Medical School Interviews

Photo credit: The Internal Medicine interest Group at JABSOM.

Photo credit: The Internal Medicine interest Group at JABSOM.

The Medical School Interview is an integral part of the medical school admissions process.  It is one of the top factors admissions committees consider when deciding who to admit to their medical school.

There are four types of interview commonly used across the US which this page will cover (to see exactly which schools employ each type of interview method, you may need to invest in a service like MSAR, research each school directly, or use a reference book which contains this type of information):

So what are the goals of the interview?

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Goals of the Interview
  • Get to know the applicant on a personal level beyond the academic aspects.
  • Determine if the student understands: the rigors and challenges of medical school; what it truly means to be a physician; the qualities and attributes physicians should possess.
  • See if the applicant would be a “good fit” for their school/program, and if the applicant is able to handle the rigors of their medical school curriculum.
  • Allow applicant to demonstrate knowledge of the school/program or ask questions about the school/program
  • Assess ability to answer ethical questions or questions about current medical issues
  • Allow a chance for the applicant to talk about different aspects of his/her application or discuss aspects of their history not listed on the application
  • Allow applicant to explain strong and/or weak areas of his/her application
  • Allow applicant to demonstrate a commitment to the field of medicine and to a career of life-long learning.
  • Assess applicant’s capacity for improvement, adaptability and resiliency
  • Help determine what kind of medical student, and doctor, the applicant will likely become. Remember, that your interviewer will be asking themselves not only “Can I see this student as a doctor?” but also “Can I see this student as my or my family’s doctor?” 
  • Above adapted in part from the Columbia University Advising Website, the Johns Hopkins University Website, and the Tulane University Website.

The AAMC compiles national interview data and analyses (in Article 1 and Article 2) that we suggest you read through.  It may give you some insight into the interview process as a whole.

Other Must Read Resources from the AAMC:

 

General (one-on-one) Interview Advice

First of all, keep in mind some interviewers will have your entire file in front of them, others will have only your essays (or sometimes not even that) with them.

interviewprep

How should I prepare for my interview?

For full information on how to prepare for your interview, please see our resources below.  A good way to start is to “Ask the Experts” on the AAMC website. Also consider reviewing the resources directly on the AAMC Medical School Interview site.  Generally speaking, it would be wise to do the following before an interview:

  • Do your research on the schools/programs.
  • Review your ENTIRE application and personal statement before the interview.  Interviewers will often ask you about these items.
  • Review current events and current issues in healthcare!  See the “sample questions” or “how to answer ethical or policy question” FAQ below.
  • Schedule your appointment/interview within a timely manner after you are invited and be flexible with your interview time.
  • Schedule flight/travel arrangements and temporary housing.
  • Do mock interviews and review sample questions/possible interview topics! Make sure to receive feedback on your responses, your body-language, etc as without good feedback, mock interviewers are not as useful.  However, don’t OVER-PREPARE or OVER-REHEARSE!  Interviewers can easily tell if you are simply reciting an overly-rehearsed answer.
  • Before the interview, prioritize what personal skills/strengths, parts of your resume, or other aspects of your application you want to communicate during the interview. At the same time, do not try to mention every single thing on in your CV, as you do not have enough time for this in a typical interview.
  • Prepare a few questions for your interviewer.  Be original with your questions (questions like “what are some strengths and weaknesses of your program” are often used and should be saved for a last resort).  Researching the school or your interviewer may give you some idea of some specific questions you can ask.  Also keep in mind that some of the best questions are born out of your conversation with your interviewer (thought of during the interview).

dayofinterview

What should I keep in mind for the day of & during my interview?

Full resources on the medical school interview are found below.  However, there are certain KEY POINTS you should keep in mind for the day of your interview.

  • ARRIVE EARLY! Remember to plan for traffic/travel time (especially in the craziness that is Honolulu traffic). If you should be running late, call in advance to alert your interviewer and apologize.
  • DON’T plan anything else for the time surrounding your interview.  Some interviews may go very late.
  • Relax.  Complete any stress relieving rituals or techniques you have.  Remember that you are basically just going to have a simple conversation with a doctor.
  • Be aware of stress-tests!  Some interviewers will try to stress test you or intimidate you.  Remain calm and be yourself.
  • Dress Appropriately (Suit and tie for men, pantsuits or professional dress for ladies)
  • Open well: greet with a handshake and a smile!
  • Know how you will open (you will always be asked why medicine and “tell me about yourself”)
  • Remember to smile when appropriate! Be positive and upbeat!
  • Be aware of your body language! It reflects your confidence and demeanor. Make appropriate eye contact (constant eye contact is not appropriate), don’t fidget, use hand gestures if appropriate, remember your posture, etc.
  • Mention certain “key points” of your application, personal skills/strengths or other things about yourself you absolutely want conveyed.  You should try to convey some unique aspects about yourself as well.  However, do not try to inject parts of your resume or personal skills/strengths into the conversation when it is not appropriate.  It is extremely important to follow the natural flow of the conversation. If you don’t get to mention all the things you want, that is completely normal.
  • Remember time!  Do not talk for too long while answering a single question.  Answer the question directly, but try not to monologue.
  • Do not simply recite prepared answers you have practiced.
  • Be personable!  Be yourself! Be honest (doctors can easily spot ingenuousness)! Be humble but confident! Remember that the interview is basically just a conversation with a physician (albeit a very important conversation). The main purpose of the interview is for the interviewer to assess what kind of person you are and what kind of medical student and doctor you will become.  After your conversation, your interviewer should have a good idea of the person you are.  
  • Ask the interviewer questions!  If need be, ask questions you prepared beforehand.  However, often you will have NEW questions you did not prepare that are simply borne out of the conversation you just had with your interviewer.
  • Thank the interviewer!

Afraid of making a common mistakes?  The Student Doctor Network outlines some common mistakes students make during their interview.  A list from the University of Delaware is also below. Many students:

  • are unable to appropriately articulate their goals
  • fail to explain their fit for a specific school
  • cannot explain any obvious weaknesses in their application
  • do not sell their strengths
  • fail to demonstrate emotional maturity and common social skills
  • fail to demonstrate a passion for medicine
  • do not ask intelligent questions
  • are unable to understand the Admissions Office goals
  • demonstrate weak verbal/communication skills
  • talk too much
  • fail to send a thank you letter to the primary interviewer

samplequestions

What are some questions I can expect to hear in my interview?

A full list of questions are found below.  It may be a good idea to try answering these to yourself.  If they are willing you can send your mock interviewer one of the lists below and ask them to ask some random questions from the list.

You will almost always get certain questions during your interview.  For example, you will always be asked:

Why medicine?
Tell me about yourself.

Other common interview question themes may include (but are definitely not limited too):

  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Your role models
  • Your failures and or challenges you have experienced and how you dealt with them
  • How you deal with stress and/or stressful situations with peers and colleagues
  • Medical ethical questions
  • Your views or knowledge of current issues in healthcare
  • Why you chose that particular program, school, etc
  • Why medicine vs. another field
  • Stress test situations

interview-q-a

How should I answer certain questions like those concerning ethics or policy? Or those about my academic performance?

Before we give our own advice, these sites have some good advice on answering certain types of questions:

KEEP IN MIND: 

There is often times no right or wrong answer to the types of questions below.  These questions are more to gauge your thought process, worldliness, interest in current events, ability to reason through problems, and your ability to self-reflect and be honest.

Healthcare Issues Questions:

The best way to prepare for questions concerning issues in healthcare is to do your research and look at some sample questions (see above FAQ tab).  However, there is no way to know the full range of healthcare questions a medical school interviewer may ask you. Some question themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • The pros and cons to our health-care system
  • What changes would you make to the health-care system?
  • Knowledge or opinion of state and federal healthcare programs (Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, MedQUEST, “universal healthcare” programs, single payer systems, etc)
  • Knowledge of health insurance systems and reimbursement models: HMOs, PPOs, Fee for Service, capitation, etc
  • Do doctors make too much money? Is it ethical for doctors to strike?
  • The meaning behind the Hippocratic Oath

If you don’t know the answer to a specific question, be honest! They know you are not an most likely not expert yet.  If you say something wrong, it looks worse than if you admitted you don’t know the answer.  It is also very unlikely to be asked a question that directly tests your knowledge on the issues.  Interviewers generally are there to assess your thought process not your knowledge. 

Ethical Questions:

A full list of ethical questions can be found in our Sample Questions FAQ tab above.  Ethical questions may follow various themes.  Some are listed below (again, a full list of common questions are best found in our sample questions section):

  • Your response to being confronted by a peer or authority figure
  • Abortion, contraception, and adoption related issues
  • Your response to discovering someone cheating on an assignment or exam; How you would deal with group conflict or a peer “not pulling their weight”
  • Stem cell related issues
  • Treating patients with certain religious beliefs (ex: Jehovah’s Witnesses)
  • Ethics surrounding care for terminally ill patients (palliative care vs. euthanasia, “death with dignity”, “pulling the plug”, living wills, healthcare power of attorneys, DNR orders, next of kin issues, etc)

There are a few loose guidelines to follow when answering ethical questions:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for time.  It is acceptable to say that the question is ethically challenging, and that you would like a moment to think about it.  It may be less desirable to say that you don’t know what you would do in an ethical question however.  At the very least, you should explain your thought process even if you absolutely cannot arrive at an answer. Simply saying “I don’t know” shows a lack of thought or maturity.
  • Put the patient first (assuming the scenario includes a patient).  The scenario may have instances where parents, spouses, friends or other family members may disagree with the decision you are about to make in the ethical scenario.  You must always put the patient’s welfare above all else.
  • Walk the interviewer through your thought process.  This is extremely important and may help you prevent the interviewer from assuming you have not thought about your answer. Many of the questions are more meant to test your thought process, not for you to arrive at a “correct” answer (sometimes there is no “correct” answer).  Show that you are thinking about the different sides of the issue.  Remember: You should be confident in your thought process but not arrogant or rigid in your answer.  You should also be open-minded but not indecisive and unsure of yourself.
Academic performance questions (from AAMC)

If questions are focused on the academic record, don’t make excuses – provide the best forthright information or explanation of personal circumstances that were occurring at the time. The interviewer knows you are human.

Why are the asking me all these questions? What is the purpose of the interview?

Please read the section above for an overview of the purpose of the medical school interview. Both the section above and the information below are adapted from:

Try to get into the mind of a medical school interviewer.

Interviewers are generally trying to assess your:

  • Whether your desire/passion to pursue medicine is well informed and genuine (the ever common, “why medicine?” question or “why medicine as opposed to X, Y or Z?”)
  • Ability for insight and reflection (for example, your strengths and weaknesses, how you approach challenges)
  • Ability to answer ethical questions or questions about current medical issues.  Again, this is not so much about looking for a “right answer” as assessing your reasoning process, knowledge and experience in the issues that face the medical field, and your sensitivity to the complexity of various ethical and cultural issues in medicine. Even very intellectual students may not have an understanding of the political, cultural or ethical issues that face physicians or possess the ability to reason through complex issues.
  • Communication skills, humanistic qualities, and maturity (How you deal with conflicts, how you work in groups, and how you deal with failure or stress tests)
  • Personality and learning styles (why you may be asked questions like “what sort of cookie would you be?” or “would/do you sit in the front or back of the classroom?”)
  • Personal values (who are your role models, some ethical questions)
  • Capacity for improvement, adaptability and resiliency.
  • Previous experience in healthcare or out of healthcare in volunteering, leadership, research, shadowing or other areas.

This is definitely not a comprehensive list, but here to hopefully prompt you to think critically when approaching your interview questions at home or during mock interviews.  Some questions may seem odd or difficult. However, don’t try to answer the questions with what you think they want to hear. Be honest and thoughtful. Interviewers can easily identify dishonesty, disingenuousness, overcompensation, or inconsistency.  Always be yourself, not what you think they want you to be.

afterinterview

What should I do after the interview is over?
  • Send a thank you letter!  The letter should be personal (mention a couple things specifically about your interview, don’t just send a “stock” letter).  Some interviewers may even appreciate a hand-written letter as opposed to a computer typed letter.
  • Don’t stress over how you did (it’s done!)
  • Assess yourself and think of things you can do better in the next interview.

Good Resources for General Information and Advice on the Medical School Interview

 

The Multiple Mini Interview

mmioverview

What is the multiple mini interview? Why was it invented? What is its format?

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The Multiple Mini Interview was invented by McMaster University in Canada.  We will provide a short explanation of the MMI including its origins and its format, but for a quick review, take a look at the UHM Pre Health/Pre Law Advising Center’s Multiple Mini Interview Presentation or AAMC’s MMI Summary.  If you prefer a video format:

From a physician contributor on Student Doctor Network:

MMI was developed by researchers at McMaster University.  It recently became adopted by several U.S. medical schools as part of the admissions process.

So why MMI vs. a one-on-one interview? Ideally, MMI is a more effective means of assessing qualities of an applicant besides grades and test scores. One-on-one interviews provide an opportunity for the school to assess the interpersonal skills of an applicant. However, there are some pitfalls:

  • Applicants are not interviewed by the same interviewer or interviewers
  • Some interviewers may be less challenging in general or a better fit for particular applicants, providing those applicants with a significant advantage
  • Standard interview questions may not truly reveal an individual’s communication skills, problem-solving abilities, level of professionalism or other skills important for the practice of medicine

The MMI approach uses a series of stations to assess specific skills and qualities and assigns the same interviewer to rate all applicants at a station in order to address some of the weaknesses of the standard interview format.

The Structure (from the same article):

Although the exact set-up varies from school to school, an MMI usually includes six to ten stations from eight to ten minutes in duration with a group of applicants rotating through the stations. The instructions for the station may be posted outside the room and the applicant is given two minutes to read and analyze the instructions prior to entering the room. Typically, six to eight minutes are allocated to completing the station before moving on to the next one. Types of stations may include:

  • Ethical dilemmas or questions about policy or social issues. The instructions describe a situation and then ask the candidate to discuss the ethical or other issues involved. The interviewer may follow up with questions designed to probe the applicant’s response.
  • Interactions with an actor. At these stations, the applicant is provided with a scenario involving an individual who is played by an actor. The applicant may need to give the individual bad news, confront the person about a problem or gather information. An observer present in the room will rate the applicant based on his or her interaction with the actor.
  • Standard interview questions. An MMI may include one or more stations with traditional interview questions such as “Why did you apply to this school?” or “Describe an obstacle that you have overcome.”
  • A task requiring teamwork. Since the ability to work as part of a team is essential to medicine, some stations involve two applicants working together to complete a task.
  • Essay writing. Some schools include an essay component as part of the interview process so a station may involve responding to a prompt in writing. This station may be longer than the others to allow for the applicant to formulate and write the response.
  • A rest station. An interview takes a lot of energy, since the applicant is “on” the whole time and being presented with challenging tasks at every station. Fortunately, many MMIs include a rest station. Avoid spending the break time rehashing previous questions and what you should have said or done. Clear your mind and get ready for the next station.

 

mmiprep

How should I prepare for my multiple mini interview?

While the MMI format may be challenging, there are some general tips you can use to prepare. multipleminiinterview.com offers some great general advice on how to prepare.  Other great sources that may help you prepare include:

From a physician contributor on Student Doctor Network:

How well you perform during the actual interview and whether you will ultimately succeed in gaining admission to medical school (or another healthcare profession) is in large measure linked to the preparation you do in advance. The most effective strategy to prepare for a MMI is to anticipate the types of questions/scenarios you will face and to practice your answers.  Practice Sample MMI Questions

Here are a few tips:

Understand the goal:   You should aim to answer the questions in a manner that demonstrates that you are capable of being an excellent student and thereafter, an outstanding professional thereafter (e.g., physician, veterinarian, nurse, etc.). Make a list of the attributes that you believe are essential for success, such as integrity and the ability to think critically. Practice integrating these key attributes into your answers.

Work on time management:  Many students experience difficulty with pacing and effectively answering the question in the allotted time. Remember that once the bell has sounded, the interview must end immediately even if the candidate is not finished. Therefore, proper pacing is essential. Practice 7 to 8 minute presentations in advance of your interview to get comfortable with timing. Ensure that you wear a watch that clearly displays the time (e.g. a digital watch) on the interview day, since you cannot rely on a clock being present in each interview room. Appropriately managing your time will give you the opportunity to end the interview in an organized and effective manner.

Listen carefully:   During the MMI, the interviewer will often provide prompts designed to direct you. Listen carefully to the cues provided so you can take advantage of any new information that may be introduced. The prompts may guide you to the specific issues that are the focus of each rotation.

Although success cannot be guaranteed, your performance can improve significantly by learning about the interview process, acquiring strategies to avoid the common pitfalls, and knowing ways to sell yourself so that you get the place that you deserve. Poise under pressure can make the difference between achieving your goals and falling just short. As you get ready for the big day, mock interviews should be a key part of your preparations. Simulating what you are about to experience will help build confidence, allowing you to remain calm and more organized on the interview day.

mmisample

Are there sample questions or stations I can use to practice?

SEE THE BOTTOM OF THIS BOX FOR A LIST OF FULL EXAMPLES. 

MMI stations will often be themed around the following (per the AAMC):

  • Scenarios involving interactions with an actor
  • An essay writing station; this station may be take longer than the other
  •  A standard interview station
  • A teamwork station where candidates must work together to complete a task
  • An ethical scenario involving questions about social and policy implications
  • A “rest” station to help students catch their breath and relax

A good way to begin learning what to expect from your MMI experience is by watching examples.  Take some time to view the videos below which contain example MMI stations.  MSMP does not endorse the answers given in any scenario, but they may give you an idea of what MMI stations will be like: Example 1Example 2Example 3FULL EXAMPLE PLAYLIST.

There are a few sites currently in existence that allow you to practice your MMI skills.  MMI is relatively new to the US, and we cannot completely vouche for these individual sites.  We must also keep in mind that different schools will use different stations and different questions in their style of MMI.  However, these resources represent the best of what MSMP was able to find with regards to practice MMI stations and questions and are listed on a few other medical school websites (keep in mind that many of the sources are from Canadian schools, where MMI was conceived):

Also consider reviewing the MMI experiences of two students below:

Still don’t fully understand MMI?  Want to learn more about MMI in general?  Check out the resources below.

 

Committee/Panel Interviews and Group Interviews and Other Interview Types

During a committee interview, you are interviewed by a panel of physicians, health care professionals, senior medical students, medical school faculty and professors.  Some medical schools will interview you in a group (with a small group of other applicants).  Other schools employ a mix of the two: a panel interviewing a group of medical students.  Below are resources that may help you understand the committee interview and group interview.

Make sure you check which schools have panel or group interviews. Medical schools use very different formats for interviewing.  You can find the different types of interviews consolidated on the MSAR and on the individual schools’ websites.

Overviews of other types of interview techniques

Types of interviews from Salisbury University

A good article from About.com