What are the qualities that make an excellent medical school interview? Of course, it is necessary to be polite, professional, prepared, and articulate. But as an interviewer, I am looking to see that med school applicants are determined, engaged, and convey a strong and genuine commitment to medicine.
I rarely ask the prototypical interview questions. I do not care which historical figures you would like to invite for dinner. Instead, I strive to dive deeper into the interviewee’s essays, interests, and experiences. Below are five pieces of advice to make a strong impression in an interview.
Establish Your Med School & Personal Goals, but Recognize They May Change
You probably have not decided on the precise subspecialty that you’ll be practicing 20 years from now, but odds are that you are applying to medical school to achieve more than a degree. In general, the most immediate objective is to apply to residency programs, and the majority of applicants are already considering which residency programs they may be interested in. While you are expected to explore various fields once in medical school, clearly conveying a singular focus during your interview reinforces your motivation for pursuing a medical degree. Goal setting is important in all aspects of life and is a powerful driving force for success. Even if your interests shift and evolve over time, the act of having a clear and attainable goal—whatever it may be—provides the framework and motivation to work hard and overcome challenges.
Present Your Extracurricular Activities With Meaning and Purpose
I spend a lot of time during med school interviews asking “why?” I am not satisfied in only hearing what applicants learned from their experiences, but I want to understand the reasons why med school applicants chose to participate in certain endeavors in the first place. It is very important to me that interviewees have selected their activities out of genuine interest and excitement, and not simply to fulfill a nebulous requirement. This speaks to one’s overall sincerity and motivations. For each activity, you describe in your application, be able to tell a story that goes beyond what you presented and includes both what prompted you to pursue that experience as well as its lasting impact.
Take Credit for Your Work, but Don’t Hesitate to Admit What You Don’t Know Everything About Being a Doctor
When describing your activities, focus the story around yourself. For example, when describing a research project, after describing the necessary background information, emphasize what you did to contribute to the project. Your contribution during a summer research experiment may seem small in comparison to the broader scope of the project, but it was meaningful and interesting to you and should be presented as such. Never downplay your contribution to a project or activity. Always be proud of your work and take responsibility and credit for your efforts. At the same time, how you respond to a question to which you do not know the answer often has a greater impact than what you do know. Acknowledging the question and clearly stating that it is beyond the scope of your role in the activity (or that you simply cannot recall) will invariably make a good impression.
Be Prepared to Defend Your Ideas Like It’s an Emergency
Many applicants are critical of the American medical and political systems in their essays, and it is great to see applicants who are excited about making a difference. However, any statements may be fairly challenged in an interview. I look to see that applicants have considered multiple viewpoints on an issue and can support their arguments substantively and respectfully. In addition, all public social media and public statements may be considered and discussed, so I suggest reviewing (and edit as necessary) your social media postings and be prepared to defend your ideas to someone who may hold an opposing viewpoint.
Demonstrate a Genuine Interest in the Medical Institution
A secondary goal of the med school interview is to look for applicants whose interests and goals align well with the curriculum and opportunities available at the institution. Medical schools aim to select applicants that are not only the most qualified but will get the most out of the education at a particular school. I especially appreciate it when applicants clearly took the time to read about the breadth of opportunities at the school, and even talk to current students beforehand. This is most apparent when I offer to answer any questions at the end of the interview, which is a great opportunity to reinforce one’s interest in attending the institution. Interviewees should strive to emphasize what makes the institution unique. This could be a very specific research program or a unique combination of more general factors.
With these five suggestions, you are bound to make a strong and lasting impression during your interview which will help you to secure a spot at the medical school of your choice. Until then examine what else medical schools are looking for.
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