By Woodson Smelser, M.D.
You’ve finally made it! You have completed years of university courses, potentially performed research, volunteered, completed diligent studying for the MCAT or other admissions testing, and spent time in the clinical or hospital setting learning what physician work looks like in the real world. Your interview offers have finally begun arriving in your email inbox. You’ve invested time, money, and years. Despite all of this tremendous accomplishment, a voice in your mind reinforces a shadowy doubt: what if I make it all this way and fail the interview.
You are not alone in your doubts. Even when I have personally surveyed the concerns of medical students pursuing the residency match, they share the same concerns as you, even after all of the rigors of medical school. Clearly, many of us driven to pursue a career as a physician caring for others have an intrinsic fear of failure, and this includes fears that we will not perform when it matters most.
Yet, each year, thousands of applicants ace their interviews and succeed in matriculating to medical school. The most successful students have a method to their success. Below are some best practices for preparing for and succeeding on interview day.
First, let me assure you that if you make it to an interview invitation, you have met the institution’s requirements for matriculation, and at this point your application is finally in your hands (and words, and actions on interview day). There are simply too many applicants for medical schools to interview candidates that they feel are inadequate. It is prudent to practice and prepare answers to common questions and scenarios (but don’t sound rehearsed). Almost everyone will lack fluidity and polish in their interview answers without practice. Interview day is not the day to pilot a new answer or response. I highly recommend that you utilize mock interviews at your university if this opportunity is offered. If not, identify a mentor or enlist an expert or paid coach before departing for the interview trail.
Regarding specific interview questions, realize that interviewers mostly want to get to know about you as an individual and your goals. They are usually looking for self-starters with a clear vision of their goals, amicability, and good communication and team work skills. The way you respond to questions often reveals these qualities about you. Interviewers often ask the same types of questions to all applicants. Review a list of the common interview questions and FAQs regarding actual interview day logistics here:
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 reflex responses. Some examples:
- What brought you to this institution and what has kept you here?
- What qualities do you seen in your strongest students?
- What do you enjoy most about teaching medical students?
Additionally, many faculty who interview medical students also interview residency candidates. Here is a list of commonly asked residency interview questions from the American College that some interviewers may ask:
Likewise, below is a link to a great resource directly from a medical school admissions coordinator highlighting additional strategies for success on interview day:
Additionally, I recommend that you look up information about the medical school ahead of time. If you are provided ahead of time with a list of interviewers, research their background and know the landscape regarding where any interviewing faculty trained, what regional or national committees they serve upon, or what major research or publications or clinical guidelines they may have contributed to in recent years. It is better to be prepared with information to guide your conversation and not need to draw upon it than to appear aloof.
Finally, the most important rule for interview day is a simple one: be yourself, be kind, and be humble. Most medical schools are searching for someone who is a team player and will not lose their humanistic characteristics over the next three to four years and thousands of hours of didactics, studying, and clinical learning (Yes, thousands of hours). Once you make it to the interview day, be confident. Your application has already demonstrated your merit. Now you have the chance to prove the admissions process right.