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 vet the school and 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.
The key to doing well at a medical school interview is to prepare well and be yourself. You’ve toiled long and hard to get to this point and your excitement for medical school should be palpable. Prior to going to an actual interview you should have some idea as to the format offered at the school. There are several different kinds of interviews, described in a previous blog post. Some schools offer blind interviews (the interviewer has not seen your file) while others have an open file policy (the interviewer/s have access to your credentials). Still other schools offer the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format. Some schools do one-on-one interviews and others use a group format. No matter the format applicants should use the following guidelines to prepare:
1. Know your story. This sounds obvious but it’s crucial to be able to clearly articulate your path to medicine. If asked, “So tell me about yourself,” a query often used in the blind interview, you should be able to give a quick synopsis (<5 minutes) of your background, motivation for a career in medicine, and the experiences you’ve had which have reinforced your focus on the medical profession. Be sure to review the secondary you submitted to the medical school where you are interviewing. No doubt you wrote essays for many secondaries in the medical school application process, and it is often hard to remember what you wrote for each school. Before going to an interview review your secondary for that particular school to refresh your memory as to what information you provided.
2. Know the medical profession: express both your idealism as to what you might achieve within the profession and your realism as acquired through your experiences. It’s expected that you will have done your homework and investigated the profession through an accumulation of clinical experiences, which should have informed your view of the medical profession. Show what you know in the interview not by bragging about your experiences but by citing them when appropriate and offering them as evidence of your knowledge.
3. Have some knowledge of health care policy and issues in the medical profession. If you’ve chosen to go into medicine you should be keeping abreast of medical issues reported in the news and policy decisions affecting the public and physicians. Read up on health care policy if you haven’t already done so; the Kaiser Family Foundation is an outstanding resource.
4. Be able to think on your feet. During medical school interviews you may get asked questions you don’t instantly know the answers to. Take the time to think through what’s asked and to pose a response. If you don’t know the answer to something admit it and don’t try to fake it; but give a thoughtful answer that shows your ability to think through a concept analytically even if you don’t have a ready response. During the MMI process you will have to think quickly after reading written scenarios; you will be given several minutes to read information provided to you, analyze it, and then provide a response.
5. Listen well. Part of being a good physician entails listening well to both patients and colleagues. During a medical school interview listen carefully to both the questions asked and to the responses given to your dialogue. By listening well you will be more in tune with the conversation and be able to respond appropriately, specifically, and fully.
6. Have questions ready for your interviewers. No doubt you will be asked if you have any questions during your medical school interview. The questions you ask are important, not only because they show whether or not you’ve given consideration and thought to your visit but also because the questions demonstrate your seriousness (or lack thereof) about the school. This is your chance to learn more about the school; ask questions you really want to know the answers to and which will give you information that is not available on the website. For a few ideas to get you thinking about possible questions, please see this blog post.
7. Do a mock interview. Doing a mock interview with someone who has knowledge of the medical school interview process can help prepare you. Questions will be posed that will help you think about and refine your answers. As a result, you will gain confidence and feel better prepared for the interview. While not every single question that may arise will be posed, you will know how to think through your responses and be well prepared for the interview process.
Enjoy the interview process and keep this in mind as you set out on the interview trail: medical school interviews give you the opportunity to have interesting and informative conversations with individuals who simply want to learn more about you.
If you would like to set up a mock interview please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting