By Jen Lee
Medical schools receive hundreds of applications per year, and admission committees have the difficult task of sorting through portfolios of many qualified candidates to find those they would like to get to know through in-person interviews. So what does it mean once you (an applicant) get an interview? Do these interviews truly matter? Could they make or break your chances of getting into medical school? Should you invest time and energy into preparing for interviews? The answer is absolutely yes. Interviews are an essential component of the medical school application process and, when they go well, your chances of acceptance into medical school increase dramatically.
Through talking with admission directors of medical schools and program directors of residency programs, it has become evident that interviews are one of the most important factors that will determine if an applicant is accepted into their program. Once an applicant has made it past the difficult initial screen and is invited for an interview, he or she is on the same “playing field” as other applicants, with grades and other activities taking a backseat to the interview. By this point, the applicant has already impressed the program enough to secure an interview, and now the program wants to see what type of person this applicant is off-paper and whether he or she will fit in with the program. If applicants are able to connect with interviewers and convey their dedication to medicine, show they are team-players, and express their genuine desire to care for others, then their chances of getting into medical school will be higher. But how can you convey those qualities during a brief interview? How can you separate yourself from other candidates? There are many ways that one can successfully prepare for an interview. Below are my 3 top suggestions, which have helped me and individuals, whom I have mentored, to successfully navigate this interview process.
1) Practice, practice, practice
You want to go into an interview feeling confident and ready to answer any question. In order to gain that confidence, you need to practice. Practice answering a wide range of questions from the traditional questions such as “tell me about yourself” to the ethical questions including “how do you feel about euthanasia or medically assisted suicide”? There are multiple online resources that have “common medical school interview questions”, which can serve as a guide (eg. The Princeton Review’s 50 Common Medical School Interview Questions). Although you may not get the exact questions to which you have practiced your responses on any given interview day, you can adapt your answers from questions you have practiced to fit the question at hand. By going into interviews prepared, you will be able to focus your energy on connecting with the interviewer and allowing your personality to shine through, rather than thinking of answers to questions on the spot.
In addition to practicing questions, you want to practice interviewing with different people. This will allow you to become comfortable interviewing with different personalities and interview styles, which you are bound to encounter on your real interview day. Also, make sure to ask for feedback from each practice interviewer and to incorporate his or her suggestions into your interviews.
2) Know your application inside out
Know your application inside out. Interviewers can and will ask about any aspect of your application, even those minute details. In multiple interviews, I was asked about my interest in “trivia and jeopardy”, which I had mentioned only briefly in my hobbies. This turned out to be a good discussion point and allowed interviewers to get to know me better as a person, though I was quite surprised that interviewers bothered to read my hobbies section. I was also asked about one of my volunteer experiences that was not as substantial as some of my other ones based on my length of involvement. It turned out that the interviewer had found this experience particularly interesting. As such, it is important to be prepared to talk about anything on your application, not just the “big” activities. A rule of thumb is that if you take the time to add something to your application, make sure you know it well.
3) Be yourself
Most importantly, be yourself. It is important to show a program who you truly are and what you can bring to their medical school. Don’t try to be someone who you think they want you to be. First, this can come off as insincere, since you are not being your true self. Secondly, you ultimately want to be at a program where you are valued as an individual and for the skills and qualities that you bring. If a program does not feel as though you are the right fit based on what you can offer, then that program is not the right place for you. Keep in mind, this will be your home for the next four years. To get the best out of your experience, you need to find a program where you can be yourself and grow into whom you want to be. Being yourself during your interview day will help you find that very program.