This guest post is from Jaclyn Zalesky, the author of our popular online course, How to Ace the Medical School Interview.
The medical school interview is the all-important last step of the medical school application process, meant to make the final determination of whether an applicant is a “good fit” for a medical school program. Many institutions turn medical school interviews into a daylong affair for selected interview candidates—including campus tours, information sessions, and student socials. Preparing for the medical school interview is crucial because even with strong credentials, a weak interview can be the difference between getting an admissions offer or not.
To help you succeed, I have put together my thoughts on what you can expect for the interview process and some tips in how to prepare.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEW
Medical school interviews differ in three main ways:
- Who the interviewers are
- The number of interviewers present at the interview
- How much information the interviewer is given about a candidate before the interview
Sometimes the interviewers are admissions counselors. Other times, it may be faculty, current students, or local alums. In terms of format, some students report a one-on-one interview, while others report a panel interview. Lastly, some interviewers may have had access and read your application file, while others may not have any information at all. To maximize your chances of admission, prepare for all interview format variations.
A more recent medical school interview format that is gaining popularity among many medical programs throughout the US is the multiple mini-interview, also known as MMI. This type of interview consists of 6-10 timed stations that the applicants rotate through within a two-hour time period.
While the type of questions asked at medical school interviews is expansive and differs for every institution, most medical school interview questions fall into one of the following five categories:
- Traditional, open-ended
- Personality and involvement
- Situational or ethical dilemma
- Current affairs
Traditional, open-ended interview questions
Here are some examples of traditional, open-ended questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- Why do you want to attend medical school?
- There are 1,000 applicants that are equally as qualified as you are, why should we choose you?
When asking these questions, interviewers are trying to determine the following:
- Want to learn more about who you are
- Understand how you are unique, relative to other applicants
- Ensure that your motivation to attend medical school is pure
The last one is particularly important. The steps to be a doctor — medical school, internship, residency, fellowship — is a long and grueling process. In other words, only the committed can be doctors. It's more likely to find that commitment in a candidate that's genuinely passionate vs. someone who's doing for some other motive — whether it's money, prestige, or pleasing others.
Personality and involvement interview questions
Here are some examples of personality and involvement questions:
- If you were a cookie, which cookie would you be and why?
- If we asked your friends to describe you, what would they say?
- If you could change one aspect of your personality at the snap of your fingers, what would it be and why?
This category is meant to assess a candidate's character strengths and flaws. Patients and practicing physicians have an opinion of what makes a great doctor; as a result, each interviewer has a mental model of key personality traits they are looking for in an ideal candidate. While opinions may vary from interviewer to interviewer, here are some traits that most interviewers are looking for in an ideal candidate:
- Listening skills
- Balanced lifestyle
- Communication skills
- Appreciation for others
Behavioral interview questions
Here are some examples of behavioral involvement questions:
- Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership?
- Give me an example when you worked under pressure. How did you deal with the stress?
- Tell me about a time when a barrier challenged your ability to communicate and how did you deal with that?
Behavioral interview questions are about your past experiences. Here's an easy way to spot a behavioral interview question; they usually start with "tell me a time" or "give me an example."
Good interviewers know that past behavior is a good indicator of future success. That is, if you are placed in a specific situation, such as a stressful situation, if you've dealt it before, it's likely that you'll deal with it similarly (if not better), if you're placed in a comparable situation in the future.
Similar to the personality question category, behavioral interview questions is a way to assess whether a candidate has the traits to be a great doctor. In this case, behavioral questions are superior because they bring more evidence about a candidate's personality.
Situational or ethical dilemma interview questions
Here are some examples of situation or ethical dilemma questions:
- What is your opinion on euthanasia?
- Do you think a physician should tell a patient they have 8 months left to live?
- If you have the choice of giving a transplant to an elderly member of the community of a 20-year-old drug addict, how do you choose?
There are many reasons why medical schools ask situation or ethical dilemma questions including one's ability to be flexible, thoughtful, and reflective. However, here's the number one reason why schools ask this question: they want to evaluate a candidate's judgment. Doctors are in a position of power. Sometimes, a doctor's singular voice can influence whether someone should live or die.
A physician's recommendations can be influenced by their personal beliefs, values, and biases. By asking an ethical dilemma question, medical schools are evaluating a candidate's judgment to make the right decision, whether it's for a patient or for society as a whole.
Current affairs interview questions
- In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue in healthcare today?
- What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?
- Would your decision to become a physician change if the US moved to a universal healthcare system similar to that of Canada?
This category of questions help interviewers evaluate a candidate's passion for medicine. Interviewers believe that committed candidate are up-to-date with the latest issues in the medical field.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE MEDICAL SCHOOL INTERVIEW
Here are my favorite tips from the How to Ace the Medical School Interview course:
Why medical school?
- Understand and communicate your motivations for medical school and a career in the medicine.
- Know your major strengths and weaknesses and how they translate to medical school.
Why do you want to attend this specific medical school?
- Name at least three specific characteristics that appeal to you about each medical school you interview with.
- Know specifics including names of notable alums, award recipients, grants, and curriculum style.
There are 1,000 applicants as qualified as you are, why should we select you for our class?
- Think of your "personal brand." That is, what makes you unique from others in the class. What do you want admissions staff to say about you when they're chatting at the water cooler?
Tell me a time...
- For any behavioral question, I'd recommend using the DIGSTM format. The DIGS format has four different components:
- Dramatize the situation
- Indicate the alternatives
- Go over what you did
- Summarize the results
What is your opinion on euthanasia?
Whether it's the euthanasia question or another situational / ethical question, remember to:
- Acknowledge the pros and cons of both sides of a situation
- Clearly communicate how you reasoned to arrive at the decision you did
- Demonstrate your ability to be both objective and empathetic
What is the most pressing issue in healthcare today?
Most candidates err on this (and other current affairs questions) by having a narrow approach. Come across as open-minded and broad by using the Rule of Three and acknowledge pros and cons of each (one of your three) outcomes or opinions.
Also remember that the more specifics and details you share, the more credible you'll sound about the topic, and our passion for medicine will appear to be more genuine. If you don't have the details, it's never too late to brush up!
Photo credit: NEC Corporation of America