A non-traditional medical student applicant who has either completed a graduate degree or once had another career prior to their pursuit of medicine, will need to have a different approach altogether to the medical school interview than a traditional student. Reframing your emotions and thought processes about your journey to medicine to realize that said journey gives you a very unique advantage over the traditional medical school applicant. Once you understand and fully embrace the tools you already have in your wheelhouse as a result of your life experiences – the medical school interview process should become the least stressful part of the journey to medical school entrance.
As a non-traditional student, your path to medical school was a unique one that may have been filled with twists and turns that a traditional medical school applicant may never have experienced. Anticipate questions about weaknesses, especially if your path has some bumps along the road. Be sincere, but do not focus on any previous failures or challenges. Instead, be honest about your vulnerabilities, but highlight the fact that these experiences have given you unique strength, assets and perspective. The key is to show why medicine is right for you, not why you dislike your prior background or career. Use your story to show your incredible evolution!
Your strengths are maturity, drive, visionary dedication; eagerness to engage with new opportunities and resilience, to name a few, and those qualities should be highlighted during the interview process. Your medical school interview should ultimately be your platform to portray to the medical schools “What would make you a great doctor?”
Highlight your life experiences; give concrete examples that demonstrate factors or events that have personally confirmed and re-confirmed your choice to become a physician. Show how the skills you already gathered during your life, is highly valuable in medicine and how they will contribute to your excellence as a physician. Basically – embrace your past and use it to your advantage!
Just like many medical schools accept students of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds; people from different age groups with more advanced levels of work experience are vital, too. Medical schools realize this fact and enthusiastically search for applicants that will allow for a diverse class with many different and distinctive voices in the room.
Your life experience will contribute to the doctor that you will ultimately become, because the way that people think is largely based on their environment, life experience and educational background. Our decisions – even medical decisions – are loaded with our perceptions and biases from these prior experiences. As a non-traditional medical applicant, your life journey allows you to easily connect, with empathy, with many different types of patients and people. People who themselves, may lead lives that are very different from the average physician.
Physicians who have had other careers and/or life experiences can provide valuable leadership and customer service experience. This is an important point, since medicine is more and more becoming focused on patient satisfaction scores, which is in essence, a reflection good customer service. Medical schools, understanding the public’s changing expectations of professionalism, compassion, and personalized care that reflects superior customer service; will actively work to fill their classes with students who possess the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills necessary to become an effective physician in today’s shifting healthcare climate.
No matter what your background or the journey that lead you to Medicine – remember to always end the interview with optimism about the future impact you envision your unique skills as a non-traditional student will allow you to share with your patients. And remember to emphasize what you hope to accomplish in your medical career using the unique tools you already have in your wheelhouse. Happy Interviewing!
By Renee Allen