Create an outline for your answers to the following questions, which are certainly going to be asked at most, if not all, of your interviews:
Tell me about yourself.
This is what I call a launching pad question, which can come in other versions, such as “What brings you here today?” or “Tell me why you are here.” This question presents an opportunity to paint a picture of yourself and present all of the information you hope to discuss in your interview. While you don’t want to go into too much detail about any one activity or experience in your response, you do want to give your interviewer enough material so she can ask more questions about the topics you mention. Questions like this one are ice breakers and give you the opportunity to really control an interview and set the stage for what will be discussed. There are several ways to respond to this question and I advise you have a general outline (never memorize responses) of how you might answer it.
The chronological approach. This is the most common way to respond to this question. Interviewers want to know about your background, where you grew up, where you were educated, what is important to you both personally and academically. They want to understand what motivates and interests you. Provide a brief autobiographical statement will provide the interviewer with tons of interesting aspects of who you are from which he or she can draw other questions.
The interests-based approach. Another way to answer this question is to outline your interests that make you who you are. In doing this, you can also describe when each of your curiosities started, how you pursued them and why they are each important to you.
A qualities or characteristics-based approach. Some applicants prefer to describe themselves in terms of who they are: I am loyal, curious, athletic, and interested in other populations. For each “quality” the student can discuss experiences that illustrate that quality.
Regardless of the approach, you should discuss both your personal, scholarly and extracurricular background to offer a comprehensive response.
A sample answer:
I am 26 years old and currently am working in oncology research. I grew up in Southern California with my parents, who emigrated from Russia. My grandparents also lived with us and we had a tightly knit family. I have been interested in medicine since my grandfather became sick when I was a freshman in high school. I had just started high school biology, and I often went with him to his doctor’s appointments and helped him at home. I became curious about the drugs he was taking and what was going on with his body. I also was concerned about his emotional state and appreciated the vital role his doctor played in helping him cope with his illness. I have been volunteering in hospitals since that time. During high school I was also on the debate team and played varsity tennis. I enrolled in college and had a tough time my freshman year since I was not prepared for the more rigorous academic environment. But I improved my study skills and did better in subsequent years. I majored in biology with a minor in anthropology. I also gained exten- sive exposure to a variety of specialties through shadowing. After my junior year of college, I started working in the lab where I now work during the summer, and I have enjoyed my research so much that I decided to take this year to dedicate myself to it. Throughout college I also volunteered at a middle school tutoring underserved children and was heavily involved in the student government. Through my involvement in a nearby free clinic where I still volunteer I also gained a greater understanding of the challenges facing many US citizens. I have been looking forward to this day for a long time, and I was hoping to get an interview here and I thank you for inviting me.
Why this is a good answer:
- The applicant creates a clear picture of himself, his motivations and his path, along with his low grades his fresh- man year – a possible “red ﬂag.” Now his interviewer can “cherry pick” what he would like to discuss, including:
- His background
- What most impacted the applicant about his grand- father’s care
- His research experience
- His low grades freshman year
- His shadowing experiences
- His tutoring experiences
- His academics
- His involvement in student government
- His involvement in a free clinic
Why do you want to be a doctor?
You will undoubtedly be asked this question many times during your medical school interviews. When preparing for your medical school interviews, it is vital that you really think about what motivated you to pursue a career in medicine. A response such as, “I have always loved science and helping people,” for example, won’t cut it. I am always a bit surprised when I ask this question, and the student fails to mention anything about patient care. Be sure to mention helping patients as the cornerstone of your motivations to pursue a career in medicine. I encourage most clients to answer this question both in terms of “when” and “why.” This enables you to tell the interview- er about your longstanding (ideally) motivation to pursue a career in medicine. You can also use segues to bring up various medically related experiences and your future career plans, which will provide your interviewer with more material to ask about. Offering a truly comprehensive response to this question, or any of it’s variants (When did you know you wanted to be a doctor? How do you know you want to be a doctor?) shows that you have made this decision over the long term and not on a whim. Remember that a career in medicine involves a love of learning, teaching (patients and possibly future students and residents), working with different populations, sometimes research, and service. Use your experiences to offer evidence for why you want to be a physician.
Well, as I mentioned when we started talking, my interest in medicine really began when my grandfather was sick. He had heart disease and I was so intrigued by what was going on with his body and how his medications helped treat his illnesses. I was also inspired by the doctors who treated him and in particular by his cardiologist who was compassionate and really seemed to care about my grandfather and our family. Not only was this doctor technically competent and knowledgeable, but he also treated my grandfather as he would treat his own father. I could see that many physicians treated my grandfather differently because he was an immigrant and did not speak English well. But his cardiologist didn’t do this, and I was determined to be like him – able to care for patients sensitively while being intellectually challenged and utilizing technical skills. Since then I have learned about research, and I now understand that in medicine I can combine a career in clinical medicine and research, which is what I hope to do in the future. I also hope to volunteer as a physician, probably domestically, because my work at the free clinic has shown me a need to help those who do not have access to care. I want to be a doctor to make a valuable contribution to people’s health and well-being while making a more far-reaching impact through research.
Why this is a good answer:
- Student provides background to demonstrate the du- ration of his interest
- He demonstrates compassion, empathy and cultural competence
- He shows that he understands what it means to practice medicine
- He implies that he is intellectually curious
- He gives an idea of his future plans, which incorporate all of his past experiences and thus he seems directed and committed to a career in medicine
- He demonstrates his understanding of others and is- sues related to our health system by mentioning his free clinic work
- He provides segues and prompts for the interviewer to ask more questions
Why our school?
Medical schools are looking for the best candidates but they are also seeking students who are the best ﬁt for their school. It is essential that you research the school where you are interviewing and have speciﬁc reasons why you want to attend. Avoid “telling them what they want to hear” and choose things that are aligned with your demonstrated interests. For example, if you are an avid researcher with ﬁve original publications, do not be offended if a school focus- ing on primary care does not offer you an acceptance even if their average “stats” are lower than yours. You must con- vince the interviewer that you would be a good ﬁt for the school and that you can best achieve your goals and ideals at that speciﬁc school.
I want to go to your medical school for many reasons. First of all, the school has early clinical exposure, which I think is important and fosters an environment of collaboration through the use of small groups and problem based learning. I also appreciate the school’s curriculum and the block system. I value that the student and patient populations are diverse, which is also important to me. I enjoy working with people who are different than I and learning about them, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed tutoring underserved children. If I were to become a student here I would do research, and the school is a leader in my ﬁeld of research. I think that I would ﬁnd many role models here who could help mentor me to become a physician scientist, and the educational environment would be stimulating. I am also interested in learning more about the impact of culture on how people perceive health care and there is an elective focused speciﬁcally on this topic, which I would pursue. And, I would join the student run clinic because this is work that I currently value now at the free clinic where I volunteer. I would also be thrilled to move to this city and experience a new part of the country.
Why this is a good answer:
- Student shows he is knowledgeable and informed about the school
- He identifies specific reasons why he is interested in the school
- He presents himself as an ideal ﬁt for the school by identifying some of his own values that mirror the school’s philosophy and mission
- He mentions his own interest in research, which likely distinguishes him from other applicants and how he envisions making a contribution to the school
- He also mentions his tutoring and free clinic work, providing a prompt for his interviewer
Tell me about a challenging time in your life.
This is a very popular behavioral interview question. The interviewer may ask about a time when you weren’t successful or about your greatest failure. “I can’t think of any- thing” is the wrong answer. This response demonstrates lack of insight; we have all had challenges. The interviewer wants to know that you can cope with adversity and how you do it and that you learn from challenging times. He also wants to know that you are resilient and resourceful.
A challenging time for me was when I started college. I had always done very well in high school, and I didn’t expect that I would ﬁnd college so difﬁcult both academically and socially. It was the ﬁrst time I lived away from my family, and I was homesick. I also found the work load heavier than in high school, and good grades did not come as easily. I learned to manage my time better and im- proved my study habits. But I also made a real effort to make new friends and adapt to my new environment. In retrospect, I realize that stepping out of my comfort zone was one of the best choices I ever made. This forced me to grow, mature and adapt, and the skills I gained will help me in the future. I now understand that challenging myself helps me to grow in many ways.
Why this is a good answer:
- The student is honest and authentic
- He presents the challenge and the solutions
- He conveys that he can persevere
- He conveys that he learned from this experience
- He makes it clear that he understands that such situations are likely to occur again and that he is better equipped to cope with them
What would you say is one of the major problems with our health care system today?
As I have mentioned, no one expects you to be an expert in health policy. If asked this question (and many interviewers don’t even touch on this topic because it is so complex), you want to convey that you have an overall understand- ing of the issues and that you understand that they are complicated. I suggest that applicants read about health care reform during their application year at least once a week so they feel better prepared to discuss these issues, but my impression is that few interviewees are asked in detail about health care reform.
Wow. The issues of health care reform are so complex, and I am trying to grasp them. I think one of the biggest concerns is lack of access to care for the uninsured. For example, at the free clinic where I work, many patients present with complications of disease and we must then refer them to the emergency department for further care. This is because they do not have access to primary providers and because they often do not take their medications or care for themselves. I think if we increased awareness of prevention for underserved communities and made it easier somehow for them to live healthier lifestyles and increased their access to care by providing them with some kind of coverage, we would decrease our health care spending because these actions would help prevent disease.
Why this is a good answer:
- The interviewee admits he has a lot to learn
- He then goes on to explain some of the issues with access to care, patient education and patient compliance
- He also demonstrates cultural competence by recognizing that achieving a healthy lifestyle is not easy for certain populations
- He suggests some solutions to these problems
- He mentions his ﬁrsthand experience caring for the underserved
Do you have any questions for me?
Most students feel they must have questions to ask at the close of an interview, but unless you have an interviewer whom you sense wants you to ask a question, it is not always necessary to do so. Realize that not everyone agrees with me on this point, and some people advise applicants always to ask questions, regardless of the circumstances. But I feel this is disingenuous, and I could always tell when applicants asked questions because they thought it was the right thing to do. Not only was this a waste of time for both of us, but it sometimes diluted positive feelings I had about the interview before then.
The applicant must also pay attention to an interviewer’s cues, however. For example, if an interviewer says, “So, what questions do you have for me?” it implies that you should have some. (If your interviewer is an “egomaniac” or a “talker,” he likely will want you to ask questions.) But if she asks, “Do you have any questions?” coming up with something is not obligatory. A good strategy is to ask questions during your interview, assuming it has a conversational tone. This has the advantage of seeming more natural and sincere and allows you, when asked about any additional queries at the end of the interview, to answer truthfully, “You have already answered all my questions.”
If you feel you must ask questions or your are most comfortable having questions (I find this is the case for many applicants), you should try to ask questions that relate to your interests and demonstrate your interest in and knowledge of the school. It is also safe to ask about how much elective time students receive to pursue their interests in other specialties, if the school has a formal mentorship program, if students receive guidance when it is time to apply to residency or, if you have a speciﬁc interest, you can ask about opportunities in that area. Don’t ask questions that you could easily ﬁnd out the answers to on the school’s website.
I advise students to ask questions about something he or she learned about during interview day. Depending on the structure of your interview, you likely had tours and introductory meetings where you have learned about the medical school. Draw from this information; it shows you are paying attention and that your questions aren’t scripted. It is better to ask questions about specific opportunities, aspects of the curriculum, and rotations. Stay away from questions that start with “why” since they can come off sounding critical. For example, “Why are students required to complete a thesis?” Instead, try this: “I am really intrigued by the thesis requirement since I already have an interest in public health that I would hope to pursue as a student here. In the past, have students done thesis work in public health and could I start exploring that interest earlier than my senior year?”
Sample answer #1:
I don’t have any speciﬁc questions. I have studied every page of the school’s website because I am so interested in this school. The presentation and tour today were also very thorough, so I feel that all of my questions have been answered. I would be really happy to attend medical school here and think it would be a great ﬁt for me. The school’s commitment to underserved populations, the opportunities for early clinical work in the student run clinic, as well as the global health programs all appeal to me. I also appreciate the flexibility I’d have as a fourth year student to do electives in what interests me. I was also hoping to move to the city for medical school because it’s close to my family whom I have missed while in school in Chicago. If I think of any additional questions after I leave, to whom should I address these? Thanks for everything.
Why this is a good answer:
- It communicates to the interviewer that he prepared for the interview
- It communicates to the interviewer that he is informed about the school
- It demonstrates honesty and authenticity
- It transforms the question into a statement about his enthusiasm for the school
By making this transformation the interviewer forgets what he asked the applicant in the ﬁrst place
- It expresses gratitude for being considered and interviewed
Sample answer #2:
Most of my questions have been addressed today, and I must say that I think this school is the perfect ﬁt for me. But, I was wondering how many students actually work at the student run free clinic and if there might be opportunities for me to take on a signiﬁcant role there since I am interested in working with such populations not only in medical school but in my future career..
Why this is a good answer:
- The student communicates that he is prepared
- The student expresses his interest in the school
- The student asks about something that is related to his interest.
- The student demonstrates that he plans on taking on a signiﬁcant role outside of the classroom while a medical student.
What is your greatest weakness or greatest strength?
Personally, I can’t stand these questions and never asked it. Every medical school applicant has a prepared response for these questions which I find to be disingenuous and tells me little about him or her. I ﬁnd that it is typically the unskilled interviewer who poses this question, but medical school applicants are always nervous about ﬁelding these questions. Most often, applicants are advised to choose a strength that is actually a weakness, such as “I am a perfectionist.” “I have a tough time saying no to opportunities.” “I sometimes work so hard that I sacriﬁce my free time.” I suggest simply being sincere. Give a real, honest answer but not one that would be a deal breaker for medical school, such as “I can’t work on teams.”
I tend to procrastinate. I am constantly trying to improve this weakness because my procrastination causes me a lot of stress. And, when I get stressed because I am close to a deadline or exam, I am not very pleasant to be around. But, this stress is also what motivates me to get the job done.
Why this is a good answer:
- This applicant cites a real weakness
- He gives it a positive “spin”
- He appears authentic and genuine
A 16-year-old girl comes to your ofﬁce with her mother. As you do routinely, you ask the mother to leave so you can talk to the girl openly. The patient conﬁdes in you that she is sexually active and asks you to prescribe birth control pills, but she does not want her mother to know. What do you do?
Ethical and “behavioral” questions can be tough. The “right” answers are not always obvious, and the key is to consider all aspects of the described situation and to consider what is in the best interest of the patient. The interviewer is looking for your “answer,” of course, but he is also interested in your thought process, reason- ing, ability to verbalize and to identify the issues and be sensitive to them, and whether you communicate that you are compassionate and considerate. Typically these types of questions are also designed to evaluate your professional- ism, ability to work as a member of a team, values, ethics and cultural competence.
This is a tough question. First of all, I would educate the patient about the risk of unprotected sex with regard to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. I would let her know that pregnancy was not the only consideration. I would also make sure she was sexually active because she wanted to be and that she was in no way being pressured. I would then ask what she was using for birth control. I would tell her that her mother should be aware that she is sexually active and of the risks of taking birth control pills and strongly advise her to take her mother into her conﬁdence. However, I would offer this advice within the context of an assessment of the relationship she has with her mother. Ultimately, I don’t know if I would prescribe the pills because it would depend on that state’s laws regarding treating a minor, but I would want to protect this girl and wouldn’t want her to become pregnant because I didn’t prescribe her the medication. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to encourage her sexual activity by giving her the prescription. I think I would seek out help from a social worker and would make sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with this patient once I had time to consider the legal issues and to learn more about other issues in her life and her family situation.
Why this is a good answer:
- The applicant considers this situation from multiple perspectives
- He considers how his actions will impact not only the patient but her family and the individual with whom she is having a sexual relationship
- He demonstrates that he thinks clearly and objectively
- He admits that he doesn’t know the applicable laws
but is aware that they vary by state
- He demonstrates compassion, empathy, professional- ism and an understanding of the complexities of the situation
- He demonstrates resourcefulness and his ability to consider the other members of his “team”
Why are you interested in our medical school?
In reality, we find that many interviewers do not ask this question. But, it is good to prepare for this question so you know as much about the medical school as possible before interview day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this book, it is ideal if you can add information about why you are interested in a the specific medical school at which you are interviewing during regular conversation, but, this isn’t always possible or natural. The key thing to address if you are asked “why our medical school,” is that you have done your research, know about what the school can offer you and what you can offer the school. In asking this question, your interviewer wants to you that you will be a productive member of the medical school community. Things to know about the medical school before you interview:
- What is the school’s mission?
- What is the school’s curriculum and what stands out about that curriculum?
- Where is the school located and what are the demographics of that area?
- Where are the school’s affiliate locations where you are likely to do rotations and what are the demographics of those areas?
- What extracurricular opportunities interest? What about clubs?
- Are there any research opportunities that interest you?
- Any programs in public or global health that interest you?
- What is the general culture of the school and the student body?
There are so many reasons I am particularly interested in Master Medical School. First of all, the location really appeals to me. I want to go to medical school in an urban setting where I will learn about the challenges facing underserved populations. My goal is to some day have a private practice along with an academic practice in a school just like this. I also love this city and with the limited free time I have, I will have plenty of things to do with my classmates. I also felt during today that I really fit in with the students I met. They are all so interesting, smart, and friendly. The early exposure to clinical medicine and the flexibility students have during their medical school years is also intriguing. I have many established interests as you can see, but, I also hope to learn about other specialties in medicine and explore different areas of research. The cardiology research I did as an undergraduate fascinated me and I met one student who spent her summer after first year of medical school doing research with a leader in the field. That is really exciting to me. As a side note, I love to sing and the student a cappella group would be really great to be a part. Overall, I am think this school is a great fit for me and I would be a great fit for the school!
Why this is a good answer:
- The student is enthusiastic about the medical school. Positive and enthusiastic energy will bolster a response of this type.
- The student mentions the curriculum.
- The student mentions rotations – many applicants fail to think about their education beyond the first two years!
- The student discusses the location.
- The student makes it clear that she connected with current students which shows she is collaborative and friendly.