Applying to Medical SchoolInterviews

Confessions of a Medical School Interviewer

Dr. San Martin describes what admissions committee members such as himself were looking for from prospective medical school students during their med school interview.

“Wow! I got invited for a medical school interview. Now what?”

First of all, congratulations. You have invested years of education, effort and expense to be in this position. You will likely have had to juggle your class schedule or work hours to be here at a time you did not choose. You may have experienced travel and lodging costs to be here today.

What follows is not a to-do map, but a guide as to the recollections of my year on the medical school admissions committee. I was fortunate to have been selected to be as a full voting student member during my second year of training. I hope that some of these thoughts will give you some comfort, answer some questions and give you some ideas for the time when you will present yourself for this most important event.

When I meet with you, I am not doing you a favor in conducting the interview. I will be as interested in selecting the best and most qualified candidates for my school as you are in being admitted. I already know that the long selection process has determined that you are among the top of the candidate pool. During my first year of school, we had students drop out because they could not handle the stress or the academics. What a waste of a position that could have been offered to many other deserving persons. Before I recommend you, my priority is to try to be sure that you will make the effort to graduate on schedule and to be an excellent representative of our institution.

As we all know, first impressions are important. Do not try to shock me with your individualistic dress modes. Dress in accordance of the importance of the event. As I said, I will know that you are in the top percentage of your class. I want to know if you would be a good fit for our particular school. Show some respect for our school. Do your research. Know its history. Some institutions pride themselves for having the highest number of heads of departments at the top tier programs. Some are known for producing the best researchers, and others, the best clinicians.

Yes, you should be interviewing us as well. Do we offer the education you are looking for? Do we have outreach clinics? Do we provide the opportunity for you to explore real world work with doctors in your anticipated fields? So we offer overseas exchange training or an M.D. combined PhD path if that is your interest?

I will not ask much about your GPA unless it is below expected. Then, I will want to know if you began your academic journey with significant disadvantages. But be honest. We can verify everything.

I had never interviewed a legacy applicant whose family had recently donated a building to the school, so I would expect that for everyone else, this process would include some level of stress. I would do all I could to make you comfortable. Since you are sitting with me, you can be sure that I have reviewed your GPA, MCAT and any letters of recommendation. Letters are not always required, but I would suggest you do get one if they are accepted. I found them very helpful. Of course, they do not have to be from a teacher. Your family physician, clergy or even a family member can have much to contribute.

It is no secret that it is expected that you have some interests other that academics. I would ask about your social life, hobbies, such as sports or music interests, language skills, family history, and important civic engagements. Not everyone is suited to volunteer at the homeless soup kitchen. Some will make excellent little league assistants or after-school tutors for the local schools. You can be sure that your choices would be considered. I will guide you with questions, but expect that throughout the interview, you should be doing most of the talking.

Our school valued diversity. If you are applying having followed a straight academic path with no work experience, be sure that you would be in the great majority of your class and not at all at a disadvantage. My class included a significant group that had taken a different path such as former military, nurses, dentists, optometrists, engineers, teachers, single parents and even an ordained member of the clergy. If yours is a special story, I would want to know it.

Be prepared for the inevitable question, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” I would give you no grief for “I want to help people.” I heard that many times, but would expect more. Did a person or experience inspire you? Were you always a science nerd? Is there a family medical tradition? Are you the first in your family to have traveled the educational path this far? Do you value the flexibility of a medical degree?

You might want to choose clinical work as most do, but you could also entertain being a teacher, researcher, scientist, administrator or even entrepreneur. One of our students enrolled to improve his candidacy for astronaut training. Tell us what are your goals?

You will usually not know who will be your interviewer until the day of the event. If available, resist the possible advice of current students, you might mingle with, to tailor your discussion to the supposed likes or specialty field of your interviewer. Just sell the special person that you are and what you propose to do with your degree.

At our institution, you would have at least two interviews. You would get a numerical grade for multiple categories, from academics to communication, as well as the previously mentioned categories. Your score would be the average of all the interviews. The results would then be presented to a subcommittee who would make the final determinations based on the highest scores.

When we conclude the interview, I would sincerely wish you well, having shared with you the efforts of the application progress, the stress of the wait for the hoped for letter of acceptance, the possibilities of the wait-list, and the dread of the rejection letter. But if the degree is the only option you see for yourself, do not hesitate to reapply. If it is not, there will be many other fulfilling paths to your future.

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