The medical school application process is designed for the schools to get as complete of a picture of you as possible. The first stage is the review of your application material. At this point, your grades, MCAT scores, personal statement, secondary application essays (if required), the premedical committee packet and your experiences are evaluated.
An interview invitation is great news! You have survived the “first cut” and now they want to know more about who you are. While admission is not guaranteed at this point, you have certainly passed an important plateau and your chances of admission are much better than they were before you received an interview invitation.
Ethical behavior, integrity, energy, good judgment and problem solving skills, maturity, leadership qualities, ability to work closely with others, and the ability to handle stress and hard work are some of the qualities that are essential to becoming a physician. The interviewer will be looking for these qualities during the interview.
Another purpose of the interview is for the school to present itself to you. Take advantage of the interview day to learn as much as you can about the school; try to get a sense of whether it is an environment in which you can learn well and do well.
What are interviews like?
- There are several ways in which interviews can be held and you will probably encounter more than one interview format. The interviewer may have read your application and be quite knowledgeable about you and your candidacy or the interviewer may not know anything more about you than your undergraduate institution. In the latter case, often referred to as a “blind” interview, you should be prepared to fill the interviewer in on the important aspects of who you are, what you have accomplished, and what you see as your strengths. In the interview in which your interviewer has read your application, you might expect more specific questions.
- Some medical schools have begun using a new style of interviewing, the multiple mini-interview (MMI). The MMI consists of several quick questions from a panel of interviewers around a particular current event, case scenario, or ethical dilemma. The MMI is designed to test candidate’s interpersonal skills that are necessary to succeed in medicine as well as skills in decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency. This type of interview is difficult to prepare for in that the topics of the questions vary widely. You can build some self-confidence by generally staying informed about trending topics in health care. This New York Times article has a good description of the MMI:
"New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test"
- You may be interviewed by admissions staff, admissions committee members and/or faculty and staff at the medical school. Some schools use students as interviewers too. Most interviews are on-on-one, but occasionally you may have a group interview.
- You might be presented with hypothetical situations and asked how you would handle them. By asking these difficult questions, the interviewer is hoping to gain a sense of your values, how you solve problems, and how thoughtful you are about larger issues. What you say does matter, how you arrive at your position and how well you defend it are equally, if not more, important.
- Interviewers have their own individual style, some are warm, engaging, low key; others may be less personal, more formal. Some interview in a conversational way, others may follow a more structured format.
- You can expect to be nervous, especially in your first interview, but for the most part, interviews are not designed to deliberately “give you a hard time.” This is not to say that you won’t find the situation a little stressful, but in general, schools want you to feel comfortable so that they can learn more about you and that you can learn about them.
- Be honest and sincere in your answers. Don’t try to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear. If you don’t know something, say so. If there are problem areas in your candidacy, this is your opportunity for “damage control.” You can explain a situation in your own terms. Watch your tone on these: be positive, don’t indulge in “what should have been” and don’t blame. It is more productive for you to explain what happened and discuss what you have learned from your experience.
- Throughout the process be sure to keep in touch with the prehealth advisor who is interested in your progress and wants to know how things are going. Occasionally it will be hard for you to know if an interview has gone well. Talking it over can help. If you have concerns about an interview, contact the prehealth advisor who will help you sort out what happened.
General Interviewing Tips
Much of your success at the interview depends on your personal effectiveness (eye contact, handshake, personal attire, greeting, confidence, etc.) as much as your answers to questions. The best way to improve your performance in interviews is by engaging in practice interviews with individuals who have previous experience with the interview process. Students who have concerns about their interviewing skills are urged to participate in a mock interview prior to a “real interview.” The Career and Professional Development (CPD) Office staff will provide a mock medical school interview for undergraduate students; schedule an appointment with them in advance of the start of interview season.
Interview Attire and Presentation
- On interview day, you should dress conservatively – do not wear anything that will make you stand out. This is not the time to worry about being fashion forward!
- Consider wearing a two piece suit, pantsuit, or skirt or pants with a conservative blouse and jacket. Medical school interview days often include a tour of the school and lunch with current students; be sure that you are comfortable in your interview attire. Minimize jewelry and perfume.
- Your interview starts when you step onto the campus, not when you shake the admissions officer’s hand. You never know if the medical student, administrative assistant, etc, has input for the admissions committee. The students who take you on a tour of the school or have lunch with you, might also be asked to share their impressions of you with the admissions staff.
- Be courteous and polite with everyone including the other applicants. Do not think of them as competitors but as potential future colleagues.
- When you go to the school for an interview, turn your cell phone off. Even a phone on vibrate can be a distraction to both you and the interviewer.
- When you are invited for an interview, set a date carefully if you can. If it can be avoided, you do not want to schedule an interview right before a big exam or other distracting event.
- On the day of the interview allow yourself plenty of time to find the medical school and be sure to arrive early. You will be more relaxed if you arrive early than if you have been scrambling to find a parking space or are learning your way around an unfamiliar public transit system.
- Reread your application and supplementary essays to review what you have told them about yourself.
- Be prepared to ask questions. Show that you are interested in that particular school; be able to communicate why you have applied. Be aware of any special programs at the school. Consult their websites before you go your interview.
- Sending thank you notes to your interviewers is certainly appropriate, although not required. The admissions office will usually provide you with titles, addresses, etc. It is fine to communicate these thank you notes via email.
- While medical schools discourage you from requesting interviews, in select special circumstances it can be appropriate for you to request one. If you have been invited to interview at a school in a very distant location, you may bring this to the attention of the other schools in that area and ask for an interview at that time, if they are planning to interview you. The more advance notice you can provide the admissions office about your plans, the better.
- If you are living abroad during your medical school application year, plan ahead so that you can block several weeks in which you can return to the United States for interviews. Late November, December, and January are good times for this. Medical schools are generally understanding of applicants who are not living in the U.S. Be sure to discuss this situation with prehealth advisor before you go abroad.
- Should you decide that you need to reschedule an interview, or you change your mind about the school and decide to withdraw your application after you have been invited for an interview, it is very important that you deal with the school courteously. Contact the school as far in advance as you can so that another candidate can be invited for that time slot. In all your dealings with a school remember that your behavior reflects on you as well as others at Bryn Mawr.
- After your interview, you might receive an acceptance, a rejection or information stating that you have been placed on hold or a wait-list. Schools vary greatly in the time they take to make and communicate decisions; you may hear a decision within a week or you may not hear anything for 6-8 weeks. It is appropriate to ask when you should expect to hear a decision at the end of your interview day.
In a perfect world, everyone would be judged by their abilities alone, but in an interview, your attire and general persona definitely play a supporting role. Your conduct, your interpersonal skills and your ability to articulate intelligent and well thought out responses to questions are the most important elements. Appropriate attire and demeanor support your image as a person who takes the interview process seriously.
Sample Interview Questions
- Why do you want to become a physician?
- Discuss your motivation for medicine.
- Why are you applying to this school?
- What makes you special?
- Discuss your medically related experiences.
- Discuss your research experience in depth (they will only ask this if they see it listed on your application).
- What do you see as the most pressing issue facing medicine today? How will this affect you?
- How will economics and policy issues affect the way you practice medicine? (If it is an election year, be prepared to discuss the impact).
- What do you do for recreation?
- If you could do anything differently in your education, what would it be?
- Discuss why you chose your major.
- Discuss what you gained from your work experience.
- Of what achievement in your life are you most proud of?
- What has been the most difficult challenge in your life?
- Where do you see yourself in your career in 10 years? 20 years?
- Are there any “red-flags” or “blips” in your application that you would like to discuss?
You will find it easier to learn about issues that will have an impact on future physicians if you try to keep up with the current news headlines in health care. National newspapers, news magazines, and health are organizations have web sites that you can read to stay informed about trending topics in medicine.