The interview is a daunting prospect, and answering interview questions might seem like a difficult task. Indeed, it will be tough to make it through, not because it will be hard to answer questions, but because it is hard to answer questions so as to rise above all other candidates.
Fortunately, tough questions can be made easy with practice and thorough . Preparation can take many forms, ideally augmented by the use of a – somebody who can assist you with a . A is helpful, too. However, we want to give you some of the tools you need to succeed right here.
In this article, we will go over several Harvard medical school interview questions that have been asked in recent years, describe answering strategies, and suggest some sample answers.
What is being asked?
Exactly what it sounds like: you need to explain here why you want to be a physician – what draws you to medicine? This should be a profound, personal connection, ideally one which stretches across multiple areas of your life and is something that is tied to who you are, intrinsically. Your can often inspire an answer to this question.
You don’t need to start out with “ever since I was a child...” and show that your love of medicine coincided with your enjoyment of toy doctor sets, but this connection should go deep. Start with the moment you knew you wanted to be a physician and why, and then explore the type of medicine you are attracted to.
Other phrasings of this question:
a. Why do you want to be a doctor?
b. What makes you want to pursue a career in medicine?
c. What excites you the most about working in health care?
Note that the exact phrasing of this question might change your answer, and that you might even get more than one “version” of this question. You might, for example, be asked “Why medicine?” followed by, “What excites you the most about working in health care?” If you get questions that are very similar, focus on the nuanced differences. In the above scenario, if you discussed your personal history in your answer to question b, you could spend more time talking about the areas of medicine that you love in your answer to question c.
This is why it’s important to plan your answers for any given question without memorizing the exact words; a question with different wording, or multiple follow-up questions, will throw you off if you are married to a specific response. So, go into your interview knowing content, not a rehearsed speech.
I spent my last semester of high school watching everybody else do what I loved most: play basketball. In my first game that year, I got accidentally tripped and fractured my tibia. No sports for me. Sports had been such a huge part of my life that I found myself extremely bored, and increasingly depressed.
To combat my boredom, I hung out with my friend Jeff more. Jeff was really into biology, and so I would help him study. He commented at one point that I was better at it than he was.
I didn’t really think about this until a month later when I was considering universities to apply to. I still didn’t know what exactly I wanted to be, but when talking with my guidance counsellor, I was focused on my injury. Weirdly enough, it was not in the way that he would have anticipated. I wasn’t bitter or upset about my leg; I spent the entire time talking about the fascinating ways that the doctors were helping my leg to heal. I was obsessed with learning about the biological mechanics of my rehabilitation.
My counsellor said I should think about medicine, so I did my undergraduate degree in biology. By the time I was in my second year of university, my leg was fully healed, and I was loving every minute of my bio class and laboratory. Human anatomy is so engaging and wonderful. I dedicated my studies to trying to understand how the human body heals and what can be done to assist that healing process.
For instance, I was intrigued to read that UV light promotes healing, and a concentrated dosage of UV light can speed up human tissue regeneration, even if can also cause cancer. One day, maybe we will have a bandage made from light, or a traumatic wound treatment device that looks like a flashlight.
I also found, both through my rehab and my studies at university, that a holistic approach to medicine is the most sensible, from my perspective. We need full health care teams working to get the quality of life back for any patient, and to promote prevention of future medical problems.
My accident led to a keen interest in the medical sciences, and I have several reasons for wanting to study medicine: to help people like me recover from injury and to assist with medical research and development so that we will have constantly better medical capabilities. Finally, I want to go into medicine to find more synergy between the purely scientific medicine that has dominated Western medical practice, and the more lifestyle-oriented healing practices of other medical ideologies. In short: I know firsthand that medicine makes a huge difference in everybody’s lives, and I want to push the boundaries of where medical science can go.
Want to know the different types of med school interview questions? Check this infographic:
What is being asked?
You have picked Harvard for a reason, or several reasons, and the interviewers want to know why. This reason will be self-evident to you, so you won’t need to think about what the reason is but presenting it can be tricky. Your answer to this question would be very similar to a .
First off, make sure that this is very specific to Harvard – as specific as you can make it. They want to know that you have Harvard in mind as a top choice. Competition is fierce there, so they would rather fill one of their spaces with a passionate person who loves Harvard than somebody who just picked it as a secondary choice.
What you want to avoid is making Ivy League status your primary reason for wanting to attend Harvard. Harvard is highly ranked. So what? That’s not a reason to attend a school. Don’t talk about prestige or anything like that.
Now, of all the reasons you might choose, you should focus on anything unique to Harvard and stick to one, main reason. You might appreciate that the campus is beautiful, the history grounding, and the location close to family and friends, but there are plenty of beautiful, historical campuses. What is unique to Harvard, and why do you love that?
Alternate versions of this question are numerous, but frankly, when you boil them down, they are all focused on those two words: Why Harvard?
a. What made you pick Harvard?
b. Why are you applying to Harvard?
My number one reason for wanting to attend Harvard is tied directly to your core value of “Scientific discovery and integrity,” which is both exciting and responsible. It is necessary that we move forward as a medical community, in all branches of our profession.
I love that you emphasize scientific advancement, while holding yourself accountable in terms of diversity and making sure that you have no conflicts of interest. The integrity of Harvard is a big draw for me as well.
Finally, with state-of-the-art facilities and connections to similarly state-of-the-art hospitals, I know that Harvard both prioritizes advancement in medicine and can bring those advances about. I know that learning at Harvard will give me the personal integrity, knowledge, and infrastructure necessary to move me forward on my journey into medicine.
What is being asked?
The interviewers want to see how you deal with adversity in your life. Everybody has struggles, and we all need mechanisms for coping with them. We all grow from hardship. You want to showcase this growth.
When answering a question about hardship, start by identifying the problem in your life – personal, professional, or from any other sphere – and then go on to say both how it affected you and how you moved past it and grew as a person.
What lessons did you learn? How did you grow? Did you become stronger? How has your life changed since going through this ordeal?
Answers to those questions should be contained within your larger answer.
Similar questions include:
a. Tell us about a time you failed and how you recovered from that failure. Note that, when asked about failure, this is a good time to address any red flags in your application, such as a low test score.
b. When you are faced with difficult situations, how do you manage your stress and cope?
A note on difficulty:
Some difficulties are troubling, but far enough in the past, or not as damaging in the long term, and they are excellent ways to showcase your ability to deal with struggles, manage stress, and rebound from hardship.
Other difficult and troubling times in our lives carry trauma. If you have an event of that magnitude which you might talk about in your Harvard medical school interview, only you can decide if you want to use it in your answer.
Keep yourself safe. If you are asked to tell about an extremely troubling time in your life, but the scars left from that event are not fully healed yet, feel free to tell the committee about a different time that is not still hurting you.
Some students worry that they are exploiting their hard times to get into their dream school – particularly if their hard times involve other people. Remember that this is your life, and you can choose to talk about it or not, as you are comfortable.
If you are speaking of something still quite upsetting to you, you may ask for a few moments to collect yourself in the interview. It is likely that the interviewers have been through difficult times themselves, and they won’t hold it against you for being human and needing a few moments to rally their psyche.
So, when answering: stay safe and select difficult times that you are comfortable sharing.
The hardest time in my life was when my Aunt Sarah died last June. We were really close, ever since I was little, and three years ago when we found out she had cancer, it started a terrible period in my life where I felt like I didn’t know whether or not I was going to wake up and find out that one of my favorite people was no longer around to talk to.
Even while she was going through barrages of chemotherapy, Aunt Sarah tried to make me see the positive, but it was always so, so difficult. She modeled bravery and good spirits and showed me that each moment of life is deeply important.
I’m still processing losing her. I still get sad thinking about her, and I cry a lot when I do. But I try to remember the lessons she was living, even under the grim clouds that haunted her final years.
She taught me that it’s important to live for today as much as tomorrow, and to put the needs of others before your own. She always made time for me, and often cheered me up more than I cheered her up. While I know the grief will fade – even if it’s really hard right now – I also know that her good attitude, positivity, friendliness, and love will serve me for the rest of my life.
What is being asked?
Are you a monomaniacal person who is obsessed with being a doctor? Or are you a well-rounded individual with a fulfilling life that will support them during times of stress? The interviewers don’t want somebody who only focuses on one thing in their lives. That person will be prone to burnout, which does not make an ideal candidate. By contrast, someone with multiple loves and interests is likely to bring more diverse thought and understanding to their medical practice.
That’s what you want to convey here: that you don’t live in a single-idea world.
That said, your answer should nevertheless connect to qualities of a physician. So, while you might not be discussing your lab work or your expert knowledge of anatomy, you might show your empathy by talking about volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, your leadership qualities as a scoutmaster, or your puzzle solving skills while doing Sudoku and acrostics.
Other similar questions include:
a. Do you have any hobbies?
b. What are some of your other interests, outside of medicine?
I have been studying Spanish for several years now, and I am just getting into Portuguese as well. Languages have always fascinated me, and while I enjoyed the two years of French that I took, I really wanted to learn Spanish, for several reasons.
First, Spanish is spoken so widely across the world. It is a language that connects so many people together and feeling that I am a part of that connection is a great feeling.
Plus, I love to travel, and I have been to South America on three occasions. I have developed close friendships down in Argentina, and my Spanish studies helped open up that world to me.
The cultural insights gained through language are tremendous. Just starting my study of Portuguese showed me how different it is from Spanish, despite my perception that the two languages were very similar. I love that – that feeling of connectivity and discovery of other worlds and worldviews is marvelous.
What is being asked?
This question relates to diversity and awareness. The admissions committee wants to see whether you are aware of, and sympathetic to, problems beyond your personal experience. In other words, you need to display some empathy here in your answer, both in terms of tone and content.
You are also being asked to identify specific problems and current issues. Make sure you are aware of any problems or difficult conversations being had within the medical community – particularly those that pertain to topics in diversity, such as race or gender.
Your answer should identify any inequalities or conversations about inequality, what you think of these topics, and how you believe these problems ought to be handled.
This question might be one of several about diversity or might serve as a substitute for another diversity question. Other common diversity and inclusion questions include:
a. Diversity is an important part of Harvard, and inclusion is important to Harvard as an institution, for our students and our patients. How do you connect with diversity in the world today?
b. How do you deal with any personal biases you might have?
c. Do you believe it is each person’s responsibility to create a more diverse medical community? Why or why not?
d. How would you go about making your workplace, and the medical community, more inclusive?
Inequality in health care arises from several different places in our society. The one that I think most affects our health care system is at a foundational level. Research has often been conducted with limited sample sizes and across inadequate demographics. For example, the symptoms of ADHD and of heart attacks present differently in male and female persons. Because past research has been focused on male trials and subjects, these conditions can go undiagnosed or unnoticed. A person who has undiagnosed ADHD, especially as a child, will suffer in educational settings, and might struggle to make friends and develop a healthy peer group. Heart attacks that go unnoticed, even for a short time, have potentially deadly consequences.
In this manner, we can see that our research needs to be augmented to cover more demographic characteristics, such as gender, sex, and race. Furthermore, this information needs to be made common knowledge throughout the health care community, so that health care professionals will be better equipped to deal with potential variance in the patients they are treating.
I believe that this can be solved with three items: first, through acceptance of personal responsibility by each health care professional to know where their potential biases or blind spots lie; second, with more and better research being conducted – which I would like to explore in my own career; and third, with more education among new health care professionals and as students.
Want to know how to answer the most difficult medical school interview questions? Watch this video:
In addition to these examples, also keep in mind the following strategies for answering:
You don’t want to just memorize a fistful of pat answers and regurgitate them in the interview. You want to stand out as a confident, intelligent, empathetic candidate who is perfectly suited for medicine and Harvard. Use of this article’s expert advice, particularly when combined with a good interview preparation strategy, will bring you to where you need to be.
Moving on from here, you should make sure to study for your interview, give yourself a day to relax beforehand, and know the shape of the answers you will give – that way you will be prepared for any question or variation the interviewers might throw at you. Your best strategy is to engage with experts in a mock interview session, which will prepare you like nothing else. Be sure to check out additional as well, since you want to be ready for anything.
1. Are any questions trivial?
No. Even questions like, “How are you?” when asked in an interview are not trivial. While this is a fairly standard greeting, remember that your response will likely be one of the first impressions the admissions committee has of you – certainly in person. No moment in an interview is trivial. This doesn’t mean you should stress over every second, but whether you are answering a question strategically to show your best self to the committee or just sitting with poise and confidence, make every second count.
2. What is a mock interview?
A mock interview is a professionally conducted facsimile of the medical school interview. The people who conduct the mock interview will simulate the interview in spirit, which will give you a sense of the kinds of questions asked and how to answer. They may even mimic circumstances like the mild stress placed on a candidate in an interview session. Interview practice is the best way to prepare you and help you cope with the interview process.
3. Should I memorize my answers?
Absolutely not. A memorized answer will sound memorized; in other words, it will seem stilted and unnatural. What you want to do is memorize an outline of your answers or know what you will talk about in a general sense. Have a starting point and an ending point, and know the various points along the way, but don’t rehearse the exact words.
4. What do I wear to an interview?
Knowing can affect how you are perceived as well as your performance. You will want to wear business-casual attire to your interview. This gives a sense of professionalism without looking overly formal or stuffy. However, there is more to dress preparation than that.
Wear neutral colors, like tan, beige, navy blue, black, cream, or grey – nothing gaudy. Wear something that won’t make you sweat, itch, or generally be uncomfortable. Keep accessories and makeup to a minimum. Wear your hair simply – up or down – as long as it is neat, clean, and out of your face.
5. How early should I be for my interview?
As early as you can manage. If you’re an hour early, or more, you can always just go for a short walk and look around campus. Early is never a problem, late is. Never be late. Show up a minimum of fifteen minutes early and plan your route so as to account for possible traffic delays. We recommend that you drive the route the day before, if possible, so you know exactly how to get where you’re going.
If your meeting is virtual, showing up early still applies. Anticipate tech problems; make sure you are familiar with the program you will be using – whichever live chat program is being used. You don’t need a state-of-the-art camera and microphone, but you should be clearly visible and audible. Pick a room with good lighting – natural light, if possible. Most of the time, if you don’t look good on-camera, it’s because you either have no light on your face or light shining directly on your face. So, again, work with the program the day before, troubleshoot any problems, and pick a good, quiet, well-lit location for your virtual interview.
6. Should I connect every answer to health care?
You don’t have to, or at least, not directly. The interviewers want to hear your story and find out about who you are. They don’t need or want to hear, “I want to be a doctor,” over and over again. So, a direct connection to becoming a physician is not recommended for every answer because it makes you sound single-minded.
However, all your answers should promote and support the idea that you are the perfect candidate for being a physician. If you are asked about hobbies, for instance, maybe talk about how much you love hiking with your dog and focus on the connection you share with the natural world and with caring for your canine friend. Your interest in the natural sciences and your empathetic relationship with your pet speak to how curious, effective, and friendly you will be as a physician.
7. Are all interviews the same?
Not even close. Interviews come in a variety of formats like 1-on-1, 2-on-1, 3-on-1, panel interviews, or MMIs – . You might receive any format and any number of questions over the course of the interview.
Harvard medical school in-particular uses a 1-on-1 format, with an interviewer and interviewee. In recent years, they have conducted their interviews virtually.
For other schools, find out beforehand what format your interview will be conducted in so you can properly prepare – again, ideally with a mock interview.
Certain factors will be similar from interview to interview – mostly with questions asking you why you want to enter the health care profession and what drew you to apply to the institution at which you are interviewing.
8. How do I deal with nerves?
We cannot stress this enough: a mock interview mimics not only the format and questions of an interview but will also give you the stress that comes along with an interview and will therefore prepare you best to cope. Nervousness can be managed by being well prepared for your interview, through formal prep and practice. Prevention is the best cure.
If you are feeling nervous on the day, your best bet is to remember to breathe and just focus on “what’s next.” During your greeting, introduce yourself, then be attentive to each question that follows, and take them one at a time. If you have prepared properly, you should feel confident about your ability to get through the interview and make a great impression.