The Medical School Interview: What to Expect
So, you’ve submitted all your secondary applications and are now waiting for responses from the medical schools you’ve applied to. One morning, you open your email, and… congratulations! You have received an interview invitation with your top-choice medical school! After the initial wave of excitement, you might start to ask yourself what your next steps are. What is a medical school interview, and how do you prepare? Whether your school of choice has invited you for an MMI medical school interview, or a 1-on-1 interview, read on to find out our tips and tricks to help you prepare!
The Medical School Interview Process
The medical school interview is your opportunity to show medical schools why you (meaning you as an individual – not your experiences or your grades) should be accepted at their institution. First things first, receiving an interview invite from a medical school means that you have met their academic demands and, after reviewing your application, the institution has decided they are interested in meeting you. You should be excited; you now make up about 30% of the entire medical school applicant pool! But this doesn’t mean you should relax. This is uncharted territory for many applicants, and this stage in the process can be stressful.
There are a variety of medical school interview formats that medical schools can implement, from traditional 1-on-1 interviews to 2 on 1’s or group panels, to MMI’s (multiple mini-interviews – more on this later). You cannot expect each interview you receive (if you get multiple) to be the same format. In addition to variations to the number of people interviewing you, your interviewers may have different roles and have access to varying amounts of information on you. The interviewer may be a faculty member, they might be a student doctor, and what they know about you might range every detail in your file to simply your first name. The MSAR is a great online resource for listing and organizing school-specific information so that you have a better idea of what to expect on interview day.
How to Prepare for Personal Interviews
The best way to prepare for a medical school interview is to have one! Stage practice interviews with parents, friends, or peers. Here is a handy link to 500+ questions that could be asked of you in an interview – don’t be afraid to ask someone to sit down with you and role-play. If this isn’t an option, you could simply record yourself interviewing. Make sure to be critical of your own performance, and that your practice interviewer is critical of you as well – their constructive feedback is necessary to help you refine what you say and how you say it. Your college’s premed office or pre-health advisor might even offer such services – don’t be afraid to ask!
There are a few general things that are recommended to refine yourself and your presentation for an interview, in addition to specific things you should be aware of for each school. This might seem obvious, but remember to be confident! Many applicants struggle with maintaining their confidence both before and during an interview. Remember that this school chose you out of about 7,000 applicants and wants to hear what you have to say! They are interested in you; be interesting in return! That doesn’t mean you need to overdo it – many interviewers have commented on cocky or tactless interviewees, thinking too highly about themselves. Another thing to keep in mind while in the interview is that you will be stressed – and you should be stressed. Some interview formats and interviewers out there are going to deliberately pressure and probe you to see how you handle pressure. Practice clear-headed thinking, and deal with the stress professionally. This will demonstrate to the school and your interviewer that you are capable of handling stressful and uncomfortable situations, like those that will come up in your career as a physician. Remember that a little stress can also be a good thing, a positive indicator that you care about your performance and want to succeed. Use this as motivation!
Another thing to keep in mind which may also seem straightforward is to be truthful in your interviews. Your interviewer is a professional who has met countless applicants. If they are a faculty member or clinician, not only have they completed the medical school interview process themselves, but they have also been conducting interviews like this for a while, potentially multiple times a day. They know when you are being honest and genuine, and they can also have access to your file and application to ensure that you are presenting the truest version of yourself.
One common interview mistake is forgetting to answer the question itself. It’s easy to start talking and drift off on a tangent that does not specifically answer the question that was asked of you. Try to stay on the topic of the question. If you feel you don’t have a direct answer, don’t be afraid to ask for a second to collect your thoughts. If an interviewer asks you a question to elicit a polarizing response, i.e. “What are your thoughts on polarizing conflict X?”, your opinions about the matter don’t mean you should blurt out your immediate thoughts. Your response should address both sides of the issue or concept. Subsequently, don’t be afraid to say you don’t have enough information on the subject or ask for clarification – you are applying to be a student, after all, and don’t need an answer for everything. This demonstrates self-reflection and a desire to learn that can go a long way with an interviewer.
As for school-specific questions, such as: “Why our school?”, “How do you think you align with our values/mission/etc?”, you need to do your research. Look over your primary and secondary applications to this school and consult the information presented on the school’s website. As much as this is a question for you to answer for the interviewer’s benefit, you also need to answer this question for yourself – why do you really want to go to this school? A genuine answer that you carefully thought through and that specifically pertains to the institution will have a much more positive impact than loose generalizations.
How to Prepare for an MMI Medical School Interview
If your medical school interview is in the format of Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI), your preparation might look a little different. These interviews, unlike regular 1-on-1 interviews, are shorter, often ask broader, general questions in a scenario format, and force you to think on the fly. These questions are generally based in ethics and communication rather than personal information, and you will have to answer them in a mature, thoughtful, and structured way.
These questions, being ethical in nature, have no right answer. The true way to answer these scenarios or moral dilemmas is to demonstrate a reasonable understanding of both (or more) sides of the argument and pivot to an explanation of your belief. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give an opinion or a final answer, but it means that your answer shouldn’t be the only thing you respond with. Don’t tell the interviewer your thoughts, walk them through your entire thought process. In order to properly form an answer, you should check your judgment and personal ideas at the door. You should respond to these scenarios as if approaching them for the first time, demonstrating your thought process as you develop your options throughout your answer. Again, your personal opinions should not take precedence over the careful consideration and empathy which must be demonstrated. No matter how much you think a Jehovah’s Witness should accept a blood transfusion to survive, to use a popular example, you must also present their side of the dilemma and demonstrate a desire to understand an opposing perspective. Be prepared to give the pros/cons of every possible option in an MMI scenario, and don’t be afraid to use “if, then…” hypotheticals to justify your decisions.
You can practice for MMIs the same way you would practice for regular interviews – find someone to have a practice medical school interview with! Since the MMI involves your meeting with 8-10 different interviewers, it is preferable that you practice with more than one person for contrast. Tons of MMI questions are available online and are easily downloadable. Be sure to check school-specific forums and websites to see if there are any specifics for that school’s MMI.
In whichever format a medical school decides to administer their interview, you should now be ready and able to perform in a way that demonstrates your strengths and abilities and presents you as a great candidate. This is one of the last steps towards being accepted into a medical school—you should be very proud you made it this far and, with the right practice, you’ll be sure to finish strong. Good luck!