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Health Professions Advising

Leslie Bell
Interim Health Professions Advisor
315-859-4338

The Health Professions Advising Office is located on the third floor of Bristol Center.

Medicine

Comprehensive Medical School Interview Guide

Overview

For medical school applicants, the admissions interview is the decisive event in the application process.  It is often the last step in the application process before the admissions committee determines which applicants will be invited to join the school community as students.  Everything you’ve accomplished up to this point has been aimed at gaining an invitation for an interview.  Committees generally grant interviews only after an extensive screening and prioritizing process in which they determine which candidates have what it takes to meet the academic challenge of medical school, so if you’ve been granted an interview, then pat yourself on the back because it means that you’ve been deemed a highly attractive candidate.  Of course, the fact that medicine is one of the few graduate programs that require an interview for entry means that the admissions committee places a great deal of importance on your performance in the interview.  This reminder is not meant to frighten you or make you nervous, but rather ensure that you do not underestimate how crucial the interview is to your acceptance and remind you to prepare for it accordingly.

Whereas your AMCAS and secondary applications may have seemed somewhat impersonal (except perhaps for the personal statement), the interview introduces an element of humanity into the admissions process.  The interview is a chance for you to let your personality and charm shine through as well as to demonstrate that you possess not only the intellectual but also the personal qualities necessary to succeed in the profession.  It is your opportunity to discuss your personal history and motivation for pursuing a medical career as well as any aspect of your application that merits emphasis or explanation.  Communication skills are integral to success as a doctor, and you’ll want to display your skills during the interview.  You should be prepared to discuss all aspects of your application, including your interest in the specific medical school you’re interviewing at.  At the same time, however, the interview is also an excellent opportunity to visit the medical school’s campus, view its facilities, meet its faculty, staff, and students, and have your questions about it answered by knowledgeable individuals.

Many applicants approach the interview with fear and trepidation.  They’ve heard stories about the interviewer from hell who grills unsuspecting applicants with a string of excruciatingly difficult questions.  If you are one of these people, then put these thoughts out of your head as they are more myth than reality.  Stress interviews are the rare exception, not the rule.  It is much more likely that your interview will be relaxed and conversational.  Although nerves are a normal part of the interview experience, this website is designed to help you conquer those nerves by offering advice on how to prepare for and succeed at the interview process.  The idea is not to worry but to prepare.  Yet, as with the personal statement, this website cannot tell you what to say during the interview; rather, it can only give you some strategies to help you be your best.


How the Interview is Used

Most admissions committees use the interview as a means for making the final decision of who they will accept and who they will reject.  At the interview stage of the admissions process, the academic differences between the remaining applicants are small and medical schools know they have the ability to succeed in a challenging academic environment.  The interview process therefore affords the admissions committees a chance to get to know the “real person” behind that stellar academic record and determine whether that person possesses the necessary personal qualities required of a future physician.  As they speak to you, interviewers will ask themselves questions like “Do I like this person,” “Is he/she a good fit for this school,” and “Can I see myself teaching him/her as a medical school, consulting with him/her as a colleague, or referring family members to him/her as a patient?”

One of the keys to a successful interview is to approach the interviewer from the perspective of the interviewer.  Here are some qualities the interviewer will be looking for in you as an applicant:


Intellectual Curiosity

As mentioned above, you wouldn’t have been invited for an interview if the school was not confident that you possess the intellectual ability to succeed in their curriculum.  The interviewer knows you are smart.  But, what the interviewer doesn’t know, and what he/she aims to discover, is whether those smarts are coupled with a healthy level of curiosity and love of learning.  As a future physician, you will have to learn continuously from patients, colleagues, journal articles detailing new advances in medicine, and your everyday experiences.  It is therefore imperative that you have a love of learning, a desire to explore the unknown, the appropriate study habits, and broad intellectual interests. 


Social Awareness/Cultural Competency/Empathy

As a doctor, you will be seeing patients from many different backgrounds and suffering from a variety of diseases.  You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand how their personal circumstances contribute to their well-being.  You must also be able to modify your behavior to show respect, inspire confidence, and motivate them to implement whatever changes they need to make to positively impact their health.  A doctor can have all the scientific knowledge available about a disease, but unless he/she posses social awareness, cultural competency, and empathy (i.e. the humanistic side of medicine), that doctor will never truly master the art of healing. 


Communication/Interpersonal Skills

As a future physician, it is imperative that you have the appropriate communication and interpersonal skills to interact successfully with others under dynamic and often emotionally charged conditions.  Your job will be to earn the trust of your patients, elicit a detailed history from them, make sure they and their families are well-informed of their condition and treatment options, and provide emotional support to them in their times of greatest need.  Moreover, you will have to be able to confer with and coordinate treatment with other members of the health care team.  All of these tasks require excellent communication and interpersonal skills on the part of you, the doctor.  The interviewer will assess you ability to interact with people who are different from you, whether they be your patients and their family members, allied health professionals, or other physicians.  He/she will want to make sure you can speak well and present yourself with clarity and confidence. 


Maturity

Medicine is a very difficult job and is often described as a “calling.”  The interview is used to assess your expectations of a career in medicine as well as assess your maturity, your ability to cope with frustration and stress, and your leadership skills.  In order to be a happy, successful physician, it is important that your expectations are grounded in some sort of reality, and that you have the necessary skills and characteristics required to cope with the challenges and stress.


Sharpening Your Interview Skills

Many applicants mistakenly believe that it is not possible to prepare for an interview.  After all, how can one know what questions the interviewer will ask them?  Don’t adopt this mentality and never go into an interview cold!  While it is true that it is impossible to know exactly what will be said during the interview, knowing what the interviewer is looking for (as discussed in the previous section) will help clue you in to what the interviewer is most likely to ask about and what subjects you should be prepared to speak about.  Furthermore, interviewing is a skill, and, like any skill, the more you practice it, the closer you’ll be to mastering it.  This section is therefore designed to help you improve your interviewing skills so that you’ll hopefully be able to handle anything the interviewer throws at you.


Know Thyself (and Be Yourself)

The primary focus of the interview will be on you as both a person and an applicant to medical school.  Consequently, you should begin your interview preparation with self-reflection.  You should know who you are (especially within the context of an applicant), be comfortable talking about yourself, and be ready to show the interviewer who you are with specific examples.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to go to medical school?  Why this particular medical school?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
  • When did you decide to become a doctor?
  • What experiences were particularly formative in your decision to become a doctor?
  • What efforts have you made to explore the medical profession?
  • What unique skills or attributes do you bring to the table?  Why are you unique?
  • Have you experienced disappointment in your life?  How did you respond to it?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Under what circumstances do you become frustrated?
  • What is your definition of a leader?


In addition, you should also gain some awareness of yourself as a social being.

  • What is your perception of the impression you make on others?
  • What is your response to others who have misunderstood your words or actions?
  • What experiences have you had working with a team?
  • What is your response to criticism?

Just as in your personal statement, you should always be yourself in the interview.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not (or who you think the admissions committee wants you to be) because it will show.  Be honest, sincere, and truthful.  Don’t say you’ve done things you haven’t done before or are interested in things you aren’t interested in.  And whatever you do, don’t lie about grades or test scores.

You may sometimes be asked to comment on an ethical dilemma or controversial medical issue during the interviewer.  It is at these times you may feel like the interviewer will be judging your opinion and may be tempted to give the answer you think he/she wants to hear.  The truth, however, is that the interviewer is not looking for your position so much as he/she is looking for the way you present it; therefore, you should give your heartfelt opinion on the subject.  An interview is successful when the interviewer walks away feeling like they know the real you, and it doesn’t matter if the two of you disagree on a current medical issue.


Review Your Application

Look at your entire AMCAS and secondary application objectively.  You should be very familiar with everything you included and be prepared to talk about it at length.  As you study your application, ask yourself questions like: What impressions or pre-conceptions would you have about the person being described?  Why have you chosen the clinical, community service, and research activities on your resume? Do you see any areas of potential weakness?  Are there any red flags that need explaining?  Make a list of the kinds of questions you would ask someone with your background and then practice answering them aloud. 

When reviewing your application, pay particular attention to your essay as many interviews use it as a source of questions.  Re-read it a few times to make sure you’re familiar with it, especially because it has probably been a few months since you last looked at it.  Try to look at it objectively and try to imagine what additional information you would like to know about the writer.  As with the rest of your application, be ready to discuss in depth anything you’ve written about or even mentioned in the personal statement.  If your interview answers and personal statement don’t back each other up, then you may come across as insincere or even dishonest.


Define Your Message (and Learn How to Stay On It)

As in your personal statement, your interview “message” is the central idea(s) you wish to convey to your interviewer.  To define your message, you should develop at least three key points that you want to communicate to the interviewer.  While your message is up to you, it is recommended that it be similar to the message you created in your essay; that is, your message should probably consist of themes like “why I want to be a doctor,” “what makes me qualified,” and “what makes me exceptional.”  Review that section if you have any questions on how to develop these themes.  Moreover, make sure that you have specific examples you can use to support your points.   

Besides defining your message, you should also learn how to stay on message.  Think about ways to incorporate your main points into your answers to questions, even if they are not directly related to the points themselves.  Learn how to actively incorporate what you want to say into answers so that you maintain control over the message you are sending to the interviewer.  Staying on message is particularly important for open-ended questions like “Tell me about yourself.”  There’s a lot you can say in your response to these questions, which makes them vulnerable to meandering into irrelevant information or coming across as unfocused.  To counter this, use your main points as sign posts to help you stay on message and stick to the relevant information.  Whenever possible (and appropriate), steer the conversation back to your main points to both link your answers together with a consistent theme and to drive home the information you wish to convey through the interview.


Anticipating the Why

Admissions committees don’t want to know the “what” of your answers as much as the “why.”  When you’re asked a personal question, make sure your answer is – and sounds- honest.  Nothing sounds worse than a corny, altruistic revision of an event.  If the why of an answer is unrelated to medicine, that’s fine. 


Put a Positive Spin on Things

Resist the urge to apologize for or react defensively about any areas of weakness, even if they’re pointed out to you.  Instead, offer a matter-of-fact explanation, and then explain how the experience surrounding the weakness helped you grow or what you gained from it.


Don’t Just Regurgitate What’s in Your Application 

You should endeavor to demonstrate a passion for medicine and your life experiences.  Try to be responsive to the questions asked of you, but don’t just regurgitate what’s in your application.  Try to add detail or to summarize your experiences in a new way.  Attempt to tie the answers you’ve given to your fitness as a medical candidate or your hopes for your career as a physician.  You want an engaging conversation, not a rote exchange of lists.  Have confidence in yourself and always remain relaxed.


“Is there anything else you’d like to say?”

At the end of the interview, many interviewers will often ask you if there is anything else you’d like to say before ending the interview.  You should definitely use this opportunity to say something that you think should be said but didn’t have achance to say during the interview.  But, even if you don’t have anything else to add, it is to your benefit to still utilize this opportunity to speak on your behalf.  Perhaps the best response to this question is to reiterate the main ideas of the message you wished to convey.  Whatever you do, don’t leave the interview without feeling confident that you have communicated everything you wanted to say to the interviewer.


Practice Answering Common Interview Questions

While preparing for you interview, it is impossible to predict the specific questions you will be asked and it is inadvisable to rely on prepared answers.  Yet, at the same time, it is vital that you come into the interview knowing the main ideas you wish to communicate and a strategy for accomplishing this task.  In other words, you need both preparedness and flexibility.  If you keep in mind what information the interviewer is looking for, then it becomes much more manageable to plan generally for the specific because the questions asked by the interviewer will likely stem from a handful of basic categories.

For each category, arm yourself with a few points you would like to communicate about yourself and think of one or two specific details to support each.  This approach will help you to create a targeted, comprehensive set of answers to most of the questions you will be asked.  With practice, you will be able to actively use the interviewer’s questions to communicate the points you wish to make.  This, in turns, puts you into control of the conversation.

Here are some of the basic categories from which the interviewer will likely draw upon for his/her questions:

Open-ended: If handled correctly, these types of questions can be among the easiest to answer because (1) they are so broad in scope you have unparalleled freedom in how you respond to them and (2) they concern a subject with whom you should be intimately familiar– yourself.  These interview questions frequently mirror the same questions you probably asked yourself prior to deciding to become a doctor and, later, while writing your personal statement, so it is also likely that you already know the answer to these questions.  It is for these reasons that you should take full-advantage of any open-ended questions you may be asked.  Take advantage of the opportunity to openly make your case to the interviewer. 

At the same time, however, you should also make sure to keep your answers focused by staying on message.  Resist the temptation to go off on a tangent that doesn’t help build your case for being accepted into medical school.  Before answering, consider the subtext or purpose of the question.  If the interviewer asks you to tell him/her about your time at Hamilton, don’t share every detail about your time there.  Instead, focus on how your undergraduate experiences helped you grow as a person and influenced your decision to become a doctor.  Giving specific, focused answers to these types of questions will go a long way toward fully utilizing the unique opportunities they afford.         

Motivation/Sincerity: These questions seek to probe the depths of your desire to practice medicine and ensure that you have put some thought into this important decision.  The interviewer wants to confirm that you understand the difficult journey that awaits you in the study and practice of medicine as well as that your knowledge of the medical profession is rooted in actual first-hand experience and not what you’ve seen on TV.  Furthermore, the interviewer wants to understand why you want to study at his/her school and that you are sincere in this interest. 

When thinking about how you will respond to motivation/sincerity questions, think back to the reasons you gave for your motivation in your personal statement and the reasons why you decided to apply to this school.  Try to start and end your responses with a reiteration of your desire to become a doctor and to attend the interviewer’s school.  You should also emphasize how you will contribute to the school and that you know what your decision entails.  Demonstrate your knowledge of the school and level of your commitment to it with the depth of your knowledge.  

Qualifications/Experience: Be ready to talk about the experiences you mentioned in your application and to use them to emphasize your motivation to enter medicine.  Your answers should make clear why you, among all the other talented and accomplished applicants out there, deserve a spot in medical school.  Furthermore, learn how to put a positive spin on any shortcomings in your credentials.  For example, if you feel that you’re weak in clinical experience, explain if there is a good reason for it and then move on to talking about indirect experience and the benefits gained from it instead.

Knowledge of medical field: Do you know what an HMO is?  What do you think about recent attempts to reform the U.S. health care system?  These types of questions can be difficult to answer because you are not yet an expert on medical matters; nevertheless, you should have a basic understanding of (and opinions on) the health care system.  The interviewer’s goal is to see if you’re familiar with current events and to further test your sincerity, dedication, and intellectual ability and curiosity.  Perhaps the best way to prepare for these sorts of questions is to do research on any current events in medicine and the basic workings of the health care system.  Read a newspaper, go on the internet, read the Journal of the American Medical Association, or talk with a doctor you are shadowing to research these topics.

Ethics: On occasion, you may be asked to comment on a medically-related current event or ethical issue like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, health care rationing, genetic engineering, cloning, etc.  The interviewer will not expect you to be an expert on these matters, but you should have thought about them and have something reasonably intelligent to share.  While these types of questions can be among the hardest to answer, there are fortunately a fairly limited number of controversial issues for the interviewer to pick from, meaning that can become completely ready to respond to most of them.  You don’t have to have a specific stance on these issues, but do show that you’ve given them some thought and that you understand both sides of the debate.

The interviewer won’t judge you on your actual opinion, but he/she will pay attention to the thoughtfulness and maturity of your answer.  Remember that ethical dilemmas are often complex issues that typically demand more in-depth examination and consideration that you will be able to give them in a 30 minute interview.  Consequently, you will need to be sensitive when talking about them.  You, like many people, will probably have strong opinions on these issues, but your interviewer probably will too and it might be the exact opposite of yours.  This is not to say that you should not express your beliefs or say what you think the interviewer wants you to say (you should not), but rather that to avoid offending anyone, you shouldn’t be dogmatic or judgmental.  Instead, openly recognize the complexity of the issue, briefly summarize the arguments made by the other side, and acknowledge the legitimacy of that side’s concerns before politely expressing your disagreement and presenting your reasons for holding the opposite viewpoint on the issue.       

Illegal: There may be rare instances in which your are reluctant to answer a question because they’re personal, inappropriate, irrelevant, or illegal.  Your first reaction to such questions may be embarrassment, discomfort, or annoyance.  There are several ways to deal with these types of questions.  Perhaps the best way is to accept the situation gracefully and answer the question as briefly and as straightforward as possible in a way that is favorable to you without affecting your integrity.  On the other hand, if you feel personally slighted or deeply offended by the question, then you may feel compelled to not answer or to point out the inappropriateness of the question.  Should this be the case, keep in mind that you don’t have to answer any question you don’t want to.  You can point out to the interviewer in a polite manner (polite being the operative word) that the question being asked is inappropriate.  You could also ask the interviewer how the issue in their question relates to your performance as a medical school, but you need to do this in an upbeat and non-confrontational manner if you wish the interviewer to back off and continue.

If you feel the need to speak out, do so without entering into a heated argument with the interviewer as this will only hurt your chances of acceptance.  Bear in mind that is rare for interviewers to ask an inappropriate question with malice intended or with conscious awareness that he/she is wading into in appropriate territory.  As a physician, the interviewer may be used to asking personal questions of his/her patients every day and may not even realize he/she is doing the same to you.  The interviewer may also be inexperienced or even testing how you deal with uncomfortable situations.  A better approach may be to report to the admissions office before you leave campus any discriminatory behavior, illegal or inappropriate questions, or poor interview technique.  Once again, be tactful while doing so and make sure to back up your claims with specific examples.  You have the right to request another interviewer if you don’t feel he/she and you connected in the right way, and the school should make a reasonable attempt to provide this opportunity to you.

Curveballs: No matter how thoroughly you’ve prepared, some interviewer will always find a way to throw you a curveball question you weren’t expecting and doesn’t fit any of your prepared talking points.  The key is to not panic and to be honest.  You’ll need to be able to think on your feet and be creative.  The best response that comes to mind is usually appropriate, and a bit of well-chosen humor is usually welcome.  If you’re stumped for any reason, ask the interviewer if you can take a moment to consider the question, take a deep breath, pull your thoughts together, and then answer with the simple truth.  If the simple truth is admitting that you don’t know the answer or admitting that you were wrong about something, then by all means say it – it takes a mature person to admit these truths.  This approach doesn’t mean that you won’t stutter, blush, or say “um” more than once.  But if you’re sincerely dedicated to becoming a doctor, your sincerity and dedication will be obvious to the point that even the most awkward answer will not undermine the overall impression you made.  You can’t prepare for curveball questions, so don’t go crazy scripting responses or getting all nervous.  Just try to get to a place where you are comfortable with a range of topics and potential questions and where you are intimately familiar with your application and can discuss it with ease.   

Click here for a list of some practice interview questions from each category.  It is important to note that this list doesn’t pretend to be predictive or comprehensive: you won’t encounter all of these questions, and you may be asked some that are not on the list.  If you take the time to examine these questions, however, you’ll have the confidence to answer most questions that come your way.  Develop thorough and precise answers for each question type, and think about the different experiences you could talk about to demonstrate each point you would like to make.  When practicing answering these questions, don’t memorize monologues in front of the mirror.  An interview is a conversation.  You don’t want your answers to sound canned or rehearsed.  You must be able to improvise and think on your feet. 


Studentdoctor.net

This site offers descriptions of interviews by students who’ve interviewed in the past year school-by-school.  You can look up the schools that have invited you for an interview and prepare based on questions they’ve asked of other candidates. Note, however, that there is no way to verify the accuracy of the information, so you should not rely exclusively on this site for your preparation.


Mock Interview

Now that you’ve practiced all the individual skills that go into interviewing, it’s time to put them all together for a trial run of the real thing!  The Career Center offers mock interviews where you can answer some practice questions while someone else is evaluating your speaking style, the content of your answers, body language, and overall presence.  The Career Center can also video tape your mock interview to allow for a more detailed critique of your performance and so that you can observe what you look and sound like from another person’s perspective.  (One fun activity is to fast forward through the interview tape, making any nervous gestures you display even more obvious as they repeat every two seconds.)  After the mock interview, make sure to solicit honest feedback from your Career Center “interviewer.”  It is only through this feedback that you will find out if you speak to quickly, need to enunciate more quickly, have a tendency to enact nervous gestures when under stress, fail to maintain eye contact, or start every sentence with filler words like “umm,” “like,” or “you know.”  Career center appointments can be hard to come by during certain times of the year, so make sure to schedule your mock interview well in advance of your interview date (in fact, you may want to schedule one before you are even invited for an interview). 


The Interview is a Two-Way Street

The interview experience is a two-way street.  On the one hand, it is a time for the admissions committee to check you out as a possible student.  On the other hand, you should also approach the interview day as chance to determine whether or not you would want to attend that particular medical school, assuming you have multiple acceptances.  Make sure you use the interview to evaluate what the school has to offer.  There will be numerous opportunities throughout the interview day to talk with students, faculty, and staff about the school and get your questions about it answered by those who know the most about it. Ask tough but respectful questions and discover the relative strengths and weaknesses of the school.  Asking thoughtful, insightful, and comparative questions specific to the school shows that you are a confident and educated consumer who has done your homework.
 

Do Preliminary Research

Before your interview day, conduct some preliminary research to become better acquainted with the school’s academic program and to identify the aspects of that program that you wish to ask questions about.  Perhaps the best source of this information is the school’s website.  Look at things like first year class statistics, curricular structure, clinical rotations, extracurricular activities, school news, student life, financial aid, housing, current projects, and future plans.  This doesn’t need to be an exhaustive, time-consuming process; you just need to get some good basic information.  Once you finish with your research, summarize your findings in a list of topics and then categorize this list into aspects of the school you like, areas that require clarification, and areas that concern you.  Make a list of three or more questions that you can draw on in a pinch if there’s a lag or awkward pause in any conversations.


Prepare Questions to Ask on the Interview Day

Throughout the interview day, you will meet many different groups of people from the school community.  You should prepare specific questions to ask these individuals during the interview day.  Here are a few groups you’ll likely encounter:

Staff: Most medical schools kick-off their interview day with a series of informational presentations by various school departments.  Common topics include the curriculum, financial aid, housing, and any features unique to or distinctive of the school.  You should come to these presentations with a list of questions about each of these topics.  Some of your questions may be answered by the information that is presented, while other information may spur new questions.  After each presentation, try to ask as many questions as you can about each topic.  Are classes primarily lectures, small-groups, or a mixture of both?  When do students encounter their first patient?  What percentage of students receives financial aid?  Of this aid, how much of it consists of scholarships and how much of loans?  Is on-campus housing provided to students?  If not, does the school offer any assistance towards finding a place to live?  These are just a few of the questions that may be swirling around your mind.  Don’t leave without a reasonable attempt to get them answered.

Faculty: A faculty member will almost certainly be one (or both) of your interviewers, but you may also encounter some at other times during the interview day.  Faulty members probably won’t be very familiar with specific details about the school outside their own department and classes, so reserve those questions for staff members.  Instead, ask faculty members questions about the school’s character, its strengths/weaknesses, the aspects of it that drew them there, the type of student that excels there, faculty member accessibility outside of class, etc. 

Students: You will have many chances to interact with students during the interview day.  Besides walking around campus, students generally lead the school tour and many of them congregate around the free lunch the school provides to interviewees.  Moreover, if you stayed with a student host, then you will extensive access to the host and his/her roommates.  Students will be your greatest (and often most candid) source of information about the school because they are what you will be in the near future.  Students can tell you what the school is really like and give you their opinion on the curriculum, professors, housing, class dynamics, extracurricular/volunteer activities, and student life. They can also tell you where students live, eat, and hang out and what they do for fun.  Don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions like “Do you like it here?” or “What would you change about the school?”  If you have any concerns about living or learning at the school, the students will be your best source of information.

The student tour guides and hosts will probably belong to the group of students who like the school the most and want to share their love of it with applicants.  Consequently, you should take the time to survey a broader segment of the school population.  Walk around the school on your own and ask the students you bump into their thoughts on the school.  Furthermore, pay attention to the “vibe” you get from students.  Do they seem happy or do they seem stressed out?  Can you see yourself studying and hanging out with these people?  Make sure you figure out if you are comfortable with both the school (including the area it’s located in) and the student body before you leave.            


Ask Your Interviewer Questions

Always answer “yes” when your interviewer asks you if you have any questions for him/her.  These questions should be as well-planned and revealing as any question the interviewer has asked.  You shouldn’t ask questions just because you have to, or because you know it’s expected, and don’t go overboard by asking too many.  Take the time to think of the questions that shed further light on what is important to you.  The questions should be specific to you and the school.  Furthermore, use your questions to show that you’ve done your research and that you’re interested in learning more about what the school has to offer.  Don’t ask anything that can be easily researched by going on the school’s website; instead, ask probing, in-depth questions.

Before your interview day, prepare a list of questions you want to ask your interviewers.  Your questions should be specific to the school and to its educational program and be on a topic that you are legitimately interested in learning more about.  By asking these questions, you will also demonstrate a sincere interest in the particular program and that you’re an informed consumer who has done their homework.  Gauge the interviewer’s responses and use those responses to better assess how attractive the program and the school are to you.  Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, but do so in a way that invites explanation and avoids confrontation or any overt display of skepticism on your part.  Open-ended questions are probably best for this task.  Be sure to follow up on your interviewer’s response to avoid the appearance of asking canned questions and to show you were paying attention.  Have enough questions so that you aren’t forced to ask the same questions of different interviewers in case they compare notes later. 
 

Planning for the Interview Day

The actual interview is a small part of the overall interview day, so only preparing for the interview portion of the day will not ensure an overall successful and productive experience.  Here is some additional advice on how you should prepare for the interview day:


Ask the Medical School for the Interview Details

Planning what you will say during the interview will depend in large part on the specifics of the interview itself; therefore, it is important that you call up the medical school beforehand to learn these details.  For example, you’ll want to know how long the interview is.  The typical interview lasts 30-45 minutes but there are exceptions.  How you prioritize the topics you would like to cover during the interview will be very different you’re anticipating the interview to last 15, 30, or 45 minutes. 

You should also ask about the type of interview you should expect.  In general, there are three types of interview you’re likely to encounter:

  • Open – Interviewer has already reviewed and is familiar with your entire application.
  • Semi-open – Interviewer has read and is familiar with your personal statement but nothing else.
  • Closed – The interviewer has not read any part of and is not familiar with your application. 

These days, many schools conduct semi-open or closed interviews to avoid the “halo effect”: if an interviewer looks at your wonderful test scores and grades, he/she runs the risk of thinking everything you say is wonderful, even if it’s not.  The down side is that the interviewer may not know everything he/she needs to know about your application in order to represent you adequately before the admissions committee.  One of your interviewer’s primary responsibilities is to act as your advocate.  If you are granted a semi-open or closed interview, it is up to you to bring to your interviewer’s attention anything concerning your application that you believe requires further discussion.  That way, the interviewer will best be able to address questions posed by the admissions committee about your application.


Scheduling Your Interview

Because of many medical schools’ rolling admissions policies (in which they decide on whether to accept applicants in the order in which they interview), it is to your benefit to schedule your interview as early as possible because the sooner you have your interview, the sooner you’ll be considered for acceptance (at a time when the class is not yet full).  Some applicants schedule interviews at less competitive schools before more competitive ones in order to gain some interview experience.  If you decide to employ this strategy, make sure you don’t wait too long before you interview at those more competitive schools.  Take all the interviews you can get, and become more selective only as you develop increasing perspective about your strength as a candidate or if your interest in the school has diminished.  Don’t ever turn down an interview unless you have another one scheduled.  

Financial or availability reasons may compel you to try to schedule groups of interviews in particular geographic areas so that you don’t have to make multiple trips to the same far-away destination.  If you get one interview in a far-flung region and haven’t yet heard from another school in the same place, don’t hesitate to give the second school a call.  Politely and humbly explain to an admissions officer that you are going to be in the region interviewing at one or more schools, that you remain very interested in that school, and you would love the opportunity to interview on the same trip, if possible.  This reinforces your interest in the school, forces the admissions director to review your application again, and puts subtle pressure on the school to consider you in a more favorable light since other, potentially competitive schools in the same area thought you were qualified enough to warrant an interview.  If you do this, however, don’t ever misrepresent your status at another school.   


Travel and Accommodations

You should decide how you will travel to the school well in advance of your interview date.  If you’re driving, then make sure you know how to get to the school and where to park.  If you’re flying or riding on a train/bus, make sure you arrange for transportation from the airport or train/bus station to the school.  Carry your essential luggage with you on plane, if possible.  The last thing you want on interview day is to have your luggage lost. 

Many medical schools have programs in which you can stay with a student host for free.  Only do this if such accommodations are comfortable to you.  If sleeping on the floor of a medical student’s apartment is going to stress you out, you’d be better off staying at the nearest budget motel.  On the other hand, staying with a student may be a good opportunity for you to get an inside scoop on the school’s personality.  While staying with your host, treat him/her with respect not only because you are a guest in his/her home, but because he/she may contact the admissions office after you leave to tell them about you.  Don’t be demanding, don’t expect him/her to act as a taxi service, don’t hog all the hot water, and clean up after yourself.

If staying with a student host is not for you, then many medical schools provide a list of nearby accommodations.  Before booking your hotel room, ask the school if it has a partnership with any local hotels that offer special discounts to interviewing applicants.   

Try to arrive at your destination the night before the interview in order to familiarize yourself with the area and the school.  This allows you to avoid travel delays and will give you the opportunity to unwind and get a good night’s sleep.  It also allows you to explore the neighborhood in which the school is located.  Figure out if this is an area you’d be comfortable spending the next four years of your life. 


Dress

Your appearance will be the first impression you make on the interviewer, so now is not the time to make a fashion statement.  Dress conservatively.  Men should wear a suit and a (real, not clip on) tie.  Facial hair should be groomed and consider forgoing the earring (or other body piercings). 

Women should wear a suit or dressy coordinates.  If you opt for a dress or skirt, watch your hem length.  Go easy on jewelry and make-up and perfume.  Stay away from dangling earrings and plunging necklines.  Shoes should be close-toed.  If you have a hard time walking around in those high-heels, you should also bring a pair of comfortable shoes for the school tour. 

Both men and women should be mindful of weather.  Don’t wear a blouse or shirt you wouldn’t mind being seen in if you were to take your jacket off.  If there’s a possibility of rain, carry an umbrella or bring a coat.  If it’s cold, bring a coat. 

One suit or dress should be enough to get you through the interview season.  You don’t need a new outfit for every interview unless you want one.  If you have a bunch of interviews in a row, arrange to have your outfit dry cleaned. 


The Interview Day

Before you start your interview day, remember to relax!  You should look at the interview as an opportunity to exchange opinions, information, and views.  Interviewers are people.  They all endured the same process, and they understand how you feel.  Also, don’t forget that you’re evaluating them too.  You are both on the stage together, and some of the control belongs to you.  Calm your nerves by reviewing your notes again, practicing some more, taking deep breaths, taking your time before answering each question, intentionally speaking at a slower pace and lower tone than you would ordinarily (we speak faster and our pitch rises when we’re nervous), imagine that you’re talking to a friend, etc.  In short, do whatever you can to keep your nerves manageable.  A little anxiety is fine; it is natural and can help make you seem animated in the interview.

The interview day normally consists of six parts: a welcome from the admissions office (possibly with a light breakfast), information sessions on the curriculum, financial aid, etc., a lunch (usually with students), a student-led tour, two interviews, and a wrap-up session.  With the exception of the first and final parts, these components of the interview day can be scheduled in any order.  When you first arrive, expect a crowd of 12-15 nervous, name-tag wearing applicants in suits.  If you have any luggage, most schools will provide you a room to store it in for the duration of the interview day.  

The interview day will usually begin with some introductions on behalf of the admissions office.  You’ll likely see a slideshow introducing the school and its M.D. program.  While you should try to arrive at least 15 minutes early, don’t panic if you’re unavoidably late.  At the same time, don’t act overly casual about it either, as though you make a habit of being late.  Assuming you show proper amount of concern, no one takes a huge red marker and writes “late” on your application, so, if you’re poised, your interviewers will never know.

You should treat every interaction during the interview day as if that person is evaluating, so act accordingly.  This even applies to the medical students you meet.  Refrain from telling them about the crazy things you did at last weekend’s party or using profane language.  Medical students who are conducting the tour may be evaluating you (although more than likely they are not), so don’t share anything that might hurt your chances of admission.  Of course, if you have a medical student interview, then you can be sure that he/she will be evaluating you and you should act as you would with any faculty interviewer.  Being well-behaved doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage in friendly conversation with them or avoid asking them questions.  Medical students are getting a free day off work to meet with you, so they’ll likely be happy to chat with you.  Ask them questions, but don’t be aggressive or belligerent.  Keep in mind that med students do tours because they like their school, and have some of the same loyal motivations as the volunteering faculty. 

At most schools, you will have two 30-45 minute interviews with a member of the admissions committee, physician from the community, faculty member, student, or administrator.  When you first arrive at the school, you’re likely to receive your personal schedule of events, including the names of those interviewing you.  Some schools try to match you with interviewers who share your interests, but it may not always be possible.  Resist the urge to look up their publications or where they did their training before having your interview.  Chances are you won’t have the time, and it makes it look like you’re trying too hard.


After the Interview

As soon as you finish with your interview, write down your impressions of the school while they’re still fresh in your head.  What kind of feeling did you get from the school?  What did you like about the school?  What didn’t you like?  Would you go here if you were accepted?  How would you rank the school among all the others you’ve visited so far?  This information will become invaluable when you are deciding between competing acceptance offers later on, especially since it may have been a few months since you visited the school for your interview.  Keep the information folder you no doubt received at the beginning of the interview day for future reference.

Next, you should write the admissions director and your interviewers thank-you cards.  This is not only polite, but it is also a good opportunity for you to remind them of your interest in the school and why you think you’d make a good addition to their student body.  You should write a formal, general letter of thanks to the admissions director and a more specific, more personal note to your interviewers.  Remind the interviewers of your conversation and reinforce the impression you hoped to have made so they can bring it to the admissions committee.  The admissions office and interviewers do get a lot of these notes, so be concise and polite but try to reference the most memorable aspect of the conversation to jog their memory about you.  Before you close, make sure to express enthusiasm for the program one more time.  You want to stand out, and every little well-executed gesture like this can help you to distinguish yourself.


Some Final Interview Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t drink too much coffee, as caffeine can make you nervous.
  • Don’t try to outdo competition by comparing stats or namedropping while waiting in the “greeting” room.
  • Don’t be vocal about not wanting to go to school, even casually.
  • Do your homework and be prepared to ask questions.
  • Do ask the interview coordinator whether interviews are “open” or “closed” and how long each should last.
  • Don’t go into interview unprepared.  You want to be able to anticipate the questions and formulate the key points of your response.  Doing this can help you maximize your potential for success.
  • Be respectful and courteous to everyone.
  • Do dress professionally and conservatively.
  • Don’t use profane language and avoid being bigoted or biased.
  • Don’t be late.  Show up 15 minutes early.
  • Don’t respond angrily or provoke confrontation, no matter the question.
  • Do look people in the eye, speak clearly and with confidence, and shake hands firmly.  Politely but unapologetically thank people for their time and their consideration of your application.
  • Don’t slouch, appear overly casual or disinterested, or name drop.
  • Do ask open-ended questions and attempt to get your interviewer t talk about his/her experiences as well.
  • Don’t wear heave perfume/cologne, excessive or gaudy jewelry, or potentially controversial things like noserings or unconventional piercings.  Don’t show up smelling like cigarette smoke or chewing gum.
  • Do think positively about yourself and your candidacy.
  • Do remember to catch your breath and smile.
  • Don’t try to “game” interviewer or say what they think interviewers want to hear.  Be forthright, open, and informative in answers.

Cupola