Any interview is intimidating and responding to Columbia medical school interview questions will be a challenge. After all, as an Ivy League school, it is one of the most prestigious medical schools in New York. Fortunately, with enough preparation and experience, difficult questions may be answered with ease. There are various ways to prepare, but engaging a medical school interview tutor who can guide you is a great idea. In addition, you can familiarize yourself with current interview questions. In this article, we list a series of possible questions, along with sample responses, to help you make the best possible first impression at Columbia.
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The Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Interview Process
Columbia VP&S begins inviting candidates for interviews via email in mid-August and continues through January. All interviews for the 2023 application cycle will be conducted online. More information concerning the interview day can be obtained through the secondary application portal. Applicants will be notified of their admission decision in early March.
Type of Interview
Columbia uses an open file interview format, the most common type of medical school interview. In this type of interview, the interviewer is given access to all your information, including test scores, letters of reference, and all other written documents. The one-on-one interview lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.
Interview Questions and Sample Answers
Why do you want to be a physician?
What is being asked?
Your answer explains why you want to become a doctor. This query can also be posed as “why medicine?” The answer should demonstrate your dedication to and enthusiasm for a future in medicine as well as why the particular institution you are applying to is ideal for accomplishing your objectives. How to answer the med school personal statement & interview question: “Why do you want to be a doctor?” is, in essence, the most crucial decision you will make concerning your medical school interview. One of your AMCAS most meaningful experiences might be relevant to this particular question.
Prepare a concise statement that explains why medicine appeals to you both professionally and emotionally. This statement should:
I’m a person who is always learning, both about the outside world and about myself, and I’ve found that although I’m really excited about new scientific discoveries, I also want to see how those discoveries affect the lives of real patients. That’s why medicine is the perfect choice for me. It will enable me to acquire information from a broad base of knowledge as well as specialized fields, from laboratory study through practical application.
I’ve made an effort since high school to volunteer in care settings and connect with physicians. During my undergrad, I progressed to medical internships, even if they weren’t directly connected to my BSc in Chemistry, basically because I couldn’t stop myself. The more I advance in my studies, the more I gravitate toward and become invested in all things medicine. I’m too curious to settle on a specialization just yet, but I’m definitely thrilled about the prospect of finally being able to focus my studies on a field I can’t seem to get enough of.
How long have you been interested in medicine?
What is being asked?
This is about “your story.” Questions like these are intended to find out more about your background and tend to be open-ended. This is your chance to contribute something personal while still bringing everything back to medicine.
Your narrative should depict you in action. Draw attention away from other individuals and the intricacies of the organizations and jobs involved. Focus on your own decisions and ideas instead. Describe your experience as a series of dramatic moments when you acquired important truths about the world or yourself.
I had planned to become an engineer and had obtained an internship in a lab where I helped build computer models of pressure on prosthetic limbs. After a group of doctors toured our facility, I sat with them and answered their questions. That was the moment I began to wonder how the technology I was developing would actually impact patients.
Later, I called one of the physicians and asked if I could have a similar tour of their orthopedic department at the hospital. Watching them physically manipulating limbs to repair them or bring relief to patients touched me in a way that engineering never had.
Still, I know that my expertise has value. Being a person who finishes what they start, I earned my Iron Ring before deciding to apply to medical school. I would like to learn the human side of biomechanics and directly contribute to the design of custom prosthetics that reduce pain and improve patients’ quality of life.
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Tell us about a recent activity related to the medical field.
What is being asked?
It stands to reason that working in the medical field prior to applying to medical school demonstrates your dedication to the area as well as any specific interests you may have. An example of a question used to learn more about your work in the medical field is “tell me about what’s on your research resume.”
However, depending on when you apply to medical school, you may not have much experience in research or in a clinical or urgent care context yet. In this case, identify the closest example you have of actually working in the field and describe that.
Remember that the admissions committee is not that interested in the activities themselves but in the role you played, what you learned, and whether they led to you asking, “is medical school right for you?”
In all cases, you can structure your response as follows:
- Briefly describe the activity and your involvement in it.
- To demonstrate your engagement, concentrate on a specific instance, interaction, action, or conversation.
- Make the event relevant to the reason you wish to study medicine.
1. Last winter, I collected data on hepatitis types and severity in patients in Brooklyn and Queens. We were building a database for a new app connecting individuals with local prescription providers. The app is part of a research project that seeks to measure the impact of access to regular care on medium-term outcomes for these patients. The app provides health information, notifications about prescription availability and renewals, medical appointment reminders, and maps indicating where and when medication can be picked up or delivered.
2. What surprised me was that the app was not well received. Even though patients had given their consent to be enrolled in the study, for most of them, it was not what they expected. One patient I visited, who went by Alysen, explained that they no longer checked their phone much because they couldn’t afford to pay for data. Another, called Jamie, said his vision problems prevented him from using the phone for anything other than calls.
These comments were, by no means, rare. After completing a two-week survey of pilot neighborhoods, nearly 40% of those we contacted told us they could not or would not use a smart phone. Interestingly, only 12% refused due to data security concerns. This left a sizable proportion of the most vulnerable patients without this planned supplementary resource.
3. We’re still working on this problem. If anything, it has only reinforced my interest and commitment to providing care to underserved populations. It illuminated for me some of the reasons that these individuals are cut off from care that is literally a click away. If patients cannot afford the necessary tools or cannot use them due to disability or inaccessibility, they are not a viable option.
Thanks to the pilot group of patients we met with, we were able to adapt our research instruments to include additional columns in our spreadsheets indicating the need for financial support or data plans, whether a family member or neighbor would install the app, the presence of a land line for calls, the presence of a computer or laptop in the home, and even the preference for a mailed version of the same information provided by the app. Ultimately, our system will be robust enough to accommodate multiple delivery channels, and the client-facing side of the app is not the most important aspect: the client is.
This experience showed me that I genuinely enjoy the challenge of helping patients whose worldview is unlike my own. It compels me to consider more carefully the substance of what I want to achieve and to utilize my creativity to make it come true.
Want to know how to respond to the question, "Tell me about yourself?" Check out this video:
Why did you choose to apply to Columbia VP&S?
What is being asked?
This question is one of the most straightforward you will encounter in a medical school interview. You do not have to look below the surface to discover a deeper meaning. To answer this question, you basically need to research the medical school where you will be interviewed. Re-read your application documents, specifically medical school secondary essays in which you discussed the aspects of the institution and program that attracted you. Go over information about their mission, vision, and values on their website. Find their strategic plan.
It’s then a good idea to read any recent news on the medical school’s website and material posted on their blog to get a sense of their most up-to-date initiatives and areas of focus. Prior to your interview, perform this routinely several times a week to the point where you feel as though you truly understand the institution. This understanding will come across in the interview as confidence.
Finally, while demonstrating that you are knowledgeable about the school, it’s also essential to discuss what appeals to you personally and professionally about the program and related offerings, such as research foci, specific projects, and specialization opportunities.
My answer to this question is simple: I aspire to the coveted Columbia-Bassett track. I know that only ten medical students are chosen each year, but I hope to be one of them.
I grew up on our family farm in Wisconsin and came to New York City to pursue my undergrad at NYU. I originally had my eye on the BA-MA in Animal Studies, and I think my five years of experience in intensive livestock farming got me in the door. However, while choosing my courses for my third year and getting ready to add the MA credits, I came across the Medical Humanities elective. This four-week intensive overview of reflective writing, medical history, the visual arts, and literary representations of medicine set me on fire. I felt like I had found the reason I had been drawn to the Big Apple instead of attending a local university that could have served my agricultural objectives just as well. I’ll still graduate with a BA, but you’ll notice that I added a lot of science courses in my final year.
I’m so excited by the prospect of medical school that I want to get started right away. I know some students take a gap year before medical school, but I have had a full-time job since the age of 12. Higher education has been like a vacation for my mind. Despite some initial adjustments, I am thriving in the city with all the exposure I am getting to culture and diverse perspectives. This is true even given the recent global health crisis, as I volunteered for almost a year with New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia during that time. I met and helped literally hundreds of people, and each of them was completely different.
Dr. Eigncort, the physician who supervised me there, is the one who recommended I apply to Columbia VP&S. It is from her that I learned of the Columbia-Bassett project based in a cutting-edge rural health care system in Central New York State. Providing treatment for people in a sizeable, largely rural community seems a perfect segue from my recent experience at NYP and previous farming activities. The longitudinal approach and specialized training in performance improvement and trauma-informed care seem to be a remarkable fit for my interests and current goals. As much as I love animals, it took leaving the farm to recognize that I am called to serve people instead.
How do you like the city?
What is being asked?
In this article, we’ve tried to provide some examples that may seem a little unusual but that are frequently asked of students as Columbia medical school interview questions. This question about New York City, in particular, is important, because it can be both a thrilling and a stressful place to live. The admissions committee will ask this because they want to know whether you will thrive in such an environment, embrace its opportunities, and be able to recognize how the city can both contribute to and detract from your medical school studies.
Additionally, this question creates an opening for honesty. Try to provide an insightful response that shows the interviewers that you have seriously considered the role that living and working in the city will play in your medical career.
You know, I’ll be honest. When the global health crisis hit in my second year of undergrad, I thought I had made a big mistake. How I wished I had stayed in a place closer to my hometown and family. Instead, I was living in a huge apartment complex, with all the risks that entailed, basically isolated from everyone I cared about and cut off from my campus environment, which I loved.
People talk about the dynamism and rhythm of New York City, but until you come here, you don’t really know what they mean. That electric energy captivated me from the moment I stepped off the train. But a couple of years later, that charge became more like a low hum – an all-pervasive, ever-present, inescapable drone of angst and stress. I developed migraines from the sound of the city dulled by silence and pain and the endless screams of sirens.
I knew that if I was going to survive, both physically and emotionally, I would have to actively counter the sense of impending doom. When we could go out, I gathered a couple of my fellow students who lived in our complex and we approached our Student Council for a small budget to purchase supplies. We ordered alcohol and disinfectant from an industrial supplier, along with gloves and other cleaning products. We designed and made our own masks. Then, we attacked our apartment building and cleaned it from top to bottom: every button, handle, and doorknob was wiped. We made little signs to indicate where we had passed, and when we encountered our neighbors in the hallway, we explained what we were doing.
Soon, we had a team of nearly twenty – four residents per floor – responsible for day and night shift cleaning. We opened the windows at the end of each hallway to let in fresh air in the morning and closed them when it got cold or rained. We had conversations. Before we started cleaning, we would knock gently on each door, and residents who wished to would come out to stand on their “stoop.” They knew to put on a mask and stay in place.
I consider this one of the most profound experiences of my life. Not only did our project help ensure the safety of our residents, but it connected them with help if they needed it. More than one senior was able to get fresh milk or bread, or sometimes even prescriptions, picked up. We were also the first to know when one of our community got sick; I am certain it is due to our network that the outbreak was contained to three apartments on that one floor – and everyone made it through without going to hospital.
I hated New York for about eight weeks, but when I opened my heart to the place again, the love I felt was uncontainable, despite being forced to live in a container for a number of months.
Many students have observed that Columbia medical school interview questions tend to be specific to them and their trajectory. Interviewers seem knowledgeable about the candidate’s application materials and often inquire in some detail about specific experiences. In particular, if you have a non-medicine background, the committee may focus on why you changed directions and ask you to connect your previous academic or professional activities with your decision to attend medical school.
Interviews have also been described as “conversational,” but don’t mistake this for an invitation to be unserious. Prepare yourself thoroughly and be ready to give your all to each and every question.
1. What’s the interview format at Columbia?
Interviews are conducted online. Information about the interview day can be obtained through the secondary application portal.
2. How will I know if I have an interview?
Interview invitations are sent from mid-August through January.
3. When will I know if I am accepted at Columbia?
Columbia does not have rolling admissions, and all applicants will be notified of their admission decision in early March.
4. What is the interview process for Columbia-Bassett applicants?
Columbia-Bassett track candidates interview with faculty members from Cooperstown, NY, and New York City.
5. I may be overseas during the interview period. What do I do?
Interviews for the 2023 application cycle will be virtual. However, it is suggested to reach out to the school to make accommodations with respect to the time of your interview.
6. What do I wear to my interview?
There are certain basic considerations that apply regardless of gender. The best colours in apparel are neutral tones like grey, navy blue, black, or cream. Soft, complementary colors or white can be worn as foundation pieces (e.g., a shirt under a blazer). Natural fibers are preferred but not required; just make sure the fabric breathes well enough to keep you comfortable in a warm environment or warm in a cooler setting.
Note that even if your interview is virtual, the dress code still applies.
7. How do I prepare for a medical school interview?
To prepare for an interview, research the school, familiarize yourself with common questions asked in medical school interviews, and seriously consider how finding the best medical school admissions consultant can improve your chances of admission.
8. Who should I contact to send a thank you note to the admissions committee?
Thank you notes are welcomed and can be sent to the following email address: [email protected]
Thank you notes should also be uploaded via the Secondary Portal as an Applicant Update (in PDF).
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