BE PREPARED: Top 9 Med School Interview Questions…and how to master them!
I remember receiving my first medical school interview invitation. I was walking to my dorm room when I heard my phone buzz with the email containing the invitation.
At first, I was excited – I was going to interview for medical school! As I scheduled the interview date though, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I was a senior in college – I had close to zero interview experience!
I knew interviewers would ask me why I wanted to go into medicine, but after that, I had no idea what to expect. Now, on the other side of the process, I realize that most of my interviews were conversations that flowed naturally after one or two interview questions. I did get quite a few questions several times, though, and as the interview season evolved, I developed an approach to answering each type of question.
Before I share my tips with you, I want to emphasize that there is no right way to answer interview questions. This is just the way that worked for me – and I hope it will be helpful to you too. But I encourage you to explore your own options as well. After all, you’re talking about YOU.
1. Tell me about yourself.
Have a one to two minute spiel prepared, highlighting what you think are important aspects about yourself– think about where you grew up, your family and pets, undergraduate major or job, and your favorite club and hobbies. Similar to this question, you might get something like, “Tell me about your hobbies,” or “Tell me about the last book you read.” Be prepared to answer those kinds of “non-medical” related questions. After all, medical schools are interviewing applicants who they want to be enthusiastic, active members of their student body!
2. Why medicine?
In fact, one of my interviewers asked, “If you want to help people, why not go into law and change health policy?” Have a one to two minute, succinct response prepared that details exactly why you want to become a physician. You can pull content from your personal statement – which your interviewer probably read recently – and your meaningful activities. This is a great time to talk, in general, about your shadowing experiences, passion for service, curiosity, dedication, and teamwork skills.
3. Why this program?
While the content of medical education is standardized across the country, the environment and style of the education can be very different. Some schools have a more rural patient population, while others are urban-based. Some schools focus on training primary care physicians, while other schools aim to train clinician investigators. Some programs focus on team-based-learning, others on flipped-classrooms, and yet others on the traditional classroom. Schools have different timing for standardized tests, and different flexibility for taking time off. Do this research ahead of time, and figure out what are the pros and cons of each school you apply to. Be prepared to talk up the pros!
4. What will you do if you are not accepted to medical school this year?
Aside from saying “apply again in one or two years, after improving my application” make sure you do have a concrete plan in place – only 40% of applicants get accepted to a U.S. allopathic school. Bonus points if your backup plan lands you in a service industry (for example, teaching), a healthcare setting (for example, a medical scribe or technician), or in a lab (for example, a research assistant).
5. Tell me more about XYZ on your application.
Know your application inside out. Be prepared to speak in more detail about everything on your application. If you wrote about participating in Boy Scouts, be ready to elaborate more about it. If you referred to a foreign language club, expect to have to talk about why you’re interested in it, how it has helped you grow, and what you have given back to the club.
6. Tell me about a time you failed.
This question can be phrased in many ways: tell me about a time you were criticized, tell me about a time you let someone down, tell me about a bad decision you made, etc.
These failures don’t have to be huge, but they do need to be meaningful. I recommend against talking about coming second in a swim meet or failing a test – instead, talk about something that you actively grew from. We all have things we did in the past that we feel guilty about as adults, whether it is making fun of a peer who didn’t have that many friends or ditching a friend in need to study. And most of us recognized we felt awful afterwards, and reflected deeply on the incident, resolving never to act in such a way again. It expanded our perspective, and made us better people. This question is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are capable of accepting justified blame/criticism and growing from the experience – don’t waste it!
7. Tell me about a conflict you experienced.
Although you may feel you don’t really have conflict with anyone (congratulations!), I urge you not to tell the interviewer, “Well, that hasn’t really ever happened. I get along with everyone.” Why? Because everyone has experienced conflict in some form.
Reflect back on group projects, club leadership, or even living with a sibling. Don’t use an example where you are clearly in the right and the other person is in the wrong (for example: a racist family member). Instead, use this question to demonstrate that (1) you are capable of seeing two sides of a situation and that (2) you have strong interpersonal skills. Don’t just talk about the conflict from your perspective, explain why the other person had a differing point of view, and talk about how you two resolved the issue.
8. The ethical dilemma.
There are several of these. There is a Jehovah’s Witness, who desperately needs a blood transfusion to live, but does not wish to receive one. There are two people who need a liver transplant and you only have one liver available– the two candidates are an old lady who has contributed to society and a twenty year old drug addict. What do you do?
There are literally hundreds of these ethical dilemmas (you can easily search them online), and there’s a simple way to think through them. And if none of the below approaches seems to work, it is okay to acknowledge it is a difficult situation and to ask for a minute to think about it (although don’t take too long!).
1. Remember that the patient has autonomy. As long as they are of sound mind and sound body, what they say goes. There is an exception if the patient is a child and the parent is refusing treatment, but in that case you first speak with the parents, and understand why they are refusing treatment. For both adults and children, offer alternative solutions that may be more desirable to them.
2. Treat healthcare as a right, but acknowledge the costs of medicine. That sick adult without health insurance definitely deserves care, but you should be aware that medical care is expensive. Work to get that patient insurance and make sure that they do not fall out of care again!
3. Don’t be judgmental. Someone’s past doesn’t predict their future.
9. What questions do you have for me?
Have some questions prepared that you can ask anyone and that cannot be answered off the school website – it shows that you are interested in the school and that you did your homework before the interview. Asking the interviewer why she likes the school, how the school has changed since she’s been there, the direction she sees the school going, and how responsive the school is to student input are all appropriate questions that not only assess if you think the school is going to be a good fit for you, but also allows the interviewer to show off institution highlights.
10. Practice, practice, practice!
Ultimately, the best advice I can give anyone preparing for an interview is to practice. If your university offers mock interviews, take advantage of them. Have your friends and family conduct mock interviews, and listen seriously to their critiques. Draft and re-draft your answers to common interview questions until you’re satisfied with them– I had a document with (no joke) thirty-seven potential questions and how I would answer them, filled with succinct but specific examples.
To start you off, the University of Colorado has a great list of interview questions, and questions students wished that they had asked schools during their interview day (after all, you are interviewing the institution at the same time that the institution is interviewing you!). In addition, Student Doctor Network has an Interview Feedback section, in which students post comments about the interview day and specific questions they were asked at particular institutions in the past – it’s a wonderful resource for any applicant, so make use of it if you can!
Last but not least, if you are looking for professional support, our sister company Admit Advantage provides intensive interview prep and other admissions coaching services for medical school applicants.
With that, I wish you the best of luck with the upcoming interview season!
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