Medical School Interview Part II – Structure, Logistics, and Strategies

 

INTERVIEW DAY

Medical school interviews take up a whole day (typically around 7 hours), which includes an orientation, a welcome from the dean, a curriculum overview, tour of the campus/ facilities, and of course, the interview itself, which is scheduled usually either in the morning or midday. In the afternoon, you might get a few more lectures on financial aid, rotation sites, board prep, and match rates. By then, the hard part is over and you should be relaxed enough to talk to the current students, ask about their experiences, and explore the various places where you might potentially spend the next four years. Most schools don’t try and make this an intimidating or stressful process, they just want to get to know you. That being said, there is certainly a level of professionalism and preparation that’s expected of you. After all, this is medical school that you’re applying to.

 

STRUCTURE

The three most common forms are traditional one-on-one interviews, a panel with 2-4 interviewers, or multiple-mini interviews. Each require a slightly tailored approach, but remember that at the end of the day, you are the same person with the same story to tell. Don’t stress too much about the structure, just figure out which one your school employs so that you’re not caught off guard.

  • The first two are pretty self explanatory. For panel interviews, it can feel overwhelming if they are bombarding you with questions. There’s nothing wrong with taking a few seconds to catch your breath, or to simply think about the question before answering. Same goes for if you couldn’t understand the question for some reason. It’s better to have them repeat it than to answer the wrong question. Remember to split eye contact between the interviewers.
  • MMIs, or multiple mini interviews, are where you rotate between different stations. Every station has a different interviewer and a different prompt. Some are asking ethical questions, others are problem solving challenges. When tackling ethics questions, lay out all the viewpoints before venturing down a particular path. I would advise against going with extremes unless you’re able to back it up. With puzzles, they are testing to see how well you work with others. They don’t care if you can actually solve it. Don’t dominate the group, but don’t just sit back and watch.

 

WHO’S INTERVIEWING YOU

This is an aspect that often gets overlooked. The majority of interviewers will likely be medical school faculty members who are volunteering their time. Other participants include affiliated clinicians, AdCom members themselves, or current medical students. Be aware of your interviewer’s background. For example, if your interviewer has a PhD in the same field as your undergraduate research, it’s safe to say that you can get more technical while talking about your research than if you were interviewed by an AdCom member. In addition, knowing their background can lead to more insightful questions later on toward the end of your interview.

Open vs Closed Interviews

Open interviews means that they have seen your stats (GPA/MCAT) and have read all your application material. Closed means that they know nothing about you. Some are partially open (ie: they’ve read your PS and supplemental essays but do not know your stats). Even if it’s an open interview, don’t just assume that they are familiar with everything that you’ve put down on your application.They are going through hundreds of applicants every week. You should still mention the significant portions of your application unless specifically directed otherwise.

 

BIGGEST PIECE OF ADVICE

Here is a single piece of advice that completely changed my perspective and outlook on the medical school interview: 

Most students approach the interview as an “us vs them” mentality, as such, they view their interviewer as an intimidating gatekeeper figure. This may hold true for regular job interviews, but for medical school admissions, this is false. Remember, your interviewers take what you’ve said and discusses it with the entire admissions committee. Therefore, they’re already advocating on your behalf! The more material that you give them to work with, the better they can talk about you during the committee review process. This is no doubt a difficult mental roadblock to breach, but the moment that you realize that your interviewers are actually on your team, then all your fear and anxiety suddenly evaporates. Your confidence rises, your responses become more fluid, and your character more transparent.

“Help us help you.”  

 

HIGH YIELD QUESTIONS

  • Why Medicine: Self explanatory. You need to know this. Read my article about how to answer the “Why Medicine” question if you are still struggling with this aspect.
  • Why this School: AdCom want to know that you’ve taken the time to research their school. I know it’s utterly painful reading multiple mission statements from different schools that sound almost identical, but take some time to dig around their website. Know what types of opportunities they provide, be familiar with any community outreach initiatives, and look up the affiliated teaching hospitals. One thing that gets overused: Student clinics. Almost every school has one, it’s not that unique.
    • Pro-tip: Find a current student at a school, and ask them about what’s actually significant and what’s fluff. This makes a world of difference.
  • Why DO: If you’re applying DO, this is bound to come up. Everyone will talk about holistic care, but not everyone can elaborate on this. What does holistic care mean to you? For example, as a DO applicant myself, I elaborated on an individual’s accessibility to primary care, their lifestyle choices, longitudinal care monitoring, and how all these factors contribute toward disease progression or predictable health outcomes.
  • What part of medicine do you see yourself going into? Generally a good idea to start with something along the lines of “I can’t say for sure since I haven’t fully explored all the different avenues of medicine, but based on my current experience, I enjoyed X for reasons Y.” However, if you’ve been a staunch aspiring pediatric neurosurgeon since your freshman year of high school, then more power to you.
  • What’s controversial healthcare topic/ how do you feel about the ACA? Refer to my article about the pros and cons of ACA (I tried to be as unbiased as possible). You don’t need to be a policy wonk, but you should be able speak intelligently about:
    • Value based care vs fee-for-service compensation
    • Difference between Medicare and Medicaid
    • Basics of health insurance: know what premiums, deductibles, and essential health benefits are
    • Current political climate for healthcare reform
  • Any type of ethical question: Columbia’s bioethics department did a fantastic segment on how interviewees should be approaching and analyzing questions pertaining to ethics, titled “Video of Columbia University Bioethics Faculty discuss how to prepare for and successfully complete MMIs”. Even if your interview is standard format, this is still an extremely useful resource.
  • Tell me about your research. Avoid using unnecessary scientific jargon that might have impressed your friends or family. It’s not going to impress your interviewer. If it’s a complex bit of research that you were doing, take a minute and explain it in layman’s terms. This is an important skill for physicians, which is an also associated reason for this question in the first place. They want to see if you can deconstruct difficult concepts into simple explanations.
  • Is there anything else that you would like to know? This is a tough question, partly because it’s very individualistic, and partly because it’s all about the delivery. Your response will be the last thing they remember you by, so treat it carefully. I would advise against bringing up any negative aspects about yourself (ie: grades/low scores), but if there’s an elephant in the room such as an institutional action, then you need to address it. Try to make it as individualized as possible. My recommendation is to name one or two defining qualities about yourself, and how you see that impacting your future as a physician. Avoid listing off reasons of why their school is so great, it comes off as fake toward the end. It’s also perfectly fine to answer no. Again, everyone will be different.

Other questions:

  • What’s your leadership experience
  • Strength/weakness
  • Tell me about a time when you overcame adversity/ How do you manage stress
  • How do you feel about [insert ethical issue]
  • How did you study for the MCAT
  • What if you don’t get into medical school this year

The list goes on and on. There are many resources out there that offer pages upon pages of medical school interview questions. Just remember that all these questions are different ways of asking you the same thing. They all work to paint an overall picture of your as an individual, and the AdCom want to see that you’re qualified, competent, and dedicated.

 

Pro-Tips

Some interviewers will try to stonewall you. This can be intimidating, but staying composed and having confidence in your answer is key. On the flip side, try to read their body language if they are giving you cues. Are they nodding along, smiling, or frowning?

Make eye contact. Don’t look up when you’re thinking. It makes you look like you’re making stuff up.

Tonality. This can be your best weapon or worst enemy. By now, I’m certain that most of you have come across an undergraduate professor who lectures in a monotone drone. How much enjoyment did you receive from listening to them? Now imagine your favorite professor. What was their energy level and enthusiasm while they were teaching? It’s not just about what you say, it’s also about how you say it.

Be interesting. Have something for them to remember you by. Think about what sets yourself apart, or find something quirky and interesting about yourself and relate that to your interviewers. For me, it was the fact that I wanted to be a magician for the longest time. Zero relevance to medicine, but chances are they branded me as the magic guy from that point on.

Sending a thank you note a few days after your interview goes a long way for some schools. It takes minimal effort, and shows your interviewers that you appreciate their effort in helping out with the admission process. Also, if you happened to discuss some interesting questions or topics toward the end of your interview, this is a great time to continue that dialogue. Don’t make it a novel. Respect their time.

Additional Resources

r/Arnold_LiftaBurger had a great post on r/premed regarding what kind of questions you should be asking current medical students throughout your interview day. I briefly paraphrased the main points below, but I highly encourage you to read the whole thing here.

  • Grading Policy: Ranked/Unranked, Pass/Fail or standard grading
  • Attendance Policy: Mandatory or not, Recorded or not
  • Exam frequency and type
  • Pre-clinical curriculum and allotted board prep time
  • Extracurriculars / Research opportunities
  • Student body cohesiveness/ willingness to help classmates
  • Living situation/ Cost of living

 

Kevin Ahern, a pre-health advisor from OHSU, did a great video on how you should approach and prepare for the medical school interview. It’s one of the best that I’ve come across and I would definitely recommend watching. Best of Luck!