The ProspectiveDoctor Podcast

Podcast Episode 25: Traditional Medical School Interview

Because it’s medical school interview season, Dr. Ziggy Yoediono wanted to give you a perspective on how to ace traditional medical school interviews. This is based on his experience of having done admissions interviews for Duke School of Medicine and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as for one of Harvard’s psychiatry residency programs.

Because Dr. Ziggy saw the same fundamental problems repeatedly when he interviewed applicants, he has framed advice as the 4 P’s for Acing Traditional Medical School Interviews.

4 P’s for Acing Traditional Medical School Interviews


  • The 1st P is POINT in that many applicants don’t take the time to understand the real point of an interview question and often end up answering it incorrectly.
  • For every question you’re asked, it’s good to ask yourself: “What are they trying to learn about me through this question?”
  • In general, the point of a question is to help the interviewer understand what makes you uniquely qualified and why their school best fits you.
  • Misinterpretation is often seen with this very popular medical school interview question: Why do you want to attend our school?
    • Applicants usually misinterpret this question to mean, “What makes our school great” and therefore focus on the school’s various strengths instead of their own.
  • When I was a Yale College alumnus interviewer, I dreaded asking applicants why they wanted to attend Yale because I almost always got variations of the same response: “I want to go to Yale because it has a great reputation, strong academics and I like its unique residential college system.
  • The problem with focusing on a school’s strengths is that you’re basically doing an infomercial about the school instead of one about yourself, which also means that you are conveying to the interviewer that you didn’t take the time to research and figure out why their school is the perfect fit for you.
  • If applicants took the time to ask themselves, “What are they trying to learn about me through this question,” they would understand that one of the main points of the Why do you want to attend our school question is, “How will our school help you advance or achieve your goals?”
  • And as a result, their answer would be different. Yes, they would mention some great things about the school, but they would be within the context of how these strengths would help them advance or achieve their goals.
  • For example:
    • Let’s say that you’re interested in medicine because you’re passionate about women’s health and more specifically, breast cancer prevention research – which you’ve done during college.
    • And let’s say that one of the medical schools you’re interviewing at is Duke. You do in-depth research about Duke beforehand and learn about Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which is considered cutting edge because it’s focused on accelerating scientific discoveries into health benefits for the public.
    • Therefore, in your response about why you want to attend Duke, rather than just discussing how unique and amazing the institute is, discuss specifically how this institute would help you advance your breast cancer prevention research.


  • The 2nd P is PROOF in that most applicants tend to make too many general declarations about themselves while not providing enough proof.
  • And this problem is most commonly seen with another popular medical school interview question: What are your greatest strengths?
  • In general, applicants tend to respond along the lines of “I consider myself a leader because I am vice president of The Social Impact Club. My responsibilities include X Y Z. One project I spearheaded was distributing winter clothes to people in need. It was an amazing experience.”
  • While this is a decent response, the problem is that there isn’t enough proof. This is the kind of answer that everyone gives.
  • The other reason applicants don’t include enough details is because they include too many examples of whatever it is that they’ve declared about themselves – usually that they’re a leader or team player – because they think there’s a correlation between number of examples and degree of proof. As a consequence, they are failing to distinguish themselves from all the other highly qualified applicants.
  • What you need to do is pick a few meaningful examples and bring them to life with relevant details.
  • And to figure out these relevant details, it once again goes back to understanding the point of the question.
  • For the “What are your greatest strengths” question – of course, one of the main points is to demonstrate leadership. But then you need to go deeper and ask yourself: How would leadership be defined? Most people would agree that leadership means demonstrating passion and commitment, overcoming challenges and growing and getting results.
  • Just by doing this, it becomes much easier to figure out what details to include.
  • So for that student who is VP of his social impact club, a stronger response would be “I consider myself a leader because I am the VP of The Social Impact Club, which I’ve been involved with since freshman year. Last year I spearheaded an initiative focused on distributing winter clothes to lower socioeconomic families from our town. Initially, we tried to get donations from our classmates, but we were unable to get many. Therefore, we re-strategized our approach and focused on local apparel businesses. As a result, we were able to get enough clothes to help ten families.”
  • While this response still has room for improvement, it’s a much stronger start.


  • By now you may be thinking to yourself: There’s no way I can evaluate the point of a question and then come up with such a comprehensive, evidence-based response on the spur of the moment.
  • The good news is you don’t have to if you do the 3rd P: Prepare! As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So before every medical school interview, prepare by doing the following:
    • First, research the medical school in-depth. By that, I mean don’t just skim a few sections on the medical school’s website. Read, analyze and understand everything possible on website and even beyond about the medical school. Doing so not only enables you to answer questions in more detail, but also enables you to ask more detailed questions.
    • Second, anticipate the most commonly asked medical school interview questions and make sure you understand the point of them. At a minimum you should prepare for questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to be a doctor,” “Why do you want to attend our school,” “What are your greatest strengths” and “What questions do you have for me.”
      • You can’t anticipate all of them and if you’re asked one where you need time to think, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I just need a moment to think about it.”
    • Third, for each question, brainstorm, write down, revise and finalize detailed responses.
  • Later on, be able to access your finalized responses so that you can review them right before the actual interview.
  • Yes, all of this takes a lot of work. But your extra effort will help differentiate you from the thousands of other highly qualified applicants.


  • The last P is Practice – which is a form of preparation.
  • Many applicants believe that because they’re talking about themselves, they don’t need to practice. After all, who knows them better than themselves? No one. However, there’s a big difference between knowing about yourself and being able to skillfully talk about yourself.

It’s important to do mock interviews with someone who can give you feedback in terms of content, organization and behavior. For instance: Did you actually answer the question? And if so, was it concise or did you ramble? Did you say, “Ummm” too much? Did you have good eye contact? Was your handshake strong enough? It’s hard to know this if you’re doing it yourself.

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