Just finishing up the second week of medical school, it’s been a really busy week. I have a test coming up on Monday, we’re covering a semester (or quarter) of histology within a week — though, we’ll revisit it again in more depth next year. We”re the first year they’ve tried experimenting with this “crash course” in medical histology so that everything, coincidentally we’ll also be the last as they’re switching to system based curriculum for entering students next year. Though, it should be noted that our second year is clearly system and diagnostics based. Regardless, a medical school will make you a doctor, but it’s our job to try to get the best out of the experience to later to good physicians. Some of you have been given a chance to attend a medical school interview, if so congratulations! If not, there’s still plenty of time to receive an interview, some people in my class were invited rather late and accepted almost the week before school so keep pushing through. And remember, if you don’t get in then improve your application and re-apply.
So, with that aside, here are some interview tips (this list got longer than I expected, sorry not much time to edit it down!):
1. Do a ridiculous amount of homework for your interview: check the local news online, check their website for their local interest groups and try to see how you’d fit into their program and mission.
2. Know your application better than anyone on Earth. Nothing is worse than coming off as a fraud, and the easiest way to do that is to appear like you fluffed your application. Know your application, know why you participated in X groups, why you took a gap year, understand your influences and weak points. They can only go off what ever you’ve presented them with, don’t let them know you better than you know yourself as it won’t go well.
3. Practice coming up with main themes for you answers for the interview. You can try doing a few mock ones if you wish, I’m lazy and shy about those types of things so I just came up with main themes and practiced by myself (lack practicing for a speech). Though, to be fair, I’ve given a lot of speeches and talks so it’d probably be better to just try with others. There are plenty of books with “sample” interview questions, just pick one up and go through it to come up with your own answers. Also, just search Youtube for interview tips, some of it is baloney but it’ll get your gears turning.
Logistics and Transportation
4. Purchase airplane tickets at least 6 weeks prior to the interview, after that they rates really will jack up. Note that the rates change throughout the day, so check multiple times (or set alerts for price deals etc). You probably won’t rack up enough miles to make use of any frequent flyer program, they tend to do a good job of keeping you away from cashing in, so don’t get too picky about riding on a certain airline.
5. Rental cars are pretty pricey to hang onto during an interview, but they offer a lot of flexibility. If I were interviewing again, I would have rented a car less and probably have just used Uber (with a back up plan of using a cab). Though, depending on how far out you stay from the school while visiting a rental car may be the most logical way to go.
6. Show up and find the place you’re supposed to arrive at about 45 minutes to a hour early. It’s okay to ask the staff if you’re in the right place, after you’ve confirmed just hang out and have a seat and try not to bother the staff. Be extra friendly, the staff and faculty at medical schools are infinitely closer than your undergraduate experience so treat everyone you meet (even the janitor) as if they’re potentially the dean of admissions. If you’re early and nice to everyone it’ll help cut down on the nervousness, at least it did for me.
7. If you’re a male, learn how to tie your tie. There’s no shame if you don’t, but if all you have to depend on is your pre-tied tie done by your uncle three years ago then you’re setting yourself up for stress during you interviews. It’s not hard if you practice it a few times in the mirror — you can find plenty of videos on Youtube. Also, don’t dare go to your interview without going to a tailor to get your pants and suit cuffs hemmed to fit you. This is the secret to looking professional: you can start off with a relatively cheap $100 suit and pay another 20-30 for tailoring and the result will make it look like a $1000 suit. You don’t want to go looking like you’re wearing your dad’s suit. You don’t need to go get a customer tailored suit, just go to a cheap place that’s been around for a while and ask them for suggestions about fit. Ideally, when you sit your paints should reveal your socks by a few inches and not drape over your shoes when you walk or sit. The cuffs of your white collared shirt should show just barely by perhaps half a centimeter when you’re wearing your suit-jacket, furthermore the jacket should be long enough to stop at your wrist but not after your wrist widens to your hands. However, the caveat here is that if you don’t at least try to start with a suit that fits you in the chest and back especially, then you’ll likely spend another few hundred dollars to get those sections tailored as it takes a lot of work and a skilled hand. If you’re fashionably inept then consider bringing a “professionally dressed” fashioned coordinated friend with you. If you have a thin frame, I’d suggest going with an Italian cut (slim fitting) in the standard medical school charcoal — it’s significantly cheaper to tailor a suit that almost fits you, hemming is usually the cheapest and most bang for you buck thing you can do. And of course, don’t neglect on your shoes, but don’t splurge either however don’t come into the place with squeaky clogs either. You whole goal should be to look like a respectable doctor, after all you will be one soon right?
For females, you don’t need to dress like a puritan or anything, just dress professionally equivalent to your male counter parts. I’d suggest not wearing shoes that “click clack” too much, as they’re both distracting for you and everyone else during the long interview day. Be sure to wear shoes that won’t bloody your ankles (or make adequate preparations in the heel for padding if you have choice). I won’t suggest much more about how to dress, especially as I never saw one female incorrectly dressed for the interview (guys on the other hand, that was a crap-shot). Just be sure that you can be confident in whatever you wear.
There are a lot of people in my class with tattoos (arms, back, etc.), while it’s okay to have them it’s also considerate to cover them for your interview. After you’re in, sure rock that tattoo of Satin devouring kittens, but at the beginning just try to be respectful of others’ beliefs. I personally think tattoos are awesome, but as a first impression don’t make it into a philosophical battle of the merit of tattoos and bias.
8. Be yourself (hopefully that has positive implications) — it’s much too tiring to be something else in my opinion. This translates to standing up for yourself and your opinions during interviews. If you have an opinion, and a rational manner of defending it then by all means it’s okay to disagree with an interviewer. However, you don’t need to pick fights or win battles, just be okay with being fine with “agree to disagree”. If they convince you, fine, but don’t just be a yes “wo(man)”.
9. It’s okay to ask the interviewer questions about the program, about their position etc. You’ll have to “imagine” that you’ll get into multiple programs and you’re just trying to evaluate the best one, this will keep you objective (but, don’t be arrogant about it). There’s a fine but discernible line between arrogance and confidence. In fact, ending the interview with no questions is a passive way to tell people you’re that interested, but don’t ask questions you could have/should have easily found out if you just did a little research. The better your questions, the more they’ll know you care and have given their program careful consideration.
10. Write down the interviewers’ names, this will make it easier for you to write them correspondence later if you choose to do so.
11. Jot down things you liked and disliked about the program immediately while it’s fresh. This way, if you do write a letter to the school (letter of intent, I didn’t write any so I can’t help you there) to let them know your intent of matriculating if accepted you can write legit things as opposed to blowing smoke up their butts’. If you receive multiple acceptances having this list is incredible when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of the program. I kept notes throughout the day, but I wrote them in another language so no one else could peak at what I wrote; if you don’t have that advantage then just write sloppy short hand that only you can read. These notes can in handy actually even during the interview when I was able to address brand new things I found out during the tour about their patient population etc.
12. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t become complacent because you’ve landed a few interviews. Until you’ve landed your acceptance it’s best to treat every interview like it’s the most important interview in the world, heck if afterwards you should be serious about them. If you’ve already gained an acceptance, unless your dead set on going to that program, consider continuing to a few more interviews as you might learn something new about other programs. It’s also decent experience for what you’ll need to do next for residency interviews (though, those are probably a lot more fun).
13. Be humble. Congratulations, you’ve interviewed and whether you get it or not, it’s a monumental step. But, there are those who aren’t accepted for one reason or another, be sure to remember that not too long ago you were just as nervous and unsure as them.
Remember, if you’re invited to an interview then the probably already are at least interested in you (and may even sort of like you). All you need to do is either win a few people over who may not be sure about you and/or prove that you’re not a phony and all the stuff you said on your applications are congruent with who you actually are.
As promised, here’s the confidential(identity) interview from the accepted Stanford student. They’ll be starting this year as a M1. As a nontraditional premed, switching majors several times before finally deciding to apply to medical school.
It’s interesting to note we both applied to Boston University and Stanford, however we both never received interview invitations from each other’s respective current medical school — it really goes to show there’s interpretation about what constitutes a good fit for their institution, and we found our own fit. For myself another interesting point of this person is that, like me, it took them many years to finish their college career — we both took multiple breaks for work and switched majors innumerable times before deciding on applying to medical school.
Anyways, I had to distill a nearly two hour conversation where we easily went into tangents (
mostly entirely my fault). After laughing and removing the tangents, here is the more educational and likely useful results:
Q. 1. When did you decide that medicine was for you, and why?
Basically, I realized medicine could be a career for me because of the position it occupies in relation to other fields. As a community college student, I had the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes in different fields, without needing to prematurely declare a major. I had always been interested in fields where I thought I could make a difference, I dipped my toes in psychology, sociology, political science, “hard” sciences (thought about a PhD), public health, and even art (documentary photography). For me, medicine fits snugly between public health and the hard sciences, and gives me the best of both worlds (well, what I feel is the best of both worlds). Public health was hard for me because it was a bit far removed from the individual level, obviously since it’s more focused on populations. This is great of course! But that was hard for me to work with, because actually seeing change takes a LONG time, if you see it at all. Bench research is cool too, I still love it, but couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it because it was easy to get caught up in the little things, without the human perspective, and I felt a little lost there, honestly. Medicine allows me to inform both fields with a clinical perspective, work with both fields as part of the health team, and still enjoy what I do
Q. So, do you think being a nontraditional gave you a different point of view? For example while studying.
I think so. I can’t say that more traditional premeds didn’t learn the same things I did, but I can say that I wouldn’t have the perspective I do without doing it my way. Having studied a variety of topics, I kind of felt that medicine was just one career path that could be taken. It fits a small niche in between all the other things people can do with their lives, or to help others. Plus, being nontraditional, working through school, all of that…I had to learn to prioritize and really figure out WHY I needed to do some of these things. I think premeds often get caught up in “the list”, the list of shit we’re supposed to do to be competitive. And a lot of us end up with huge resumes of shit we did that had no impact on us or our communities
The end goal is to be a great doctor…so these experiences should be towards that goal. Activities aren’t just there for filler. Med schools look for these activities because they think we have something to learn from them. And as a nontraditional student, I think I may have had an easier time figuring that out
Q. Lately, schools have really been pushing for diversity, how do/will you bring diversity to your program?
As for the diversity question…I STILL have trouble answering it. I think it’s because there’s no single factor that stands out as HI THERE DIVERSITY. I’ve mentioned before that I am certain that all of us are really diverse. We have our collections of scores and activities on the applications that look the same in bullet-point form, but different students get into different schools. In any case, I think being a nontraditional premed has given me some interesting opportunities. I took extra time in school; it took me eight years to finish up my degree, so I was able to explore a number of different areas of study and work part-time throughout undergrad. After all of that…I can’t help but see medicine as integrated with every other field, and my approach to healthcare in general requires that we don’t separate “health” from the rest of our patient’s lives. I also had time to make big commitments to projects that I cared about, and learned more than I could have imagined. I helped get a nonprofit global health organization started, which taught me as much about public health as it did about team work, leadership, and resource management. I worked in a research lab for a few years doing more engineering-based health projects, and was inspired by the potential future of stem-cell based diagnostic devices and therapies. I think the biggest opportunity I had while being nontrad, and perhaps bringing some diversity to the mix is my restaurant work history. I got my first job at 16 working in a cafe and bakery, and from there moved on to other cafes and finally ended up serving and bar-tending at a restaurant as I got older. It seems like working during undergrad isn’t typical for a lot of premeds, so I’m so glad I had a chance to do it. Of course, I hated it at the time and it was stressful, but being forced to talk to strangers day in and day out will probably help my bedside manner more than any amount of shadowing doctors could do. I learned a lot about making people feel comfortable and responding appropriately to misplaced anger by waiting tables. Although it isn’t directly related to medicine, waiting tables taught me a lot about professional communication in strained situations. People can get really upset about their food, it seems! Or parking, or having to wait for a table…about a lot of things outside my control. And I feel that happens in everyday medical practice often, so having a little bit of experience managing those situations will likely help me in the future. Waiting tables was also a great teamwork exercise; you really can’t survive the floor without working together, even if you don’t always get along with your coworkers. Maybe that gives me some of that coveted diversity? Who knows, I think it’s the summation of our experiences that gives all of us a unique perspective.
Q. So, as a nontraditional or traditional premeds was there anyone who mentored you? Also, applying to medschool is pretty nebulous; have any guidance or tips along the way?
I’m lucky to have had a great mentor in this whole thing. I think as you’ve pointed out a few times, there are a lot of people who are just waiting for us to fail, to not make it. So, I had my mom, who is a doctor and a teacher. When I have questions about how to be a great doctor, I always turn to her. For the premed-y things though, I kind of just went with it. Internet-searching. Berkeley doesn’t have official premed advisors, so I kind of went at it based on anecdotes from friends and the internet
As for my tips…I think the best ones I have are to do what you love…pick a few key activities that will help define and shape you, and give them your all. Don’t mess around with 100+ random activities that you only contribute 10 hours to.
Also, keep a journal of everything. Not only does it make it so much easier to learn from and reflect on your experiences, but you will thank yourself SO MUCH when applications roll around.
And surround yourself with good people, even if they’re not premed or doing the same things you are. Don’t let negative folks discourage you, don’t take SDN too damn seriously, and don’t put other people down because we never know where they’ve been
Regarding the question of, “For premeds without a committee or reliable advisors do you have any tips?” that’s a hard one. Reliable information is difficult to come by, and you don’t want to get sucked into the anecdotes too much, because they may be wrong! I think some of the books out there are pretty good –the ones written by previous admissions officers. I guess my major tip for anyone is just always frame your activities or potential activities by thinking “How will this make me a better doctor? What am I learning or contributing?” If you can come up with solid answers to that, then it’s a worthwhile activity lol.
And the usual: don’t let your GPA slide, set study schedules to keep it up, check school websites to meet prereqs, and don’t think the MCAT will be a breeze.
Q. I suppose you should probably jot down that answer [from the journal etc.] as well for later during secondary/interviews?
- YES, absolutely. Take notes, always. Makes life so much easier down the line when time is of the essence. I was lucky that I had some notes and journals, but I WISH i had an updated CV.
- Oh…another pro tip. Start saving a lot of money — like yesterday. Charging app fees to your credit card is awful (that was me, it sucked).
Q. As you already know, I don’t report MCAT scores; but, you did very well, do you have any study tips?
Well, since everyone studies a bit differently, it’s kind of a hard thing to say for sure. The one thing that I think will work for everyone is to set a study schedule. Like map out every single day, what you’re going to review, how many problems you’re doing to try, etc. Even map out your break days
- I also tend to think that you shouldn’t review all of one area, then the next. Should probably do one chapter of physics, one chem, one orgo, one bio, then repeat with the next chapters
- Practice problems are golden, obviously. do as many as possible, but I think it’s best if you don’t re-do the same ones. I saved all my AAMC practice exams for the last month
- Flashcards are great for random facts, and can be taken anywhere for quick review (on the bus, between classes, etc)
- Always focus on understanding and connecting concepts, rather than memorizing shit
*Doctoorbust: a caveat, remember pick tips that work for you, ignore any that don’t.
Q. I know you’re tired of hearing this but, any idea what you’re going to specialize in?
Not a clue! I’m trying to go into it with an open mind, simply because I know I haven’t seen even half of what specialties are out there. Even for the ones I have “seen”…it’s difficult to know if my experience in them as a premed was anything like the way they actually are. So, I’m trying to be open.
Plus, it’s hard to know where the field will be in 4-5 years. Things change. The structure of medical practice is undergoing some pretty significant changes, and I’m not really sure where it will all end up.
Q. How do you feel about the coming changes (healthcare)? There’s a lot of anxiety in some groups about it.
I honestly don’t know. I see it as a good thing, a step in the right direction for expanding patient coverage, but I can also understand the concerns from a doctor’s point of view, as far as who is getting reimbursed for what, and additional constraints on their time I think it is easy for us to say, as folks who have yet to enter the medical field for real, that expanding coverage is GREAT and it’s easy and things like that. But I’m not sure we really know what it’s like in the trenches. I’m thinking specifically of primary care, it seems that it’s going downhill fast for those currently in family practice and internal medicine.
For the record, my personal opinion is that expanding coverage equates to awesome. But I don’t think we can neglect the concerns that have been brought to the table by our colleagues, either.
Q. What are some things you wish you did as a premed now that you’re going into medschool?
I wish I had traveled more, and taken more time for non-premed activities. I definitely enjoyed all the work I did in preparation for becoming a doctor, but I let some things slip too
I would just advise people to always make time for hobbies, for themselves. This is because hobbies are every bit as important as engaging in research or volunteering. Being healthy and happy will make you a better doctor, too.
Maintain relationships! Friends, family, don’t let it slide because you’re too busy studying.
Q. Now, you’ve been there and done that. What are some misinformation points you’ve heard about being a premed or applying that you believe to be false, at least from your experience?
The biggest thing I think is that you need a perfect GPA and perfect MCAT score, or that having X hours of these activities are all it takes. Or that it’s guaranteed to get in if you have those things. And you see this everywhere. “My friend has a 4.0 and a 42 MCAT and thousands of hours of volunteering and research and didn’t get in” or the other commonly seen thing “I need a 4.0 and a 42 etc in order to have a shot.”
Yes, you need decent numbers, but that will only get you so far. We have to learn from our experiences in order for them to count. The hours spent doing an activity are usually correlated with learning and reflecting, but the hours themselves don’t mean anything
The other thing about applying that I saw a lot is the obsession with school rank and the numbers. It’s not all a numbers game. Schools have different missions, different focus points that they look for in their applicants
The smart applicant will choose schools that they will fit into, whose goals are in line with the applicant’s, or the applicant feels he/she can contribute to
The process feels like a crapshoot. To some extent, it probably is, but that doesn’t mean that applicants can’t maximize their chances. Obsessing over numbers won’t get you anywhere. and the thing is, just because your experiences don’t fit into one school doesn’t mean they don’t fit somewhere else. For instance, I was rejected outright from BU! But I got in somewhere. And you got into BU! And were rejected from other places we all have different strengths, just have to play to them. it takes some serious self-reflection and honesty on the applicant’s part. Still, no one’s saying it’s not competitive. But…always remember the numbers aren’t everything. My GPA sucked, and I got in somewhere.
Thanks for reading! I’ll try to keep posting while moving!
Thanks for keeping up with my blog. To all the premeds out there taking their MCAT, writing a PS, and slaving away at the prerequisites my hats off to you! To my medical school friends, good luck on your coming USLME (or COMPLEX).
I created a dedicated email for questions, feedback, concerns etc: email@example.com.
As you may already know, I have a few hats, I work as an ethical compliance associate (I don’t like the word officer) for the IRB and the ACUC (human and animal research respectively, yes I do realize the irony) — this is mostly for graduate students. I also have a job helping to coordinate research grants, conferences, and doing odd jobs to increase the amount of undergraduate research at my alma mater. If you didn’t know, surprise! Long story short, I get a lot of emails every day, from either the USDA, my institution, combative principle investigators, or panicking graduate students. So, I decided it was about time to make a email account just for the blog. Please feel free to ask me things there if you wanted to keep it private.
Post Step 1 USLME interview with Johns Hopkins MD candidate (M2) sometime in May
I have a good friend from my alma mater who’s now attending Johns Hopkins, and is currently a M2 (second year medical student). She’s currently caved up in a hole studying for Step 1, and she’s agreed to share her lessons and experiences as an M2 getting ready to move onto her next steps — clerkship. If you have any questions, write them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll select the best 7, and 3 of my own to ask her. Her test is in mid May, so I’ll take questions until May 9th. If you do not clarify if you’d like your identify revealed then I’ll assume you wanted to ask anonymously.
Personal Statements — I’ll accept them again from May 1st until May 20th.
I agreed to take one person past the deadline, so, what’s the point of playing favorites? I understand that some people have some PS emergencies, seeing as how applications open up in June, it would be reasonable for me to open up my reading schedule in May. So, from May 1st until May 20th I will start accepting PS again. So, send them to email@example.com, I’ve dedicated an email for your guys so that they won’t get buried under my other normal work/personal email. While, I won’t actually give any feedback until May 1st, feel free to send them earlier as I would read them earlier and thus have time to give more feedback. Warning, I give very honest feedback =). But, so far the few people last cycle who’s PS that I did critique (and they followed my suggestions) they did in fact matriculate into medical school — I was showered with gifts of kind words — a perfect ending for both of us. While I make no guarantees, I can tell you I’m really vested into you getting in, or rather helping you put your best foot forward so that you can get yourself in.
Overall, same process as last time:
– I’ll read 3 drafts, if you make them within that time frame.
– I will do content/context editing. You’ll have to find yourself a grammar Olympian — but, if I see something outrageous I may make a change. Always have your best mentor/reader do the last check before submitting to the AMCAS, just a FYI.
– Give me 3 business days to respond to your draft, label it Personal Statement, with your name in the title. I’ll use the track changes/comments options in Microsoft Word to make comments, I’ll then return the paper to you for your revisions.
And lastly, I’ve baked cheesecake from scratch
This is probably more of my own personal accomplishment, then anything that benefits you…unless I invite you out to eat. This may happen.
I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by http://www.accepted.com, an organization with a primary goal of helping students apply for graduate programs.
You can find the full interview at their website: http://blog.accepted.com/2014/01/21/a-non-traditional-med-applicants-journey-to-multiple-acceptances/
I would like to thank Sarah Pritzker for a very professional and friendly interview.
Thanks for having me accepted.com.
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.
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:
- Don’t say because I like the location.
- 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
What weight does getting an interview have?
Gaining a coveted invite to a medical school interview is nothing to scuff at, at least that’s what they’ll drill into you when you arrive at the school on interview day. Overall, under 10% of those who apply (this will be a better ratio if you’re in-state, with a few exceptions) land interviews according to the MSAR (Medical School Admissions Requirements). For example in 2012 Boston University received around 10,900 applications (840~ in-state and just over 10,000 from out-of-state), around 20% of those from in-state landed an interview while only 8.6% of out-of-state — ouch. Now, here’s the good news, about 1 out of 5 students who interviewed there ended up matriculating. I know what you’re thinking, that’s still pretty daunting. However, keep in mind that schools send out more offers for admissions than the seats they have to give away, this should be kind of obvious if you consider that many people will get multiple acceptances. So, a school might send out no more than double the offers than the seats offered, but when the dust settles the numbers of those who matriculate to those who are offered spots is different, so don’t let the numbers frighten you. So if we assume that information we can extrapolate that if you interview your changes of getting in are actually about 1 out of 3, and that’s not half bad — especially if you have multiple interviews.
So, if you have an interview celebrate, you passed the weeding out phase of the application process. If you are invited it’s because they already believe you can make it into medical school, and perhaps will even be a stellar medical scholar. Here’s an analogy (stolen from a dean of admissions): if your AMCAS was your online dating profile, the interview is the first date. During this first date, they are not just evaluating you but you should be also evaluating them, after all you’re in for a long committed relationship (and a likely a quarter million in debt). Remember, they already liked you, that’s why you ended up their on interview day. You just need to prove you’re the person they’ve been imagining or perhaps they’re ready to take you in but need to find out just a little more.
What are the formats of the interviews?
In general, there are four types of interviews you’ll encounter on the interview trail:
- Single interviewer (traditional)
- Panel interview (traditional)
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
- Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE, a medically oriented MMI)
Single and Panel interviews
The single and panel interview format will vary by program. Some interviewers will have access to your entire AMCAS application, on the other extreme interviewers may only be allowed to see see your AMCAS essays and class listings without grades and MCAT scores or even letters of recommendation. Whether it’s a single or panel interview it’s important that you pay attention to what information your interviewers are privy to, don’t just assume they believe you’re the golden child as they may know very little about your file by design. Your interviewers may be PhD holding staff at the medical school, physicians, or even medical students. In either event, it’s okay to be cordial and even funny, but keep in mind that it is a professional meeting so leave the self depreciating and late night comic club humor at home. The interviews will typically last about 45 minutes, they may go longer if you and the interviewers hit it off (one of mine went over an hour, we didn’t notice the time). Be ready to discuss just about everything from your childhood to your current family life (if you have started one, note that your parents aren’t your family, you are in THEIR family), to problems in school, to ethical questions and questions border-lining on politics. One of the hardest questions I was asked was “How would you improve the healthcare system?”
I’m not going to write a treatise of all the questions, you’d need a book for that, but in general they’re trying to figure out what exactly makes you tick, why they should take you not only as a student, but also as a colleague. Here’s a plug for a good book that covers the questions you’ll typically hear in one form or another: Why Medicine?: And 500 Other Questions for the Medical School and Residency Interviews, by Sujay Kansagra MD.
The biggest advice I can offer is read up on the school you’re interviewing, know about their philosophy and find 3-5 things you really like that’s unique to their program. And be sure to practice your ‘elevator speech’, know what you wrote on your application to them, and stick to that.
What is MMI and OSCE MMI?
In an effort to screen out the robots applying to medical school many schools have adopted non traditional methods to evaluate you. Both MMI and OSCE MMI toss you into a room with an actor for 5 to 10 minutes after you’ve read about 2 minutes to read a brief prompt prepping you for the situation you’re about to encounter. Your interaction with the actor will be videotaped (very Big Brother like) and your tape will be used to evaluate you as an applicant. The idea here is that it tests your real reactions to situations, as opposed to you running through the laundry list of answers you’ve prefabricated prior to the interview day. Supposedly, this will measure your inter-personal skills and professionalism (as they’re is usually some type of ethical twist involved).
MMI and OSCE MMI differ in the scenarios you’ll encounter. MMI is truly random, it might be a situation where a friend admits to cheating on the exam, or you ‘hit someone’s car’ resulting in the person going off on you. I think schools that practice MMI pride themselves in how differently their MMI is, so with that in mind be ready for anything. I didn’t interview at any schools that had pure random MMI, so my only advice is to pick the moral high road while acknowledging both sides of the argument. On the other hand OSCE MMI, as you might of imagined, will always have a medical context behind it. For example, you’ll pretend to be a doctor and they might give you a small paragraph about the mock patients chief complaint, and you merely need to go in and get a history on them. But don’t be lulled into thinking that’s the end of the story, as there’s usually some type of ethical twist. For example, during your examination on a patient who’s complaining about ankle pain you might surmise that actually they’re a possible drug addict looking for a fix. At that point, it’s up to you to figure out how to take the ethical high road without being a robot — by the way, it’s probably never good to say “Sure, how much do you need?” in this scenario. Just use common sense, don’t worry you don’t need to be a physician or even have much experience in the hospital to handle these, just treat it like it’s the real deal.
In a nutshell…
Interviews aren’t meant to break you, they are there to make you. Always remember it’s a two way street, you’re both evaluating each other. Make sure it’s the program for you, make sure it ‘fits’ you. Do your homework on the school, their new programs, new research, philosophy etc. Ask yourself, would I be happy there? Bring questions to your interviewers, real questions no brown nosing. For example, you want to know if they allow students extra time to prep for boards, what makes their clerkship better than others, or how will they make you a competitive when you’re applying for residency. In otherwords, you need to stop trying to get in, believe you got in, and try to project to the future a medical professional. Must of all, have fun.