The panel interview is the long-standing assessment tool used at most traditional medical schools to assess candidate's personality and characteristics. It can represent a large percentage of the ranking weight or it can be used as a rubber stamp for candidates whom the school is likely to accept based on their primary and secondary applications.
The interview consists of one to four panelists per candidate. The panelists will most often represent medical school faculty and current students or residents. The panel may also have a community representative and the use of a non-medical person was standard for most universities before they adopted the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI).
The questions can range from a casual review of your CV to a standardized set of behavioural interview questions. Behavioural interview questions include "Tell me about a time when you were in conflict with a supervisor?" or "What is your greatest weakness?"
Panel interviews are still used because they're far easier and far cheaper to implement than the MMI. They are also more "free" in that interviews can follow up on red flags without worrying about getting to other questions. As far as rubber stamps go, they work well but most medical schools are moving towards a system where interviews really matter for candidate assessments and the best evidence is for multiple mini interviews.
Panel interviews are for getting to know you, exploring red flags on your application, developing a gestalt about how you conduct yourself in the world and to test the degree to which you have insight into your own personal story (i.e. strengths, weaknesses, failures, etc).
It is crucial that you know in advance, so you are at ease during these interviews. During MMIs, you can get so absorbed in the technical details of the question and the interaction that you automatically stop thinking about how nervous you are or how high the stakes may be for the interview. In panel interviews, you can control the pace so your nerves have more potential to swallow you whole. This is where practice is your best friend. Answer the most commonly asked panel interview questions again and again. Get your family to dress up as panel members, give them a list of questions and get them to practice with you at the kitchen table. Over and over and over. Get very used to describing your experiences in life because you will come off as self aware, calm and personable. And of course make sure you seek to identify your weaknesses and learn from them.
When asked to describe situations, always ensure that you are concisely describing the setting, the problem, the action you took and the resolution of the problem so that your response actually answers the question and ensures that you come across as an active, coherent communicator. The SHARE model is the one recommended across the board if you need a more structured approach to behavioral interview questions.
The SHARE model:
The overall goal of the panel interview is to come off as a likable, personable scholar able to describe why they've taken on the jobs, educational opportunities, research, travel, sports, music and personal endeavours on their CV. Ensure that the interview is a nice, positive back and forth between you and the interviews and that you're not leaving them wanting more fulsome answers.
When it comes to which particular questions you might get, check out our blog post here:
Let’s take a look at how to think about two of these questions today.
Question: Tell me about a time when you had to act as a leader under difficult circumstances.
Let’s use the SHARE model to answer this question.
Answer: Absolutely. I took a research methods fourth year seminar during my undergraduate degree where our work was to design a large study exploring the effects of reduced access to public sanitation in our city. It was interdisciplinary, so there were people with lots of different skills in our group of 4. I was the one with the most experience in epidemiology so was really fortunate to be able to provide some structure when we sat down to figure out our specific research questions. We had our first meeting and then there was basically radio silence for several days between group members. I sat down with my calendar and the actual assignment guide - which was hefty - and mapped out the work against the actual hours left before the due date. I was alarmed by the volume of work ahead required for a quality submission. So I sent out an email to the group and asked for a meeting. I knew that we could manage the work if everyone felt as though their tasks reflected their best and highest use. But my group members were strangers, basically, so we used the meeting as a chance to understand each other better, to figure out where our respective strengths lie. Then I took the map I made of the time and the component pieces of the task and we cross-referenced our skills with the tasks. Everyone made a commitment to the project and I found it quite an empowering process, as did the other group members. I have been in situations where I felt like the majority of the work was going to fall on me, and I’ve martyred myself in those situations. This affects the quality of the work and my relationship with those people. This time, I took the lead but took a strengths-based approach and it felt completely different. I was happy. They were happy. I felt like I was on a team, and we all led in our own way.
Question: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Let’s think about what they’re really asking us here. This is a surreptitious way of asking about your values and the things that matter in your life while also testing your creative thinking skills in a fun way. So, it does not matter WHICH superpower you pick, the only thing that matters is that you explain WHY that superpower matters in a way that sheds light on your values and personhood.
Answer: I would love to be able to speak every language in the world. I can think of hundreds of situations where my life would have been made easier if I could fully understand and communicate with another person. I’ve travelled quite a bit and even worked in countries where almost no one speaks English and it’s a challenge. I feel like I would understand the world better and probably have an interesting role in improving it. I would also be able to help preserve some of the dying languages out there, like some of the Indigenous languages that fewer and fewer people speak. It would be so thrilling to have a secret window into every nook and cranny of the world. No one would expect that I could speak every dialect of Portuguese or Creole or Swahili or Tamil. From my travels in India, in particular, I picked up quite a few phrases of Hindi and whenever I spoke Hindi to people in markets, or my colleagues, or in my research, they would first be kind of shocked and have to confirm with themselves that they actually heard me speak some Hindi. Then this smile would creep across their face and we would share a moment of joy and understanding. And I love that.
Do you see how this answer shares so much about who I am? It’s NOT about picking the perfect power. It’s about knowing your values and who you are so that an answer just seems to fit whenever a quirky question like this is asked of you.
Best of luck!
About the author:
Dr. Ashley Faye White is currently a rural medicine resident at McMaster University and a senior admissions expert at BeMo. She has an M.D. from McMaster medical school and has navigated her way into med school as a non-traditional applicant.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo