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.