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Interviewing for Medical School

October 27, 2009

While on campus today practicing some “doctoring” in our clinical skills lab (aka interviewing actors playing patients), I came across some nervous souls doing their interviews for medical school.  My interview day seems like it was 5 years ago, but actually I interviewed around this time last year.  Here is the quick and dirty guide to interviewing for medical school:

  1. First of all, if you’ve been granted an interview, congratulations! There are many, many people that never make it this far.  Take a moment and reflect on how far you have come.
  2. After patting yourself on the back, the next thing to do is relax. Medical school interview aren’t as terrible as they seem.  Most interviewers really do just want to sit and talk with you for a little bit to get a sense of who you are, why you want to be a doctor, and what you are going to contribute to their school.
  3. Know the interview format. Each medical school has their own format for interviewing students.  Some will have several one-on-one interviews and others will have you interview in front of 3 or 4 people at once and most will have some combination of the two.  The admissions people should let you know the layout for the whole day.  Be familiar with this info just so that nothing is a surprise and you can relax because you know what’s coming.
  4. Read up on the school you’re interviewing at. The Student Doctor Network is a great resource for inside information on the interview process at nearly every medical school in the US.  Also read the schools website, know something about their stated mission and anything that may make the school unique (ie–if it’s a Jesuit school, maybe know something about the Jesuits).
  5. Do some practice interviews. To be perfectly honest, I never did this.  I am naturally a pretty good interviewer.  Plus, I had some intense interviewing experiences during the few years I was in the “real world.”  However, almost everybody recommends doing some practice interviews with a pre-med counselor or other advisor, so I’m going to recommend it as well.  If possible, find somebody (a family friend perhaps) that has been on a medical school admissions board.  They will be the best at giving you good questions and critiquing your performance.   Don’t waste your time practicing with somebody who is not familiar with the medical school admissions process (like your friends).
  6. Develop an answer for the question, “So, why do you want to be a doctor?” Honestly, I think this is the dumbest question to ask in an interview and there is no right or wrong answer to it, so why ask it?  But, somebody will inevitably ask it, might as well be prepared.
  7. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview. If you’re traveling or otherwise unfamiliar with the school, there is no shame in going the day before and driving around to make sure you know exactly where you’re going.  Being late or lost just makes you unnecessarily more nervous for the interview.
  8. Take something to read. This one may sound a little bit ridiculous, but I not kidding.  You are more than likely going to be waiting at some point during the process so you might as well have something to read.  I’m not suggesting lugging in your hardback copy of War and Peace, but maybe a printout of the latest NY Times article on health care reform.  Which brings me to my next point…
  9. Know something about health care other than doctors write prescriptions and do surgeries. Health care reform is a hot topic right now and it is likely that your interviewers might ask your opinion of the current reform efforts.  Don’t flatter yourself, they don’t care what you actually think.  But they do care that you are engaged in the “health care world” and know what you’re getting yourself into.  I interviewed during the elections and was asked how much I knew about each of the candidates health care reform proposals.  If you’re looking for some resources on what is going on in the health care world, look at the health sections of the major newspapers (NY Times, LA Times both have good coverage of most major health care issues) or read some of the archives of this blog.  I don’t cover everything going on in health care, but I try to do my best.
  10. Have a question or two in your back pocket to ask your interviewers. Interviewers always ask at the end of the interview if you have any questions for them.  Personally, I like to develop questions while I’m interviewing so they are related to what we had been talking about or are specifically applicable to my interviewers.  However, this is a little difficult to do–especially if you’re nervous about interviewing.  So, beforehand come up with one or two questions.  This does not mean that you HAVE TO ask any questions at all, but it does show you were engaged in the interview.

Only one final thought–remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.  You may be receiving multiple acceptance letters in the coming months and have to decide which school to go to.  Make sure you have a firm grasp of what the school is like and in particular any strengths or weakness you feel may impact the direction of your career.  Finally, enjoy the process!  Granted, the actual interviews are a little nerve-racking, but you will also meet fellow applicants who may be future classmates and possibly some future professors and mentors…so be nice!

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