The interview is a very important part of the selection process for medical schools. If you understand the purpose of the interview and prepare for it, you can reduce your anxiety and have a positive experience. The interview should be a two way process; think of it as a conversation where you're getting to know each other. Most medical schools have many more applicants than slots for their entering class, so for you, the interview is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicants, to sell your strengths and demonstrate to the interviewer why you should be selected. It's also an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the school than you read in their brochures or on their web page.
The medical school, in turn, uses the interview for several purposes. The interviewer will clarify information in your application, determine whether you have the qualities considered essential for the practice of medicine, and determine your commitment to being a physician. Furthermore, many schools use the interview as a way to recruit or sell their program. Seeing the school and facilities, meeting faculty and students, and getting a feel for the campus and community will be extremely helpful when you must decide which school you want to attend.
How do you get an interview?
Many medical schools make the first cut in the applicant pool by using a formula that combines total cumulative GPA and MCAT scores. If your scores are high enough, you will be invited for an interview.
Being asked for an interview does not guarantee that you will be accepted since schools interview 3-4 times as many applicants as there are positions in the entering class, but you are making progress toward your goal.
The positive interview.
To ensure the best possible interview, 1) find out what the format for the school's interview will be [i.e. learn about the school], 2) consider the mission of the school, 3) prepare and 4) rehearse answers to questions. Each of these points are addressed below.
What to expect?
Remember your interview begins the minute you step in the door or on the campus. Students and office staff sometimes have input in the selection process; be courteous and positive to everyone.
The interview usually lasts from 30 minutes to one hour. Two thirds of the medical schools have one-to-one interviews with two different interviewers; 1/3 of the schools have only one interviewer. A few schools have committee interviews. About 1/5th of the schools include a medical student in the interviewing process and 1/5 include a representative from the community. Interviews may be closed-file or open-file. In a closed-file approach, the interviewer knows nothing about the applicants except their name in an attempt to evaluate the candidate without bias regarding grades. In an open-file interview, all of your file information is available to the interviewer and questions may start with your application. It is helpful to know the format for the interview when you are preparing; check out the links provided here or talk to one of the pre-med advisors for specific information about the interview format for your selected schools.
Sometimes arrangements are made for you to tour the campus with medical students and/or stay overnight. This is a great chance to really learn about the school, the faculty, the facilities, the curriculum, and the community.
What are they looking for?
The interviewers are typically asked to evaluate each candidate in the following categories:
- maturity or emotional stability
- interpersonal skills - the ability to relate to others and communicate
- motivation for medicine [for example, why do you want to be a doctor, and why a physician and not a PA or PT?]
- leadership experience
- logical thought [can you solve a problem, can you make a decision and defend it?]
- demonstrated concern for others, open-mindedness
They may ask a set of standardized questions or may be free to ask their own questions, but in either case they will summarize your strengths by how you've responded to their questions.
How can you prepare and rehearse?
- learn as much as you can about the school where you will be interviewing
- read through your application and review your activities and your personal statement - consider what you were trying to convey in your essay [this may be the starting point for a open-file interview]
- read magazines like Time and Newsweek - try to stay up-to-date with current events [keep a file of important medical /health care issues]
- pay attention to current topics on ethics and health care issues
- typical questions may relate to current issues in medicine such as stem cell research, euthanasia, and health care reform. Often there is no right or wrong answer to the question but the interviewer wants to know that you've given serious thought to important issues and that you can defend your position.
- be able to articulate WHY you want to be a physician
- be prepared to ask questions - think about what you want to know about that particular school
- write out answers to anticipated questions initially, then practice with an audio-tape or better, videotape your responses if possible
- do mock interviews -- contact a pre-med advisor for arrangements
- the night before - relax and get plenty of sleep
- think about yourself - your goals, strengths, and what you want to communicate during the interview - this prepares you for the common opening "tell me about yourself"
- be informed about the school and be prepared to ask good questions about the clinical opportunities or the curriculum - don't ask about things that are clearly explained in the school's brochures or bulletin; reveal that you have carefully considered this school.
- arrive early and look around; talk to students; check out the library, cafeteria, etc.
- present a professional appearance, maintain good eye contact
- listen carefully
- be positive
- don't guess if you are asked something you don't know, just admit you don't know
- be honest, be yourself
- write a thank you to the interviewer[s] promptly after the interview
University of Minnesota
- Give an example of when you demonstrated teamwork
- Have you traveled overseas? What did you learn?
- What is the last book you've read?
- How do you divide your time between school and everything else?
- Describe a crisis and how you dealt with it.
- What's the biggest problem in health care today?
- How do you handle stress?
- What do you do in your free time?
- What are the important issues facing doctors today?
- Describe a unique experience you've had and why that stands out in your mind.
- What are your other alternatives to medicine? [i.e. what is your plan "B" if you don't get accepted?]
- Describe a highly positive experience and a highly negative experience.
- What criticism upset you the most?
- Be prepared to give an opinion on current topics - political issues, ethical issues, current trends in medicine
What if the interview is a disaster?
If you are asked an inappropriate question(s)* or if you just feel the chemistry was wrong and you had a bad interview, it's important that you report this immediately to the Admissions office. Most schools will give you another interview before you leave campus and they definitely want to know if you were asked inappropriate questions.
*Innapropriate questions refer to private life and personal background such as religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, children or family planning, physical or mental disabilities, or race. If faced with an inappropriate question, try to answer it honestly and tactually without revealing only as much as you are comfortable with, and report such questions to your pre-med advisor.