19 Ways to Interview Better for Medical School – Tips from a Student Interviewer11 min read
The interview is arguably the most important aspect of your medical school application.
In one survey of medical schools, over 60% of surveyed schools reported the admissions interview as the most important criterion in the selection process.Desai and Katta
Cumulative science and Math GPA was rated third, while MCAT scores were rated sixth.
Here are 19 ways to interview better for medical school.
*I took many of the guidelines here from the amazing book, The Medical School Interview by Samir P. Desai and Rajani Katta. It’s a great book that I suggest buying.
1. Be Nice to Everyone
You should be doing this anyway, be extra paranoid. The uber driver, the hotel manager, the local barista, you never know…
If my secretary says that someone was rude or inappropriate to her, they will not get in. If someone is like that with a student host – a student that is hosting them for a night so they don’t have to pay for the hotel — if they are rude or inappropriate or just disrespectful they will not get in.Jennifer Welch, Director of Admissions, SUNY Upstate Medical Center
2. Prepare Answers for the Three Questions
- Tell me about yourself
- Why do you want to be a doctor?
- Why do you want to go here?
Work hard on these, most, if not all, of your interviewers will ask you these questions.
Practice with your friends, your parents, take time with these answers. They are extremely important questions that are asked everywhere for a reason.
3. Know Your Application (seriously)
When they ask you, “what was your favorite part of your research?” and you say, “it was a great learning experience,” you are done. Next.
Every question is an opportunity for you to relay to the medical school why you would be such a good fit for that medical school.
4. Do Your Research
- What type of medical student does the school seek?
- What will the interview be like?
- Who will interview me, a student, a faculty member, or both?
- Will the interview be open or closed?
If you can research the background of the people who will be interviewing you, do it. Usually, you will be told that day who your interviewers are. You should never take out your phone during the interview day, but, usually, you will have an opportunity to go to the bathroom.
When there, in the bathroom, look up the professor or doctor that will interview you. What is their research? What do they teach? What is their specialty? Those are good things to talk about.
5. Look Professional
Beth Bailey, the admissions director for the University of Virginia says:
interviewees should dress conservatively and should not wear excessive jewelry, cologne or perfume. She added that eating and drinking during an interview indicate a lack of professionalism. She also said that treating the interviewer with respect, not cutting him or her off, having good posture and maintaining eye contact are key. Although these may seem obvious, Bailey said applicants make these mistakes often and it costs them every time.Omid Fatemi, M.D. Director of Admissions at the University of Virginia School of Medicine
Skip to tip #17 for a nifty table on what to wear and what not to wear.
6. Act Professional
Don’t get too comfortable, especially, with the student interviewers. As a student interviewer myself I have run into the occasional student who get’s a little too comfortamble.
I am friendly, I make people feel comfortable (I hope), but at no point should you:
- Take out your phone
- Swear aggressively
- Put your feet up (yes it happened)
- Forget that I am trying to decide whether or not you will be a good fit at my school, and eventually, a doctor.
Tell me about your life, what are your passions, what drives you, what do you for fun? Give me something good to say about you to the admissions committee.
7. Prepare for the Medical Ethics Questions
- What are your thoughts about the role of the pharmaceutical industry in medical practice?
- How would you handle the care of witnessed medical negligence by a colleague?
- Have you thought about the ethics of end-of-life care?
- What is your opinion on the American healthcare system? How should we fix it?
As with all questions you are answering during medical school interviews you don’t necessarily need to have the “right” answer. What you need to have is the ability to discuss your opinion in an intelligent and professional way, while displaying your problem solving ability.
If you are having trouble and need more time, ASK FOR IT, or (even better) talk the interviewer through your thought process.
When in doubt remember the four pillars of ethics:
- Autonomy – does it show respect for the patient and their right to make decisions?
- Non-maleficence – does it harm the patient?
- Justice – Are there consequences in the wider community?
- Beneficence – does it benefit the patient?
So, if they ask, “Have you thought about the ethics of end-of-life care,” if you don’t know much about it you can say, “Honestly I do not know much about end-of-life care, but, as a doctor, I think keeping the patient’s wishes (autonomy) first and foremost is most important. However, when people get very sick I am sure they lost some of their mental faculties, therefore I think…”
Of course, it would be better if you had researched this and had both sides of the argument laid out and then told your opinion.
Take an educated guess, that’s all they are asking for.
8. Have an Opinion
You may get the question, “should assisted suicide be allowed in America?”
You may not know the right answer, I don’t know the right answer, your interviewer does not know the right answer.
The interviewer isn’t looking for the right answer. They are looking to see that you can think logically and articulate clearly when facing a difficult question. That’s it.
There is a bad answer.
A bad answer is, “there are good arguments on both sides, I haven’t really thought about what should be done.”
A good answer might be, “I think assisted suicide should not be allowed. I know the Netherlands, Canada, and some other countries, allow physician-assisted suicide. However, I recently read, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and I agree with him. His argument was that physician’s job should be not a good death, but a good life to the very end. I worry about the misuse and abuse of these powers and the slippery slope that happens after they become legal. Of course, I see the other point of view where people are very sick, suffering, and terminally ill and it is cruel to prolong their suffering. I believe, however, that the dangers with making assisted suicide a culturally “ok” thing outweighs the negatives of prolonging the life of terminally sick people.”
You may disagree with me, but you must agree that this is a better, more thought-provoking, answer than the first response. An answer that comes from a place of more confidence and mental effort.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for Clarification or Stall
Don’t understand a question? Ask! Don’t stumble into an answer because it’s what you think the interviewer wants to hear.
You could also say, “That’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a moment.”
As a doctor, you will definitely run into situations where you do not know the answer or you need more time. It’s OK to say you “don’t know,” it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to ask for more time. Understanding your own shortcomings are signs of a mature and humble adult – both good personality traits for a doctor.
10. Tell Them What You Want Them To Know
This may sound straightforward, but your interview may speed by. If the interview is ending and you didn’t get to tell them something, ask,
“Do you mind if I say one more thing? I really wanted to tell you about…”
They will say “yes” and then you can go into it. Your last point may be the difference between an acceptance and a waitlist decision.
11. Address Your Weaknesses
If your GPA is low, they know your GPA is low. If you don’t bring it up, it’s not like they are going to forget about it. Talk about it, explain it, but don’t give excuses.
Own it, tell them why your GPA was low. Tell them how you fixed it or will fix it. This prevents the admissions committee from coming up with their own reasons for your lower GPA or another poor application characteristic.
Maybe there was a family emergency or personal challenge, but if you don’t bring it up, if you don’t address it, they may just attribute the low GPA to you just not being ready for medical school.
Own the story.
Everyone makes mistakes, including doctors, if you can own those mistakes, quickly and humbly, the interviewers will respect you that much more.
12. Practice. Practice. Practice
Do a mock interview for every interview you are going to have. Answer the questions as if the dean of your dream medical school is interviewing you.
A family is an ok option, but a better option is a health professional or professional advisor. The professionals are professionals for a reason.
Tell your mock interviewers to be honest and specific with you. Was your voice too soft? Did your story make sense? Did you come off wrong? Were you looking at your feet? Were you playing with your hands or hair too much?
The best mock interviewer will be blunt and honest with you.
13. Limit Your Answers to Two Minutes
Your interviewer will be speaking to many, many people. A response longer than two minutes is most liklely too long.
Practice and time your answers.
Keep them under two minutes.
14. Bring a Notefolio and Bring an Extra Copy of Everything
- Application (AMCAS, secondary) x2
- Copies of Published Articles x2
- Emails between you and the school
- Phone Number of Admissions Office
You want two copies so you can have one for each of your interviewers.
Computer down? No internet? COVID-19 found a way to destroy electricity? You are the savior, you have all the materials they could possibly need, you will be remembered.
15. Take Part in the Entire Day
You are interviewing all day. This includes the tour, the student chats, the meeting with Student Financial Services, every person may have a role in your admissions. Act is if everyone has a role in your admissions, because more than likely, they do.
16. Prepare at least 5 School-Specific questions
The worst thing you could possibly say when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions?” is, “No I have no questions.”
Saying that is similar to saying, “I have no interest in this medical school, I didn’t do my research, and am just here for the free lunch.” Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Some questions I used for schools are:
- Can you tell me about this new department of X
- Can you tell me about the new curriculum, why did you decide to integrate X
- To what extent do students get involved in research? Is it easy to be involved with research?
- There is this cool farmers market on Sundays here, do you have experience with it? I really like granny smith apples and I know they are grown here.
- What is club X like?
- Why did you choose to come to X Medical School?
- What is your favorite thing about X Medical School?
17. Don’t ever be remembered for what you’re wearing
Appear neat and professional. This is taken directly (with a few additions) from The Medical School Interview.
|Men||1. Suit, well-fitting, dark blue, gray, or black.|
2. Shirt, ironed, long-sleeved, typically white
3. Tie, long, conservative
4. Belt color that matches shoes
5. Shoes, clean, polished
6. Matching socks up to mid-calf
7. Well-groomed hairstyle (neat and trimmed beard and mustache)
8. Nails, clean, trimmed
2. Flashy cufflinks, rings, or chains
3. Visible body piercings
4. Strongly scented cologne or aftershave
5. Dirty clothes, any stains
6. Sports shoes
|Women||1. Pant of skirt suit (dark blue, black, brown or gray), or tailored dress|
2. Blouse, solid color with collar
Shoes – clean, closed toe, dark or neutral color, low to moderate heels
3. Hosiery, conservative, at or near skin color
4. Well-groomed hairstyle
Nails, clean, trimmed (if nail polish, clear or conservative color
|1. Low neckline|
2. Excessive or distractive jewelry
3. Strongly scented perfume
4. Distracting hair or make-up
18. Yes, they will look at all of your social media profiles
Clean it up. Remove photos that you wouldn’t want an admissions officers seeing.
Google yourself. See what comes up, because the admissions officers will.
19. Don’t forget you are making a decision as well
I get it, I was there, it’s stressful and the last thing you are thinking about is whether you like it there or not.
But, don’t forget, there is a chance that this is where you might learn to be a doctor. This is where you might spend your next 4 years. This is where you might go to medical school.
Don’t forget that you are sizing up the school as much as the school is sizing up you.