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The Medical School Interview: Overview and Guidance

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Medical school interview season is fast approaching: the season generally spans from late August to March, although some schools do not start interviewing earlier and some go later. Applicants who submit their applications early (June) and then complete secondary applications efficiently (within two weeks of receiving them) will be extended interview invitations during the early phase of the interview process if their applications are deemed competitive. Applicants who complete application materials later will naturally get later interviews. There is a serious advantage in getting an early interview in that most schools operate on a rolling admission basis, meaning that spaces are given away as applications are considered. To help applicants understand what to expect at an interview I provide general guidance below as to the interview formats. See other posts on my blog in regard to preparing for a medical school interview and on the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). Information about each school’s interview format can be found in the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR).

Interview Formats

There are several interview formats; applicants should be prepared for all of the types that they may encounter, as described below:

One-on-one interview: This is the most “traditional” kind of interview in that it has been in place longer than any other type and is the most common. During this format, an applicant has a one-on-one discussion with someone who represents the medical school (faculty member, administrator, or medical student). Typically this interview will last from 30-45 minutes, sometimes less and sometimes more.

Group interview: In this format, applicants will be grouped with others and face questioning from a small panel of medical school personnel. Most commonly this would be a group of three applicants along with three interviewers. Typically in this scenario, applicants may be asked individual questions pertaining to their particular background and/or the group is posed questions by the panel. If a question is asked or hypothetical situation is posed to the group, the applicants are expected to discuss the answer amongst themselves and come up with a response.  Medical school admissions committees like this format since it allows them to observe applicants’ group dynamics and interpersonal skills. Emory uses the group interview format, in addition to a one-one-one interview. In another guise of the group interview, an individual applicant is interviewed by a panel of three medical school representatives. However, this is a fairly unusual format and not widely encountered; the University of Washington uses this format and it is one of the most challenging interviews in the country.

Blind or Closed File Interview: Some medical schools prefer that the interviewers know nothing about the applicants they interview. As such, they provide no information to the interviewer prior to the actual meeting with an applicant. Thus the applicant bears the responsibility for bringing the interviewer up to speed in regard to his/her background, motivation for medicine, and experiences which have tested his/her interest.

Open File Interview: In this format, the individual conducting the interview has access to the applicant’s material and has presumably (but not always!) read it prior to the meeting. The interviewer usually has questions pertaining to the applicant’s background and wants more information to help him/her understand the applicant more precisely. In some respects this format is easier because the interviewer already knows something about the applicant—he or she may be able to guide the discussion in a more targeted way.

Multiple Mini Interviews: The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) is the new way of conducting interviews. First started in the Canadian medical schools, the MMI format has now spread to several US schools and more schools seem to be adopting this method. The MMI involves a process akin to speed dating; applicants rotate quickly through a variety of stations, where they have the opportunity to read written material regarding a hypothetical situation, which they then have 8-10 minutes to discuss/respond to with an actual person. Medical schools believe (and studies have shown) that the MMI format is more objective than the traditional medical school interview and it also gives the applicant many more opportunities to do well (there are typically 8 or 10 stations, thus giving applicants more chances to perform well than one interview would give). See a different post on how to prepare for the MMI. A variety of schools use the MMI format, including Albany, NYU, UC-Davis, Stanford, University of Cincinnati, and Duke, among others.

Who Will Interview You?

Keep in mind that a variety of individuals may be conducting interviews at the schools you visit. Administrators, physician-scientists, clinicians, researchers, alumnae/i, medical students and community members may all serve on the admissions committee and may be conducting interviews on behalf of the medical school. You generally do not know in advance the name or position of the individual who will be conducting your interview. But be prepared for any of the above.  See my other blog post on preparing for medical school interviews.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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