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The Medical School Interview Ultimate Guide

Medical School Interview

Use these proven strategies to feel empowered and ace your medical school interviews.

Introduction

Once you reach the medical school interview stage of the medical school admission process, it means your GPA, test scores, and application have passed all “screenings.” It also means you possess the academic credentials required by the medical school. Congratulations! From that point on, your “interview performance” and how you are perceived on interview day will be the most critical factor in your success. Medical schools use the interview to understand your motivations for a career in medicine and to learn about your personal qualities and characteristics.

Related: The VITA Medical School Interview (2020-2021)

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Anything about which you have written in your application is fair game for discussion. Be sure to review your primary application, secondary application, and any update letters you have sent the school. You must be able to speak articulately about each of your experiences, what you learned from them, and how they led you to and confirmed your interest in medicine. If you have listed any research in your application, be sure you can explain and discuss it intelligently. Also be able to talk about your academic interests and anything you have done since submitting your application.

The best way to prepare for medical school interviews is to really think about your path and how you got to the seat in which you are sitting on interview day. This may sound simple, but I am always surprised when candidates who obviously have great experiences and have done “all the right things” to get into medical school cannot connect the dots in their own experience. Think about the overarching themes in your background, when you decided to pursue a career in medicine, and what helped confirm your interest. How has one experience led you to the next? By creating your agenda, you will know your exact path to medicine.

Know the school where you are interviewing

Since medical schools not only want to find the best applicants but also those who are the best fit for their institution, you must know the details about every school where you interview. Review the school’s mission statement, philosophy, curriculum, clinical sites where you will be doing rotations, extracurricular and community service opportunities and any recent changes they are promoting. Have an idea of what the school is “known for.” For example, is it a research focused institution or does it have a great global or public health program? I also suggest that students review the student profiles that some schools have on their websites to get an idea of the types of people they like (since these profiles will likely be the students of whom they are most proud). Also do some research about the area’s demographics and geography since that will tell you what’s important to the medical school as well. Does the school’s primary hospital care for an underserved population? Is it in an urban or rural area? Seeking out information may be easy for private schools, but public schools tend to have websites that are more basic and not as informative. For schools that have less than stellar websites, you should seek out information from current students or rely on interview day to become informed about the school.

Practice!

Most students are not comfortable with the interview process initially although most find it enjoyable as they progress in the interview season. Interviewing well is a skill and it is important you become comfortable speaking openly about yourself with a stranger. Once you reach the interview stage in the medical school admissions process, it is the most important factor in your success. With more and more emphasis begin placed on an applicant’s personal qualities and characteristics, your accomplishments, GPA and MCAT will not automatically translate to an acceptance regardless of how good they are. Doing mock interviews will not only help you become better at talking about yourself, what’s important to you, and what you have accomplished, but, it will also help you learn about any distracting habits you may have. What does your body language say about you? How about your expressions? Projecting confidence, but not being overconfident, and making it clear you are open, approachable, and professional during your interview is key. Only with practice will you know if you possess these qualities. With more practice you will also be more confident on interview day.

With whom you practice is very important. Typically, friends and family members may not be well suited to evaluate how you are as an interviewee and the last thing you want to do is get an opinion from someone is not trained or experienced to evaluate your interview skills. We advise doing mock interviews with your career center or an advisor at school who understands the medical school admissions process well. MedEdits also provides professional mock interview services and all of our faculty have extensive admissions committee experience and are admissions experts. When practicing, always keep in mind that you should non memorize responses or be over rehearsed. Having a natural and organic interview is important and the goal of practice should be to make you more comfortable on interview day so you can be authentic and true to who you are which is what will allow you to show your best self.

When do medical schools send out interview invitations?

Medical schools start to extend interview invitations as early as July or August of the application year. Your application will only be reviewed once it is complete. You might read on Student Doctor Network or Reddit that all interviews are extended by Thanksgiving. In our experience, this is far from the truth. Interviews can be extending in to February or March. That said, in our experience, students who receive earlier interview invitations (in August – October) tend to receive earlier medical school interview acceptances and fare well in the process.

When do medical schools start interviewing?

Medical schools start interviewing as early as July or August of the application year. However, most medical schools conduct the bulk of interviews September through February. Interviews can be conducted into April, however, depending on the medical school.

Traditional Interview Prep

Part 2: Medical School Interview Types

There are two major types of medical school interviews, the traditional interview and the multiple mini interview.

The majority of interviews are “traditional” one on one interviews. These interviews are most commonly a question and answer format and often transition into conversational interviews or discussions. Traditional interviews fall into one of three categories – open, closed, or partially closed file. The best way to answer traditional interview questions is to answer authentically and honestly. Don’t try to spin your responses. Medical school admissions committees are seeking mature students with integrity.

Interview day: What to expect

Interview Format & Schedule

Traditional interview days vary but follow a general pattern. Some schools will allow you to go to classes with students, but the schedule generally is similar to the one below.
8:30 AM: Arrive at the interview office
9:00 AM: Presentation by a dean or director of admissions about the school
10:30 AM: Interview #1
12 noon: Lunch
1:00 PM: Interview #2
2:30 PM: School tour conducted by current medical students

Typically you will interview with one to three people. If you have multiple interviews, one might be with a current student. Most interviews are 30 minutes.

The MMI (Multiple Mini Interview)

The multiple mini interview was developed in Canada, and more and more medical schools in the United States use it. Students rotate through a variety of “stations,” remaining at each for eight to 10 minutes to address a particular question, complete a task, or work with another student. For example, the interviewer may give you a scenario and ask how you would behave, how you might describe the situation to a person involved in the scenario or how you would interpret the issues the scenario presents. In general, these mini interviews are designed to evaluate your professionalism, communication skills, ability to work with a team, compassion, and ability to consider all aspects of a situation. This type of interview is becoming increasingly more common in the US.

RELATED ARTICLE: The MMI Interview Ultimate Guide

RELATED ARTICLE: What to Wear for Medical School Interviews

Part 3: What is the Medical School Interviewer Looking For?

It is important to understand what interviewers are looking for within the context of your experience. Medical school applicants often fail to make a good impression when they try to tell interviewers what they think they want to hear instead of representing themselves honestly and authentically. Since your grades, MCAT scores and letters of reference will be used to evaluate your academic aptitude, interviewers are trying to assess something else– if you are genuinely committed to a career in medicine and have an understanding of what it means to practice medicine, if you have compassion, empathy, and maturity, your intelligence and how good your interpersonal and communication skills are— among other attributes. (See Box 1: What qualities and characteristics do interviewers evaluate?) Interviewers also want to rule out any red flags, such as gaps in time on your record, many changes in careers or interests or any signs of personal instability.

Do you have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of a career in medicine?

Interviewers are trying to assess first and foremost your motivation to pursue a career in medicine. They want to hear about when and why you want to practice medicine, and they want to know that your background justifies your claim that you want to practice medicine. They also want to know that you understand what you are getting yourself in to and that you understand the pros and cons of practicing medicine and have a realistic idea of the challenges you will face in medicine. This is why some interviewers ask about health care reform; they don’t expect you to have an advanced degree in health policy, but they want to know that you at least have some idea of what the issues in health care are today.

Are you confident yet humble?

Even a hint of arrogance or self-righteousness might destroy your chances of acceptance. Humility is much preferred over self-centeredness and a fine line sometimes differentiates confidence from overconfidence. Be sure not to do anything that might suggest you are over confident, for example by acting too informal or familiar, appearing too comfortable, dropping names or obviously promoting yourself. Let your accomplishments speak for themselves and hope that your letter writers wrote about your positive qualities and attributes.

Do you have what it takes to make it through medical school, residency training and a future medical career?

It takes a tremendous amount of dedication, resilience and perseverance not only to succeed in medical school but also to do well in residency training, which can be very rigorous. While interviewers will glean information about your strengths based on what is written in your letters of reference, they are also try- ing to assess these qualities during your interview. A medical education and career pose intellectual, emotional and physical challenges that a medical school applicant cannot appreciate. So, it is your interviewer’s job to decide if you have the characteristics that make it likely you will be able to cope and succeed throughout your medical education.

Can you recognize your faults and admit when you are wrong?

No one expects you to be perfect. In fact, admissions committee members want to know that you can recognize your faults and that you can make improvements or modify your behaviors. Did you do poorly in your early years of college and can you explain why? Admissions committees want to know that you can learn from mistakes and that you won’t crumble if things don’t go as planned. If you had an institutional action during college, admissions committee members want to see that you are remorseful and that you have learned and grown from the experience. They also want to know that you are aware of your limitations. An important part of being a great doctor is knowing when it is time to ask for help and to be aware of your own strengths, expertise and weaknesses.

Is everything consistent?

Interviewers also want to make sure that what you have written in your application and how you present yourself “match.” Misrepresentation in either your application or your interview makes a negative impression. This is also why it’s important to write your own personal statement and application! Consistency in your story is key, and interviewers will try to identify themes in your background and during your interview. Even if an interview is closed file, consistently is key. Once your interview evaluation is done, it will be “compared” to a degree, to your written application.

Are you smart and intellectually curious?

You also are being evaluated on your intelligence, intellectual curiosity and your ability to think logically and critically. While you won’t be asked academic questions, a skilled interviewer can assess your abilities based on how you reason through the questions that are asked.

What is your demeanor and how do you communicate?

Medical school applicants are judged on whether they are articulate, poised, enthusiastic and mature, can manage difficult questions with ease and demonstrate empathy and compassion. The best applicants smile, make good eye contact and are engaging, interesting and warm. Be sure you aren’t swayed by a negative interviewer. You should greet even the grouchy interviewer happily and warmly and don’t allow them to “bring you down.” People with “sparkling personalities” always do better on interviews than their more sullen, stone faced or negative peers. Interviewees are also judged on their accomplishments, life experiences, ability to overcome obstacles and their suitability for a career in medicine. Since communication skills, great interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to people are necessary to practice medicine, you may be dinged if your interviewer thinks you have difficulty in these areas.

Are you culturally competent?

As our country becomes more diverse, physicians must be able to care for individuals of different cultures, religions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. This does not mean that admissions committees want to know that you speak a second language; rather, they want to know that you have experience working with people who are different from you and that you are sensitive to the impact of these differences. Can you communicate with patients who have diverse backgrounds? Will you be understanding of how these differences affect patients’ compliance and perception of disease, and will you consider a patient’s home and community environment when designing your treatment plan?

How will you add to the medical school’s community?

Your interviewer also will evaluate how you will add to the learning environment and the diversity of the medical school. With the recent emphasis on a holistic review of applicants, this definition of diversity is broad and relates not only to your cultural and racial background but also to your interests and experiences. Most medical school interviewers are open mind- ed and thus hope to attract a broad range of students to their school who can make a valuable and meaningful contribution to the medical community.

Are you a good “fit” for the medical school?

Schools also are seeking out applicants who are the best fit for their school. For example, a smaller community-focused school may not be interested in the applicant with 10 original publications who wants to make research a part of her career. So, while one applicant may be the ideal student for one school, she may not be the best fit for another. You therefore should study each school’s website before you interview to have a sense of what it values, its mission statement and what kind of students it is trying to attract. As already emphasized, who you are on interview day must match the person the admissions commit- tee reads (or will read) about in your application, but you can often spin your experiences a bit to conform to their ideal student and applicant.

Do you have any red flags?

The two most obvious red flags are gaps in time of longer than three months when you cannot account for your activities or frequent jumps in career without any real explanation for these changes. Both of these factors suggest a lack of commitment or some possible underlying problem. Students who cannot communicate or are extremely nervous or anxious also raise concern. Interviewers are also trying to identify any major personality disorder or psychopathology that may hinder a candidate’s ability not only to interact with patients and colleagues but the ability to get through medical school and residency. Other common “red flags” include a low grade, GPA, or MCAT score, an institutional action or withdrawals from classes but, typically, if you were invited for an interview, these issues were not considered major. That said, you should be able to give explanations for the flaws in your application without making excuses.

Have you overcome any significant hardship or adversity?

Students who have overcome significant obstacles such as coming from an underserved area, having financial hardship or being the first in their family to go to college are typically evaluated within the context of this cohort of applicants. Since achieving success with few resources is a tremendous accomplishment, students who have overcome adversity are looked upon favor- ably because achieving under difficult circumstances requires perseverance, drive and a true commitment. Also, people who come from underserved areas are more likely to serve such communities in the future, which is why it is in society’s best interest (and the medical school’s) to attract such applicants.

What element of diversity do you contribute?

Medical schools now emphasize a holistic review of applicants so they have a broad definition of diversity as mentioned above. Admissions committees are looking for students with a diverse mix of experiences, backgrounds and perspectives. This does not mean that being a traditional student is a liability. In fact, being traditional (meaning that you haven’t had a prior career or come from an underprivileged background) also has advantages because traditional applicants typically present no red flags and are highly motivated and directed. But the applicant who had a prior career or who is an immigrant, for example, also brings diversity to a medical school class. Medical schools also seek to enroll a diverse mix of students with varied backgrounds and interests. What is important to understand is that every applicant brings an element of diversity regardless of background and experience.

Would the interviewers enjoy spending long periods of time with you?

Since your interviewers not only see you as a medical student candidate but also as a potential future colleague, they want to know that you are, bottom line, good company. So, you must convey that “having you around” would be comfortable and pleasant. This is why small talk matters during your interview day; interviewers want to know that you are personable. It is also important to stay as positive as you can during an interview. Don’t complain and stay away from negative comments.

Are you sexist or racist?

Any hint that you are biased, closed minded or insensitive will make interviewers check the “rejection” box. I remember how one applicant, when speaking of caring for an inner city population, said, “I have concerns about taking care of people who are underserved. I have never worked with those types of people before.” While this comment may have been innocent, it struck the interviewer the wrong way, and she rejected this applicant.

Part 4: Common Medical School Interview Questions and Categories

Motivation for a Career in Medicine Questions

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 interviewer 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 its 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.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

When answering this question or a question that asks about future goals, you must realize that you do not need to know what specialty you will pursue when answering this question! Rather, it is important to think globally about what qualities you hope to possess, the role you hope to play in patients’ as well as the role you will play in the medical and local communities. If you hope to do research, mention that as well as the overall type of career you hope to have – but only if you know.

Education Questions

One of the key qualities that medical school admissions committees want are applicants who are intellectually curious, ambitious, and will add to the educational environment of a medical school. Therefore, questions about your educational background and interests are quite common during medical school interviews.

Tell me about your most interesting undergraduate course.

With this question, the interviewer in trying to get a sense of what interests you, how well you can articulate what interests you, and if you were really engaged in your learning. It is best to think about your college academic before your interview so you can answer this type of question articulately. Ideally your answer should discuss a science course that interested you most, but, it is perfectly fine if your answer is about a non-science course. Something you will hear us say repeatedly is to answer all questions honestly. If, however, you do respond by speaking about your class in French Literature, for example, be prepared for a follow-up question about your favorite science class. Discussing classes such as bioethics or public health is also ideal for this type of question.

What was your most challenging class in college?

By asking this question, the interviewer wants to know that, first of all, you did challenge yourself in college by taking courses that took you outside of your academic comfort zone, how you responded to that challenge, and what you learned from the course and the challenges you faced. Ideally you want to answer this question by showing that you embraced the challenge and that you improved over time while in the course. They also want to know that you learned something about the subject matter and about yourself. What did you learn about time management, asking for help, or navigating intellectual challenges?

Why did you choose the major you did?

Again, be honest! When answering this question, you want to be able to discuss your intellectual curiosities articulately. As you likely know, what you major in during college is of little significance in the medical school admissions process. What the interviewer wants to know is that you are intellectually curious and can speak intelligently about your academic pursuits.

Personality Questions

How would your best friend describe you?

Try to answer this as if you were sitting at a Starbucks with a friend. It should be a casual response, with examples if possible, and honest! In fact, don’t say things that are only positive. Being slightly self deprecating when answering this question can show your humility and win you some points. Personality questions should not be academic; would your best friend talk about your interest in medicine or science? Unlikely. She might say you are really hard working, but, more likely should talk about who you are socially and why you are a good friend.

If you had a free day, what would you do?

When I asked this question of my applicants I was always amused when someone would reply that they would spend their free day in the lab or the library. For the rare few this is true, but, it is more likely you would spend a free day doing the things you enjoy to do in your free time. Would you exercise, cook, see a movie with friends, or read a book?

Ethics Questions

If you caught a friend cheating on an exam, what would you do?

For most students, ethics questions are fairly easy to navigate and, if you take the same approach as we outline for the MMI interview, you will do great when navigating these questions.  Ask yourself- what is the ideal thing to do in this situation? The operative word here is “ideal.” Let’s say your friend had a history of cheating and had gotten away with it in the past and he had a higher grade then you in the course? You would be pretty upset, right? And, you’d likely want to nark on your friend.  But, this is the ideal world. So, you approach your friend, tell him what you saw, express your concern that he cheated, ask him what you can do to help, and then encourage him to do the right thing and tell the professor he cheated.

If a fellow student was arriving on rotations with alcohol on his breath, what would you do?

Again, what is the ideal thing to do here? If your peer arrived at work with alcohol on his breath, the consequences could be grave since she is caring for patients. First, you approach your friend, express your concern, and then ask if she has done anything related to patient care since she arrived. Finally, you offer to help. Ask her what has been going on recently in her life, express your concern for her, and, assuming this wasn’t a one time event, encourage her to get the professional help she needs. Finally, if there is any possibility of patients being in danger, you offer to go with your friend to let the attending physician know what has happened.

Character Questions

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.” While not a direct question about character, a launching pad question presents an opportunity to paint a picture of yourself, your qualities and characteristics and what is important to you while presenting all of the information you hope to discuss in your interview. 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 to 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 that 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.

Tell me about your background and upbringing.

Understanding where an applicant is from, what type of home and community he or she grew up in, and what is important to the applicant growing up says a lot about the applicant’s qualities, characteristics, values and ideals. When answering this question, be honest and authentic (as always), don’t try to spin anything, and realize there is nothing specific the interviewer is looking for. Some applicants think that to be successful in the medical school admissions process, one must communicate suffering and/or hardship. This is hardly the case. While overcoming adversity can speak volumes about a person’s character, many applicants grew up with stable backgrounds, no adversity, yet were surrounded by people who loved them and instilled in them good values and ideals. Understanding where a person comes from offers great insight about what is important to the individual and what that person might contribute to the medical school.

Tell me about a difficult 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 anything” 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.

Diversity Questions

Tell me about a time you worked with people who were different than you.

Physicians work with people of different backgrounds and care for patients from a variety of backgrounds as well. Therefore, being “culturally competent” and having experiences beyond your comfort zone are important to understand how to interpret different social norms and to better relate to and understand your coworkers and patients. In asking this question, the interviewer wants to know, first of all, that you have taken the initiate to travel beyond your own socioeconomic group. Most often you can explore these differences in your own state, city, and certainly country; international travel is not necessary. Then the interviewer wants to know that you can recognize the differences in those groups while also expressing understanding and compassion.

How will you contribute to the diversity of our medical school?

Diversity in medical school admissions is defined broadly and not necessarily by the color of your skin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. In fact, when answering this question I advise students to take out the word, diversity and instead think about the unusual contributions or perspectives you bring to the medical school. In this way, you will think about your distinctive experiences, outlooks, values, and educational experience that might benefit your fellow medical students, patients, and staff.

Part 5: After the Interview and Follow Up

After your medical school interview we encourage students to send thank you emails to your interviewers unless a school specifically tells you not to send them! Thank you notes to your interviewers will not influence your candidacy, but it is good manners to write them. Ideally, your notes should be concise yet should touch on some aspect of your interview that was unique. You should also mention something that you like about the school that relates to your interests and the topics discussed during your interview. Just like other aspects of this process, your note should reflect the tone of your interview. For example, if you had a great connection with an interviewer, your note might be longer and more personal. But, if your interview was brief and superficial, you might only mention specific things you like about the school.

When Do You Hear Back After The Interview?

You can hear back from medical schools as soon as four weeks after your interview or as long as several months. For schools with rolling admissions, the wait time is particularly variable. Some schools have set notification dates for all students who interview. Those notification dates are usually in March.

RELATED ARTICLE: Medial School Interview Thank You Letters

MMI Prep

Part 6: Sample Medical School Interview Questions with Answers

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.

Sample answer:

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.

Sample answer:

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.

Sample answer:

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.

Sample answer:

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.”

Sample answer:

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.

Sample answer:

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?

Sample answer:

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.

Interview Thank You Notes

Part 7: List of Medical School Interview Questions

I do not pose answers to the following potpourri of questions or topics you may be asked to address because I strongly dis-courage applicants from simply telling interviewers what they think they want to hear. How you deal with the following will depend on your background and experiences; demonstrating authenticity, honesty and consistency are key, so should any of these questions or subjects come up, address them in a fashion that is consistent with your application, experience and letters of reference.

If you had a free day what would you do? How do you achieve balance in your life? Tell me a joke.

Teach me something.

What experience(s) made you want to pursue medicine?

How would your best friend describe you? What would he or she say is your greatest weakness?

What activity have you pursued on your own without the influence of your parents?

What is something you tried really hard at but didn’t turn out as expected or what has been your greatest challenge?

Did you ever have to work to help support yourself or fund your education?

How do you remember everything you have to do? How will you deal with debt?
Where have you traveled around the world?

Would you change anything in your background? What and why?

What would you do if you could not pursue a career in medicine?

Tell me about your research/volunteer/clinical/global health/public health/teaching experiences.

Explain your academic path.

What strengths would you bring to the medical school?

Why did you do a special master’s program/MBA etc.?

Explain your poor grade/MCAT/academic performance.

How would you add to the diversity of our school?

Tell me about an ethical dilemma and how you decided what to do.

What qualities should a physician possess?

What qualities do you possess that will help you to become a physician?

Tell me about the most influential person in your life.

Tell me about your most valued mentor. What is your most valuable accomplishment? What direct clinical exposure do you have?

What leadership roles have you held? Why should we choose you?

What should I tell the admissions committee about you?

Describe your perfect day.

Where do you see yourself in the future (10, 20 or 30 years)?

If you could change anything about your education, what would that be and why?

What kinds of books do you read? Tell me about the book you read most recently.

How do you feel about medical students not being allowed to have cell phones in the hospital?

What do you do for fun?

In closing, is there anything else you would like to tell me? What have you done since you graduated from college?

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The Medical School Interview by Dr. Jessica Freedman

Based on her experience as an admissions officer and as a private advisor, Dr. Freedman provides guidance on what to expect on interview day, how to influence what is discussed during your interview and what you can do to ensure a stellar interview performance. She also writes about what goes on “behind the scenes” after your interview and provides a transcript for a sample interview.

The Medical School Interview includes:

  • What you must do to prepare
  • What the interviewer is trying to assess
  • How to influence the course of your interview
  • The different types of interviewers and how this impacts your experience
  • How you are evaluated
  • What happens at the admission committee meeting after you leave
  • A sample interview with questions and answers

Medical School Interview Information for Every School in the Country

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