Master The Medical School Interview Questions

Some of this article is excerpted from The MedEdits Guide to the Medical School Interview (Traditional and MMI).

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 that 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 being 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. Therefore, knowing what types of interview questions you are likely to be asked, and practicing answering those questions without memorizing your responses, is critical to ace the medical school interview.

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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.

For more information about the medical school interview, click below to purchase the MedEdits Guide to the Medical School Interview: MMI and Traditional.

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