You made it! You completed years of pre-med courses, clinical work, research, volunteer work, shadowing medical practitioners in the real world, and the MCAT. Finally, your interview invitations are arriving in your inbox. Now it’s time to prepare for your medical school interviews.
You’ve invested time, money, and years of your life into this day. Despite the tremendous amount you’ve accomplished to date, a voice in your mind reinforces a shadowy doubt: what if I made it all this way and fail at the medical school interview?
You’re not alone.
Many pre-meds driven to pursue a career in caring for others have an intrinsic fear of failure, and this includes fears that we won’t perform when it matters most. Yet each year, thousands of applicants ace the interview process and succeed in matriculating to medical school. You can be one of them!
The most successful students have a method for their success on interview day, whether that day is virtual or in-person. Everything you need to know to prepare for and succeed on interview day is detailed here.
Table of contents
The Purpose of Medical School Interviews
The purpose of the in-person interview is for admissions officers to get to know who you are as an individual and learn if you’re a candidate likely to excel, both in medicine in general and at their school in particular. Interviewers look for self-starters with clear vision, amicability, teamwork and good communication skills. The way you respond to questions often reveals these qualities about you.
Interviews aren’t just meant to see if you’re intelligent and likely to get decent grades. AdComs are also looking for an indication of how your vision, unique experiences, and passions align with the mission of their institution.
What does it mean if you get a medical school interview?
Getting an interview means you can feel confident your personal statement and secondary essay were compelling enough to suggest you might be a good fit for the school. It isn’t a guarantee of acceptance — far from it — but it’s an encouraging sign.
What percentage of med school interviewees get accepted?
The percentage of med school interviewees who get accepted varies from school to school. In general, somewhere between 25-50% of interviewees are accepted to any given institution.
We recommend researching the acceptance rates at the schools you apply to so you can gauge how competitive the process will be compared to other schools. You can find this information for each medical school in MSAR.
Types of Interviews
There are 2 primary medical school interview formats: traditional interviews and multiple mini-interviews.
A traditional interview is a 30-minute, one-on-one interview with questions focused on your experience and credentials.
Multiple mini-interviews (MMI) consist of 6 to 10 stations with different interviewers asking you clinical scenario questions. Each station lasts about 8 minutes. MMIs are used to gain insight into an applicant’s professionalism, moral judgment, and interpersonal skill competencies.
While much of the advice in this guide is applicable to both types of interviews, skip to the end of this article for MMI-specific interview tips.
Before the Interview
Start with Research
When preparing for a traditional interview, start by researching that medical school. Find specific reasons why you want to go there. If there’s a research project or certain clinic you’re interested in, do your best to make it personal to you.
Read everything you can find on the school’s website. Know the curriculum well, including what makes it unique. Seek out how the institution’s mission plays out in their students and alumni by looking at the social media accounts of current and former students. Learn what kinds of students the school is looking for, from research experience to specific extracurriculars to specific groups they want to serve (for instance, learn if the institution seeks to provide healthcare to an underserved minority group in their metro).
Find out about any major changes coming to the campus, and look into student groups, research, or volunteer activities students take part in. You are bound to come up with specific questions about the program during this process, which interviewers love to hear.
If you are provided with a list of your interviewers: research their background, where they trained, what regional or national committees they serve on, or what major research, publications, or clinical guidelines they contributed to in recent years. Use their background to spark conversation.
Prepare Answers to Common Questions
It is important to prepare answers to common questions, but don’t memorize a speech or entire paragraphs. If you are anxious, you could easily forget what you want to say entirely. If the interviewer wants to discuss something further, it could throw off the rhythm of your prepared speech. It is much more effective to prepare a few bullet points for common questions.
What are some examples of common medical school interview questions?
Some examples of common medical school interview questions are:
- Why do you want to attend this medical school? (Why here?)
- Why do you want to become a physician? (Why medicine?)
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Tell me about a particularly memorable patient you’ve seen.
They’ll have some of this information from your application and secondary essays, but this is a chance to flesh out the details and get practical. Surprisingly, one of the most common questions asked on interview day is, “What questions do you have for me?” Some interviews consist of only this question.
Be prepared with a short list of questions to ask your interviewers. For example:
- What brought you to this institution, and what has kept you here?
- What qualities do you see in your strongest students?
- What do you enjoy most about teaching medical students?
Other questions you could ask might focus on initiatives, specific departments that pique your interest, or common dilemmas faced by students at that institution.
Our Physician Advisors can help you prepare a world-class application, support you during secondaries writing, and conduct mock interviews to get you ready for interviews. Students who work with us have double the chance of acceptance as the average med school applicant!
Know Your CV
Student groups, clinical experience, volunteer projects, extracurriculars, hobbies — anything mentioned during the application process, from your CV to your personal statement, is fair game for interviewers. Make sure you have specific details and a story to go along with each aspect.
More importantly, find ways that these experiences tie back to how they made you a better student, team player, and future doctor. At the end of the day, those are things that can really make you stand out to medical school admissions officers.
The interviewers are your future colleagues. They want to see if you are someone they’ll enjoy working with. Connecting with your interviewer over a hobby or passion outside of work or school can be a great way to become memorable.
Review Current Events
Read up on recent events relating to health care and health policy. As a pre-med student, you are not expected to be a health policy expert, but being able to have a conversation about your future profession is important. For instance, pre-meds in the mid/late 20s need to understand the basics of how AI advancements are likely to impact medicine in the next few years.
That’s just a single example of massive changes that affect medicine each year!
They may also ask you a medical ethics question, so be prepared for that as well.
Spend Ample Time Preparing
The medical school interview is one of the most important and influential pieces of your application. Yet it also becomes the pitfall of many otherwise competitive applicants. Often, applicants don’t put the necessary time into preparing for the interview, opting to “wing it” and treat it like just another conversation.
However, being a social and likable person does not always translate into a successful interview. You need to be comfortable responding to questions in an appropriate way, have certain answers prepared in advance, and do all of that while being nervous for what could be one of the most important days of your life. Remember, the anxiety you feel during high-stakes situations require a higher level of preparation than an average day.
Mock Interview Prep
The best way to feel fully prepared for an interview is to practice. Take advantage of mock interviews offered by your university’s career center, if available. Even having a friend interview you can be a helpful way to get feedback on things such as body language — especially if you have a friend in the field of medicine.
Professional interview preparation with an admissions consultant like MedSchoolCoach can really take your interview game to a new level.
During your mock interview, practice eliminating “like” and “umm” from your vocabulary. And remember, it’s ok to stop and think for a moment before answering.
Avoid Sounding Scripted or Robotic
As important as interview preparation is, you do not want to sound like a robot reading from a script. It is important to come across as confident and well-prepared, but remember that the interview is also a conversation, and the interviewer is judging your interpersonal, soft skills in addition to your story, passions, and experiences.
By the time you are being interviewed, your medical school application has already been screened by at least one or two members of the admissions committee. They know you have the MCAT scores and experience to be successful at their school. What the committee does not know is whether you can hold a conversation, have a good “bedside manner,” and express yourself well.
During the Interview
Nail Your First Impression
Many people believe that in any interview, the most important phase is the first 10 seconds. This is no different for medical school interviews. How you dress, your handshake, eye contact, and how you smile when you meet someone can all impact the interviewer’s perception of you and your interview performance.
Remember that medicine is a service industry; people want a good doctor who can smile and be friendly. Similarly, an interviewer will come away with a better impression if you can smile and make eye contact while talking to them. Just don’t force a fake smile and stare at the interviewer for 30 minutes straight. Find a balance.
As for the dress code, being professional and conservative is the safest way to go.
Listen to each question and answer what was asked, not what you think they want to hear. It’s important to make sure your attention is directed to the specific question being asked, as every question is not an invitation to explain why you want to be a doctor.
Although it’s important to get all the information you want across, always answer the question directly and concisely first before introducing another topic.
You do not need to show off accomplishments when asked questions such as, “What is your favorite thing to do?” or “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Simply be genuine and convey things that matter to you.
Former medical school interviewer Joseph Knox, MD, shares his insights:
“One of my favorite applicants I ever interviewed discussed her passion for traveling the world when I asked her what she was passionate about. I could see it in her eyes and body language how much she loved this subject.”
Many applicants have an inclination to weave their accomplishments into their interviews. However, what really makes a student stand out when describing their activities is their emotional connection to them. The activity doesn’t exactly matter; it’s more about how you describe it.
If you are going to talk about your research experience, don’t merely describe what you did but rather what motivates you and makes you excited to perform it.
As Dr. Knox puts it:
“Your accomplishments got you the interview, now I want to know more about you as a genuine individual. Passion is incredibly important in medicine as it takes hard work and dedication to continue to be a well-rounded person with the rigors of medical school. Medical schools are looking for these type of individuals.”
Be yourself — speak honestly and with conviction. Relax and practice with your family members, friends, mentors, professional services, and coaches. Practice in front of a mirror to see how you look and sound when answering questions.
Dr. Knox has been there, too.
“I know interviews can be incredibly anxiety-provoking and intimidating. How is it possible to be yourself during the seemingly most important moment of your life? Having been through it all and having a peek behind the admission process, I will tell you that the admissions interview is only one facet of a large application. And while it is important, try not to stress about being the most impressive person ever.”
Medical schools are trying to get to know you better and to see if you are a good fit for their program. If you are an introvert, it is okay to be quieter. If you are an extrovert, it is fine to be louder. The important thing is that you are comfortable being yourself.
Dr. Knox explains:
“It is obvious to interviewers when applicants are trying too hard to come off a certain way and this looks worse than being reserved. I do not mean that you should be detached or casual, but it is okay to let your true personality shine through. We want to see the person behind the application. The interview is your only chance to show yourself as a truly complex, unique individual.”
Show Interest in the Interviewer and School
Prepare specific questions in advance that pertain to each medical school you’ll interview with. General questions like “How happy are students here?” and “How much free time is there to study?” are fine to use, but be sure to include specific questions, as well.
Do your research online to see what the focus of the medical school is and demonstrate that you have done this through your questions. Spend significant time on this research, especially for your top schools.
When Dr. Knox interviewed applicants, he found it encouraging when potential students made steps to connect with him on a personal level.
“Interviewers can tell how much you know about the school. It is impressive if you are able to ask specific and tailored questions. Be sure to show interest in your interviewer. I always appreciate when applicants try to get to know me better. Not just my past accomplishments, but things that I like to do outside of medical school. Finding a common connection to your interviewer is a great way to score brownie points. And while it may seem obvious, I have seen many applicants seem one-sided in the interview in which they only wanted to talk about themselves.”
Avoid Saying “To Be Honest” or “Honestly”
These phrases imply that everything else you’ve said is not entirely sincere. Rephrase statements to avoid suggesting you’ve been withholding or dishonest.
This might be the most important advice given here. This is important for two reasons. First, no interviewer wants to root for the arrogant or obnoxious student. If you give off the impression of a know-it-all, chances are the interviewer is going to look for every reason to deny your admission.
If you come off as a humble and rooted individual, the interviewer will naturally want to help you get in. Secondly, it is important to stay humble during the preparation phase. During mock interviews, you must learn to take criticism. If you don’t, you will either not learn from constructive criticism, or nobody will want to point out your flaws.
After the Interview
The faculty members who conduct interviews do so voluntarily. The interviewee should thank whoever interviews him or her, both at the end of the interview and through a follow-up letter. If you are doing an MMI and meeting multiple interviewers, thank each of them specifically for taking the time to interview you.
Learn more on how to construct the perfect interview thank you note.
Preparing for Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
If you’re preparing for multiple mini-interviews, don’t be intimidated by the idea of clinical scenarios. You are not being tested on your medical knowledge. You are tested on your skill in analyzing problems objectively, recognizing ethical issues, and using available resources. Most often, the clinical information is present to acquire more information, for example, you may verbalize contacting other physicians about the patient’s diagnosis.
The best way to prepare for the MMI is to review multiple mini interview practice questions and run through mock interviews with an expert.
Help From the Experts in Medical School Interviews
The interview is a brief snapshot for the person sitting across from you to decide if you have what it takes to be a student at their school of medicine. Every minute counts.
Make your interviewer’s job easy — work with former AdComs and Physician Advisors with thousands of hours of interview prep experience.