Altruism: Have you shown through past experiences that you care about others? Experiences in the community—volunteering at a soup kitchen, in a homeless shelter, or a food bank—are highly prized by medical school admissions committees. These experiences indicate that you care about others enough to put your empathy into real action. If you’ve done these things consider including them in your statement to build evidence as to your caring nature.
  4. Clarity: Have you used relatively simple words and syntax to get across your main points? Readers spend approximately one to two minutes reading your essay. Make your essay logical and clear, yet compelling. Don’t make the reader struggle to get your meaning; readers will lose interest and move to the next file to read if your essay is confusing. This should be a statement of your interest in medicine, not a philosophical treatise.
  5. Flow: Applicants often have complicated stories to tell. Sometimes their path to medicine is not altogether straightforward, as in the case of nontraditional students. No matter your story, your statement should have logical and smooth transitions from paragraph to paragraph, which when combined create a convincing whole. Check your statement’s transitions to make sure they are seamless, thereby creating a perfect whole.

In the end, what your statement should do is make the reader want to meet you in person and have a conversation. Once you have written your statement ask yourself the final question: have you convinced the reader to invite you for an interview?

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

First posted in 2013 and updated in 2016, 2018, and 2021

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In the 2021-2022 application cycle, AMCAS opens May 3 for applicants to start entering information; submissions begin on May 27. AMCAS will not transmit any applications to the medical schools until June 25th.

Before the application opens you will hopefully have written your personal statement and activity descriptions. For guidance please refer to my other blog posts on those aspects of the application. As you gear up for the application cycle, here’s a checklist of tasks to complete once you start your AMCAS application:

  • When the application opens enter your biographical, school, and letter data immediately; this will allow you to generate a Transcript Request Form (TRF) and Letter Request Form (LRF). 
  • Send the TRF to the registrar’s office of all schools attended; transcript delays are the #1 processing problem for AMCAS applications. Ensure that you request your transcripts early, just in case problems arise, so you have time to sort them out.
  • Give or send the LRF to those who will write letters on your behalf; if using the AMCAS Letter Writer Application, your letter writers will need the AAMC Letter ID on this form, in addition to your AAMC ID.
  • Follow the guidelines provided by your undergraduate premed advising office in regard to the letter process (if you are still a college student or if you’re a nontraditional or post-bac student with access to institutional advising). For example, if your college/university provides a committee letter, you may only have to send one copy of the LRF to your premed advisor. Circumstances will vary according to applicants’ individual situations.
  • Alternatively, you can use Interfolio to gather and disseminate your letters to AMCAS (this is for applicants who do not have a committee letter process in place at their school).
  • Working directly from your college transcript/s, enter course information EXACTLY as it appears. Individuals at AMCAS will verify the course data you enter against the physical transcript for accuracy. The two should match. AMCAS will also convert the credits earned into a uniform system so that course credits can be compared at one institution vs. another; this makes it easy for medical schools to compare applicants’ course loads, apples to apples.
  • Enter your activity descriptions into the AMCAS application. These are important and perused carefully by the medical schools. Take the time necessary to hone your descriptions. Remember to give both information and reflection, where appropriate.
  • Enter your personal statement into the application. Put in the time necessary to write a statement that makes you shine. Seek out input/assistance from people who have experience reading statements.  Remember: this is your chance to present yourself, your motivation for a career in medicine, and your future goals. Be convincing!
  • Assemble a thoughtful and comprehensive list of medical schools to which you will apply. This is a tactical exercise: you should have a range of schools on your list.
  • Submit early in the cycle. Please see my other blog post on the importance of submitting an early application. 
  • Early is good but don’t rush and make mistakes. Be careful in your preparation and proofread, proofread, proofread. A perfect application is better than a rushed application.
  • Good luck!

Feel free to email me with questions about your particular situation at liza@thompsonadvising.com.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted in 2018 and updated in 2021.

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