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Inspiring Vs. Impressing the Admissions Committee

We recently spoke with Dr. Aubrey Jordan about how to approach the medical school interview with the goal of inspiring the admissions committee rather than trying to impress them with your achievements. Dr. Jordan attended the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as a part of their Master’s of Health Science in Reproductive and Cancer Biology program and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where she served on the admissions committee among many other research and curricular commitments. She gave us some insight into the mind of an admissions committee member and the specific reasons as to why they may have chosen to interview you. Ultimately, the interviewer wants to connect with the student and hopes to leave the interview feeling more energetic and inspired than before. Find out more below!

As we transition into interview season, applicants should be well served to treat themselves well. Beyond the common adages to integrate one’s physical and mental health as a priority during this busy time, reconnecting with the source and strength of one’s inspiration for becoming a physician is an incredibly fruitful and sustaining interview season commitment.

While practicing answers to common interview questions and participating in mock interviews are essential aspects of interview preparation, fueling and refueling one’s inspiration can lead to a more – well, inspired – interview day performance. It is essential for all applicants to realize that although each applicant has only one moment in the spotlight at each individual program, the interviewer they sit across from has often been interviewing multiple applicants, multiple days a week, for many weeks, sometimes year after year. Placing oneself in the interviewer’s position is an especially beneficial mental exercise.

Let’s try this exercise now. You are an assistant professor at a medical school in the department of medicine. Over the past few years you have begun teaching components of the first year physiology course and have joined the pool of faculty interviewers for the school’s admissions committee. It is December and interview season is about halfway through. Your schedule for the day includes a morning of interviewing prospective students followed by a full afternoon of outpatient internal medicine clinic.

Can you picture commuting to work? Walking into the medical school offices? The pace of clinic in the afternoon? Try to add elements of each of the five senses to your mental imagery of the experience of the interviewer’s day. Stop reading and attempt to spend two minutes constructing additional levels of detail to the experience you are imagining.

Then ask yourself the following questions – as the interviewer – and write down the first phrases, words, or feelings that come to your mind:

-What made you interested to meet an applicant while reviewing their application file prior to their arrival?

-Describe the applicants who left you feeling more energetic and inspired after the interview than when it began.

-What idea, thought, or experience related to you by an interviewee will you discuss with your partner over dinner tonight?

-What will be the shared characteristic of interviewees whom you remember readily at the end of an entire interview season?

The answers to these questions are often quite surprising to the applicant who had been preparing to impress interviewers but might now see how key it is to actually focus on inspiring interviewers.

While impressing interviewers fosters appreciation for the difficulty and value of what the applicant has achieved, inspiring interviewers fosters a shared experience of awe, empathy, possibility, or innovation during the discussion of a particular interview topic. One of the most common vehicles that medical school interviewers use to create a space for connection and inspired exchange are the questions, “What are you reading now?” or “What excites you about working in medicine over the next ten years?” Most applicants will be asked some version of one of these questions on interview day. Also, remember that medical schools attempt to have applicants meet several different members of the school community during interview day because they understand that it is the composite impression developed among interviewers that is most predictive of applicant fit. Expect to connect with varying levels of success to different interviewers throughout the day.

So, take heed: read. Actively seek new inspiration daily. Do not attempt to read what you think you should be reading. Instead, pick up the books and articles that you can’t resist. As an applicant, you have the advantage of being in a life stage where you are actively seeking entrance to a career that you believe is your calling. The promise of spending your life in service to this calling has inspired you through the many hurdles of getting to this point in the application process. Capitalize on this inspiration during the interview day by infecting your interviewers with it as well.  

About Lucy Dilworth

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