A medical school interview may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Familiarizing yourself with common medical school interview questions (from the simple to difficult) and not sounding rehearsed will ease much of the stress involved, give you a chance to shine, and increase your chances of getting accepted. Experts say that having a good MCAT score, solid GPA and strong personal essay mean little if you handle interview questions haphazardly or seem ill-prepared.
As the website Studentdoc.com (http://www.studentdoc.com/medical-school-interview.html) explains, “Once you’re at the interview, you’re more than halfway home. It usually means the competition has been whittled down, and your job is to show why you’re more than just an MCAT score and GPA. This is where you show the person you are, not the stats you have.”
Know the Common Questions & Categories
Do some online research and you will discover there is a common range of questions in many categories. You might be asked everything from why you want to become a doctor and who your models are to questions about why you should be accepted into the medical school over others.
UMHS Director of Admissions Sean Powers says certain open-ended questions can be especially tricky.
“I think a tough question is any broad one—because broad questions are designed to see how interviewees react and which path they take for their answer,” Mr. Powers says. “Something like ‘tell me about your academic progression?’ is tough to answer because as an interviewee, you want to appear confident in your ability without seeming arrogant, yet you want to appear humble to show that you feel you can still grow as a student. It can be difficult to balance any past challenges you have had (and how you overcame them) with your successes.”
Mr. Powers says one particular question can be difficult if you are not prepared.
“A general question that is tough to answer is ‘tell me about yourself?’ because you don’t want to just regurgitate what is in your personal statement (which you can assume the interviewer has already read),” he says. “The trick when completing your application is to give just enough detail to leave the admissions team wanting to know more, so that when you get that general question, you can delve deeper into your background.”
The website FutureDoctors.net (http://www.futuredoctor.net/questions_and_answers1.shtml) explains the many categories. “Different medical schools will emphasize different categories of questions,” the site explains. “Arbitrarily, ten categories of questions can be defined: ambiguous, medically related, academic, social, stress-type, problem situations, personality oriented, based on autobiographical material, miscellaneous, and ending questions.”
For ambiguous questions, FutureDoctors.net says, preparation is key. “You will be able to take control of the interview by highlighting your qualities or objectives in an informative and interesting manner.”
Questions related to recent medical news, politics and ethics can be best be answered by reading newspapers and medical websites daily to keep yourself updated on current events, so you won’t panic when asked about controversial topics. “All too often the general public is better informed regarding health care than the medical school applicant,” the site says. “A well-informed opinion can set you apart from most of the other interviewees.”
Expect questions about anything regarding your academic performance and test scores, from a low grade in a certain class to why you scored poorly on a certain area of the MCAT. “Beware of any glitches in your academic record,” FutureDoctors.net advises. “You may be asked to give reasons for any grades they may deem substandard. On the other hand, you should volunteer any information regarding academic achievement (i.e. prizes, awards, scholarships, particularly high grades in one subject or the other, etc.).”
Following are FutureDoctors.net tips for preparing for other categories of questions:
• Questions concerning social skills should be simple for the prepared student. If you are asked a question that you cannot answer, say so. If you pretend to know something about a topic in which you are completely uninformed, you will make a bad situation worse.
• The ideal physician has positive coping methods to deal with the inevitable stressors of a medical practice. Stress-type questions are a legitimate means of determining if you possess the raw material necessary to cope with medical school and medicine as a career. Some interviewers go one step further. They may decide to introduce stress into the interview and see how you handle it. For example, they may ask you a confrontational question or try to back you into a corner (“You do not know anything about medicine, do you?”).
• The interviewer might use silence to introduce stress into the interview. If you have completely and confidently answered a question and silence falls in the room, never retract previous statements, mutter, or fidget. Simply wait for the next question. If the silence becomes unbearable, you may consider asking an intelligent question (a specific question regarding their curriculum, for example).
• Some questions are problem situations. For example, how you would tell a patient about a serious diagnosis such as cancer. Listen carefully and take your time to consider the best possible response. Keep in mind that the ideal physician is not only knowledgeable, but also compassionate, empathetic and objective.
MMIs (Multiple Mini-Interviews) were created at McMaster University and are used extensively at medical schools in Canada and the United Kingdom, but are now starting to be used by some U.S. medical schools. Carleen Eaton, M.D. writes on the StudentDoctor.net website (http://studentdoctor.net/2011/01/the-multiple-mini-interview-for-medical-school-admissions/ ) that MMIs involve six to 10 timed stations through which applicants rotate.
“At each station, the applicant is presented with a question, scenario or task,” Dr. Eaton explains. “Since MMIs are significantly different than the traditional interview, becoming familiar with the structure, logic and expectations of an MMI will help make interview day less uncertain.”
Medical student bloggers have described MMIs as similar to “speed dating.” In addition, despite being popular outside the U.S., MMIs have been criticized by some.
The KevinMD.com website (http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/11/problems-multiplemini-interview-medical-school.html) lists the following concerns about MMIs:
• Only the traditional interview deters applicants from embellishing their credentials.
• MMI questions can be found out ahead of time, and MMIs can probably be coached.
• The main studies on MMIs come from McMaster University (the school that profits by licensing MMI questions).
McMaster University publishes a fact sheet about MMIs that goes over all the details and preparation strategies. For more information, visit http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/mdprog/documents/InterviewerManualFull2012-13forWEBSITE.pdf
Know What Questions to Ask
As Studentdoc.com explains, medical school interviews can be similar to job interviews. “Interviewers are there to find out about the applicants’ personality and goals, but they are also there to answer questions the students have, and to recruit students to their school,” the site says.
It is inappropriate to ask whether or not you will get in or the length of school breaks. Instead, ask questions that show you take your medical education seriously. The website How-To-Interview.com (http://www.how-to-interview.com/medical-interview-questions.html) outlines good questions to ask the interviewer to increase your chances of acceptance. Below is a sample:
• “In your opinion, what would you say medical students like most about this med school?”
• “I have an interest in alternative medicine (or preventive medicine or geriatrics or whatever else you may have an interest in). Are concepts of alternative medicine (or geriatrics or whatever else you choose) incorporated into the med school curriculum?”
• “Do you foresee any significant changes to the medical school curriculum within the next year or two?”
• “What opportunities do medical school students have to pursue a research project during their studies here?”
• “Do medical students rotate through different types of hospitals such as VA hospitals, inner-city hospitals, privatized hospitals, etc.?”
Linda Alexander, M.D. writes on the website MomMD.com (http://www.mommd.com/interview.shtml) that, although not required, it is a good idea to write a brief “thank you” note to the interviewer(s).
“Remember you want to make yourself stand out (in a positive light) against the hundreds of other applicants they will be interviewing,” Dr. Alexander says.
Finally, Dr. Alexander says to remain patient after the interview.
“It can take anywhere from one week to several months before you get a final decision from the school,” she says. “Different schools have different policies and approaches (find out about this school’s process on interview day or before); often the committees fall behind schedule and it takes a bit longer than the four or six weeks they promised.”