Interview Day: How to Approach the Interview

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You got an interview, so what now?

This may be your first interview, or maybe one of several, either way this article should be useful for you. I scored a lot of interviews at the very beginning of the application season, and so far I’ve landed three acceptances early on in the US. The intention of this article is to give you an edge during interview day, to make you stand out, I’ll talk about lessons I’ve learned during the process.

Do your homework.

You’re about to invest almost a quarter of a million dollars after interest, it would really behoove you to know what you’re getting into. All accredited institutions will grant you that Medical Doctorate, but don’t think selecting a school is a minor undertaking. You must get into the mindset that you will be accepted into more than one program, this will allow for you to be more proactive about comparing and contrasting programs. Because, while yes you will get that MD either way, your home institution will probably have a large effect on your philosophy as a practicing physician.

Do extensive data mining, while thinking how would this program fit me.

And trust me, you want to be selecting them just as much as they’re selecting you. While you should do the ‘run-of-the-mill’ investigation: reviewing their website, and MSAR (Medical School Admissions Registry), be sure to go above and beyond. For example, go search the school on YouTube, chances are they have a few videos that hardly anyone ever watches (great for you to stand out!). Maybe there are twitter info sessions allowing applicants to speak directly with admissions. Schools do more than enough to try to give you information about why you should go there. Programs are typically pretty excited when they heard you actually were one of the 200 people who checked their web upload, there’s also high chance someone in admissions had something to do with the content. When doing your homework you want to figure out what types of extracurricular programs they offer, clubs, student run clinics, etc., anything you might be interested in. Jot down a few notable things that seem unique to that school: a prominent researcher, a vaccination program for the under-served community, elementary school mentor-ship programs etc. Personally, I think it’s best to pick activities that are congruent with your secondary application, to show that you’ve been carefully considering your fit into the program. A lot of background may be covered during interview day, try to get those questions answered during the Q&A session (if there is one). Save your hard or unanswered questions for the interviewers.

You should walk into the interview day with the correct mindset. 

The reason they invited you to interview day wasn’t to see if you have a chance of getting into medical school. Instead, the school likely believes you’ll do fine in a medical school, they actually just want to make sure you fit into their specific program. In fact, the school usually assumes if you’re interviewing there you might be interviewing at other places. Therefore, they usually have three goals on interview day: verify you were who they thought you were from secondaries, ascertain you fit into their program’s philosophy, and lastly give you the tools to determine if that place is the right school for you. With that said, this may seem even counter-intuitive, walk into the interview with the mindset of you trying to figure out if it’s the right place for you. Do be humble, but remember the school is looking for a future colleague, not a subservient serf. Focus on projecting to the future, and have fun.

Interview day starts as soon as you arrive to the campus. 

It should be noted I forgot to shave at a few interviews =)
It should be noted I forgot to shave at a few interviews =)

Medicine isn’t a TV drama, physicians aren’t demi-gods solving problems by themselves in a hour block. To deliver effective health outcomes requires a team. If the sanitation department doesn’t do their job then the number of hospital infections would climb precipitously, if nurses weren’t there than many patients would fall to the way-side, everyone is necessary for the healthcare juggernaut to work. When you walk onto the campus you’re demonstrating how you’ll function around others. First impressions go a long way, with that being said be sure to be nice to everyone. For example, I recall at one interview the assistant dean of admissions would go around introducing herself without her badge on to gauge our reactions prior to formally introducing herself. Instead of playing the guessing game, just be respectful and courteous to all the staff and your fellow interviewees. Interview day isn’t time for you to sabotage your cohort, if you send good vibes then you’ll likely receive them. I always try to loosen up the room when the staff is gone, I always feel if everyone else isn’t stressing out I’ll stress out less.

Always have questions ready for your interviewer, it’s perfectly okay to stump your interviewer. 

Remember all that homework I talked about, well that’s where you form you questions from. If you applying this year, you’re lucky if you’re politically savvy because there’s a lot of pertinent issues that have a large effect on the medical profession. This is where a lot of premeds fumble, they’re so typically so inundated with the steps just to get into medical school: prerequisites, the MCAT, and AMCAS, that they tend to willfully bury their hand in the sand when it comes to tangible issues. I’ll demonstrate a few examples, I’ll also include the context:

1. How would this school make me competitive during the residency application periods?

Context: because of several government cuts combined with increases in medical school applications there’s a severe strain on residency programs. This translated to about 500 MDs not finding a residency program after the first round of matching. This is obviously no bueno. Now, this was only about 6% of all MDs that experienced this problem, never the less you want to be sure you’re competitive. If you want to find out more follow the hashtag #saveGME, and follow the American Medical Association (AMA) on twitter https://twitter.com/AmerMedicalAssn

2. How will your program prepare us, as future doctors, for the coming healthcare reform?

Context: if you didn’t know there’s healthcare reform rolling out, and if you don’t know the Affordable Health Care Act is also dubbed Obamacare then shame on you. While it’s pretty universally agreed upon that more people having healthcare is good its still up in the air about how this will effect doctors. Your interview is a good time to ask a real doctor who’s likely very active in issues. Ideally, you should also form you own opinion about this prior to the interview, because healthcare reform did show up in one of my interviews anyways.

3. Are there programs such as ___ (something you’d like to see), and if not is it possible for students to lobby for it’s creation.

Context: you want to show that you’re already planning on setting up your office at the school, it shows you really want to go there. Also, projecting towards the future while linking your secondary application interests would be a great way to unify your application, i.e. help them verify you are who they thought you were.

See the pattern? Find something you’re interested in, find a reason why it matters, than ask about it. That’s how you ask non softball questions. You interviewer will ask you hard questions, its indicative of how well they prepared for you, well it’s time for you to return the favor. By asking hard hitting questions it shows you’re really trying to evaluate if you fit there.

Take note of the pros and cons during the information session or tour.

Try to think of the information session as the schools attempt to get you to date them. maybe there are some things that bother you (tuition, mandatory class sessions, etc.). This list will be very important to you if you’re one who receives multiple acceptances. During the interview day, your list will help guide your when it comes time to answer the infamous “so, why do you want to come HERE?” question.

Tackling the why do you want to come here question.

There’s two don’ts:

  1. Don’t say because I like the location.
  2. Don’t say I’m not sure.

While it’s okay to have location be one of your priorities in school selection it shouldn’t be your primary interest. For example, the interviewer could follow up with a grizzly follow up question such as “so, if we were at another state would you not of applied?”, awkward. For obvious reasons, you probably don’t want to say “dunno, medical school is medical school” either. For a list of three strong reasons, don’t make a laundry list, make a strong list validate your reasoning with examples. For example, maybe you like their outreach program in the city of Mayberry, or you like Dr. Ostrich’s ongoing missionary work with Herpes in Scandinavia, perhaps you know that the school is famous for cardiology and that’s your niche.

After the interview do I write thank you cards and letters of intent.

I’d say yes to the thank you cards, send them out as soon as possible. But, if you write a letter of intent, I’d hold out a little bit so you can compose a custom and well written letter explaining exactly why you go there. You copy and pasting several letters of intents, and sending it an hour after your interview probably isn’t fooling anyone. It’s much better to write an honest letter of intent, than to right one out of obligation. For the record, I only sent thank you cards to one school, and no letters of intent so far because it’s quite early in the game and I was sent three acceptances. Now, if you’ve interviewed and haven’t heard anything for several months, or they have a late matriculation announcements then by all means write a letter of intent, just make sure you’re not b’sing them because they’re pretty capable of smelling it.

I hope these tips helped you, I wrote this article in between other articles I’m working on because I had a specific request about strategies for interview day. You can always ask for more topics, or advice here, or by contacting me at twitter at https://twitter.com/doctorORbust

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One thought on “Interview Day: How to Approach the Interview

    Best Wishes to Applicants « doctororbust said:
    August 30, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    […] Tips on Interview Day […]

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