The Medical School Interview

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Nearly all medical schools in the United States (allopathic and osteopathic) require an interview prior to considering an applicant for admission. The medical school interview is an opportunity for the school to assess your behavior (appropriateness) and character. While the data is lacking about whether or not these interviews actually protect a medical school from accepting an inappropriate candidate, this practice is unlikely to stop. The school is trying to understand if you are socially appropriate to interact with patients and whether you have the maturity level to deal with complex medical issues. Additionally, they would like to assess your ability to think on the spot without the advantage of preparation. Moreover, they want to see how well you understand science, medical ethics, the healthcare team, and yourself (what you would do in certain situations).

Once you submit your primary and secondary applications (with letters of recommendations) the medical school will review your entire application and determines whether or not to offer you an interview. Typically a medical school will invite a handful of candidates (10-30) to interview on select days in the year. On the interview day you can expect to have 2-5 interviews with faculty (basic science [PhD], clinical medicine [M.D.]) and medical students/residents (only at some programs). Each interview will last between 30 and 60 minutes. The rest of your day will include breakfast and lunch and a tour of the campus. You should have an opportunity to meet with current medical students (most likely your tour guide) so that you can ask questions about the school. You will likely be given an itinerary the day of your interview which may mention who you are interviewing with and at what time. This sheet may give a location (building and room number) of where to go for the interview. Your packet of information may also include a map of the campus so you can make your way around throughout the day.

General Interview Day Tips:

  • Arrive 15 minutes prior to when you are asked to. You do not want to rush to your interview day as it will provoke your anxiety. With the extra time you can see what the layout of the campus is. Your meeting location may not be obvious and may take some time to find once you park.
  • First impressions are everything. Everyone judges a book by its cover. Make sure you have appropriate attire for the day (business professional). For men this means suit and tie. For women this means suit (pant or skirt) with blouse. Make sure you are well groomed. Your nails should be trimmed. Facial hair should be shaved and neat. Your hair should be well styled. Do not wear perfume or cologne. Do wear deodorant.
  • Try to get a sense about whether or not you could see yourself at that particular school. Does the weather and location suit you? Do the students seem happy?  Ask questions about the structure of the curriculum and examinations. Ask about research opportunities and other extracurricular activities that interest you (clinics for underserved, mission trips, etc.). What is the USMLE Step 1 pass rate? What is the match rate?

Prior to the actual interview day:

  • Prepare for your interviews by practicing answers to common questions. You should sound well-spoken and articulate but unrehearsed and genuine. This is a fine balance you are trying to create.
  • Review the schools website to understand their principles and philosophies. Some schools harp on professionalism and others emphasize teamwork. There are certain themes you can begin to understand with each school.
  • Prepare your own questions to ask each interviewer about the school. These questions should be genuine and well thought out.
  • Review previous questions asked by interviewers at that school. CLICK HERE TO SEE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR SPECIFIC SCHOOLS FROM PREVIOUS YEARS
  • Review our list of general interview questions CLICK HERE TO SEE GENERAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
  • Review your transcript so that you can talk about your favorite/least favorite courses and courses in which you performed poorly in. Be sure to have a good explanation for why you performed poorly and how this was addressed.
  • Review your CV and familiarize yourself with your activities, time commitment, responsibilities, and the impact each activity had in your decision to pursue a career in medicine. You should be able to talk about each experience. Have at least one example of a situation or case that occurred for each activity. This will help the interviewer remember the activity. If you have clinical scenarios you have encountered that were memorable you should be able to recount these.
  • Familiarize yourself with medical ethics. CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT MEDICAL ETHICS. You may be asked about ethical scenarios in your interview.

The Actual Interview:

  • Wait until about 3-5 minutes prior to your scheduled time. Then knock politely and if asked state that you are there for an interview.
  • Before entering the office wait until you are asked to come in. The interviewer will either tell you to come in or they will walk up to the door and open it for you.
  • Once you are inside their office introduce yourself. Say Hi my name is “X” it’s very nice to meet you Dr. “Y” and extend your hand for a handshake.  Then wait for the interviewer to ask you or direct you to be seated.
  • Once you are seated pay attention to your posture, your hand and leg position, and your hand movements during the interview.
  • You must be prepared for the possibility that you will be asked a science question or be presented with a clinical scenario. The interviewer is not looking for you to give the perfect answer. The interviewer is looking to assess how you reach any answer (whether it be right or wrong). If you can methodically think out (out loud) how you reach your answer it will demonstrate your ability to think critically. Critical thinking and reasoning are essential skills for medical students (and ultimately physicians).
  • If at any point during the interview you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, do not panic. Take a deep breath. Ask the interviewer to kindly repeat the question. You can preface your answer with “I’m not sure but I think…” or “I don’t know but I think…”. Do not simply state that you don’t know and give up on answering the question.
  • Be confident. Be yourself. Be kind to people you meet on the interview trail. Be kind to the staff you encounter.
  • At the closing of your interview after you have asked your questions the interviewer will ask you if you have any further questions. You should state that you are highly interested in the medical school and that you hope you are given the opportunity to train at that school. Then you should thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you.
  • After you state your interest and it is clear the interview is over you can get up from your seat. The interviewer may walk you to the door or he or she may remain seated. Follow their cues. Exit their office and close the door quietly. If you need some directions to your next interview ask the interviewer. If you are late to your next interview because this interview went longer than expected, ask the interviewer if he wouldn’t mind calling your next interviewer to give them a head’s up.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.

After the interview:

  • Follow up each of your interviews with a hand written thank you card.  Express your gratitude to the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you. If possible, allude to a specific topic you discussed in your interview. State your interest in the school and your hopes of working with the faculty in the future. 

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