It’s October, and the interview invites are beginning to pile up. You have worked incredibly hard to get to this point, taking 18 credit-hour semesters every year of your undergraduate course work, volunteering at an equal access health clinic, and somehow finding time to shadow your favorite neurosurgeon. Then it hits you, the last time you interviewed for a job, it was for the intramural basketball refereeing position two years ago. Not to worry, here is what you need to prepare for and ACE your medical school interviews!
What is a medical school interview like?
While preparing for your interviews, you will likely come across three different types of interviews offered by medical schools across the country and internationally: the ‘open file’ interview, the ‘closed file’ interview and the multiple-mini interview (MMI) format.
What is an ‘open file’ medical school interview?
Simply put, open file interviews mean that the interviewer will either have an electronic or a physical copy of your entire application both to prepare for the interview and during the interview itself. These types of interviews typically involve the interviewer perusing your application for potential points of uniqueness or weakness and discussing them with the applicant in detail.
What is a ‘closed file’ medical school interview?
A closed file interview, as you might guess, means that the interviewer is conducting the interview ‘cold,’ without prior knowledge of the applicant. These are typically done to allow the conversation to flow naturally and to allow the interviewer to get an unbiased impression of the applicants’ personality and ability to think on their feet and discuss their application intelligently.
Closed file interviews provide an opportunity for applicants to either steer past their deficiencies and avoid sensitive topics during the interview or directly address them and discuss them with the interviewer. Although it is much less anxiety-inducing to steer clear of potentially sensitive topics, as an interviewer I can share with you that nothing is worse than later discussing an applicant in an admissions committee meeting and finding a number of red flags in their application that were actively avoided in the interview. This will leave the interviewer with a sense of mistrust and may diminish your chances of acceptance. Instead, use a closed file interview as not only a chance to address your strengths but to touch upon and explain any potential weaknesses in your application.
What is the Multiple-Mini Interview (MMI) format?
The MMI format utilizes multiple (8-10) stations with short, approximately seven-minute interviews at each station. All stations are different and are focused on topics that vary from healthcare policy to stations comprised of a traditional open file interview. In order to do your best at a medical school that utilizes the MMI format, you should practice concisely answering questions and familiarize yourself with the typical types of questions asked (some medical schools even publish admissions documents which describe past questions or question types).
Typical medical school interview questions
Regardless of the interview format, there are several questions that are likely to come up during the medical school interview:
“Tell me about X experience.”
This question can be used to examine any type of extra-curricular, shadowing, or research experience listed on your application. The interviewers want depth when they ask this question, and they are asking it usually to assess the degree to which you were involved in the experience. If discussing research, explain the hypothesis that was being tested, the experiments that were conducted to test the hypothesis, and your role in conducting the experiments or generating the resulting posters or academic manuscripts.
It is worth mentioning, if you cannot talk intelligently about a given experience, or you exaggerate about it on your application, this is where it may hurt your chances. When completing your application, remember that at some point during the interview season you will likely be sitting across from a physician with the power to grant or deny your admission to medical school, and your ability to honestly and intelligently describe your application will directly impact your chances of attending medical school.
“What makes you think you would be a good physician?”
Both this question and “Why do you want to go to medical school?” are designed to dig deeper and understand the applicant’s motivation for pursuing medical school. Simply restating a love for science and a calling to help people is not enough. Think of an experience that confirmed your desire for medical school or showed your potential aptitude for it and incorporate that into your response. A story is memorable, and if true, can be very compelling. Before your first interview, consider these questions and practice (do not rehearse verbatim) an appropriate answer that includes a compelling anecdote which exemplifies why you think you would be a good physician or why you are applying to medical school.
Healthcare delivery and policy
In addition to questions assessing your aptitude for medicine, almost all medical school interviews involve some form of discussion of health policy. It would be wise to stay current on the news surrounding healthcare during interview season, as your interviewer may bring up current events in the interview. In addition, being able to discuss controversial topics intelligently, such as universal healthcare, euthanasia, and abortion is expected.
While your answers should be authentic and should stay true to your beliefs, avoid dealing in absolutes as much as possible, as these are likely to offend and can torpedo an otherwise stellar application. At the end of the day, admissions decisions are made after your interviewer writes up his/her impression of you, which can be severely diminished if they perceive that your answers were judgmental or narrow-minded. Overall, the interviewer is assessing your knowledge of core healthcare policy topics and there are usually no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. I would recommend having an idea of how you would change healthcare if you were able, as well as how you might handle end of life issues. I would also recommend all interviewees look up Medicare and Medicaid and have at least a working knowledge of what they do and the differences between the two programs.
The medical school interview is a time to not only discuss the strengths of your application, but also to address and explain any potential weaknesses. A modest amount of preparation, along with a positive attitude, is all the prospective medical school applicant needs to succeed during the interview process and eventually secure a seat in medical school.