Learning how to stand out in a medical school interview requires some research, , and familiarity with typical . Your major objective in a medical school interview is to convey your excitement for, dedication to, and reasons for choosing a career in medicine. Even if you have great academics and excellent credentials, it’s important to know what to highlight in the interview. If you aren’t sure what to expect, you may come across as ill-prepared. In this article, we explain the medical school interview and present proven strategies for how to stand out.
First and foremost, whether you have a virtual or in-person interview, introduce yourself in a professional manner. Demonstrate your respect for the admissions committee by knowing and being punctual. The admissions committee has a difficult task; show that you appreciate that. Research the medical school thoroughly and make the interview worth their while. Be attentive, make eye contact, respond appropriately, and ask insightful questions. Remember the interviewers’ names when mentioned and use them as you answer their questions. Pick up on the interviewers’ cues to discern what interests them and establish a connection. Present your background in a coherent, logical, and positive way and show that you are knowledgeable about contemporary issues in health care and medicine.
Your performance during the interview is an edited, targeted version of who you are, and everything you say should support your decision to pursue a career in medicine. The only way to succeed is through adequate preparation.
After you have submitted all your applications, it’s a good time to seek out opportunities to shadow physicians. Ask their permission and request that they schedule a few minutes with you before or after to discuss the interview process with you. For tips, considerations, and a sample shadowing request, check out this article: .
If they are new doctors, you might ask about their own medical school interview experience; if they are more senior, inquire about what they would appreciate hearing from a new colleague or candidate if they are still academically connected.
Use your observation skills to pick up on how they carry themselves, introduce themselves to patients, listen, and generally behave. Ask yourself which aspects of their comportment resonate with you as a person and which you appreciate less. If they were your doctor, what would you want to see? If you were a patient, would they make you feel at ease? Do they balance a caring demeanor with appropriate provision of knowledge? Is the language they use accessible to patients?
Doing this with a few different individuals in various settings will help you immerse yourself in the context and “put yourself in the doctor’s shoes” prior to your medical school interview.
It’s natural to feel stressed at the prospect of an interview. This is true of all interviews, whether for a job or as part of your medical school application. After all, this may be the point when your life changes and you get to find out whether your academic and professional career will be launched at the school of your dreams. Everyone feels nervous, and a few nerves are a good thing, as they keep you on your toes. You don’t want to come across as overly relaxed or unserious during your interview.
On the other hand, you might feel more anxiety than is healthy. Maybe you are wondering or GPA. You got the interview, but will they ask you to explain your test scores? Maybe you’re unsure of your answers to , or maybe you just don’t know what to expect. To address these concerns, first, return to the medical school’s website and read what they say about the interview process. Schools know that applicants will have questions, and most provide some information on their website. This may be presented as part of the admissions information or in FAQs. Often, detailed information will be provided through the application portal.
1. What Can I Expect on My Interview Day?
As an example, the interview season at Darmouth Geisel School of Medicine is from September through March. Interviews are by invitation and are held on Thursdays in a virtual format. The purpose of the interview day is for Geisel to get to know you, and for you to get to know Geisel.
There will be opportunities to connect with current students separately from the scheduled interview day.
2. I Found the Information About the Interview; Now What?
The next step is to review your research on the medical school where you will attend the interview. Re-read your application materials, including your secondary essays, in which you explained what appealed to you about the school and program. Go back to their website and read their mission, vision, and values information. Look up their strategic plan.
Taking Geisel as an example again, in their mission and vision, the following keywords and themes can be noted:
You may be thinking, yes, but these are all common objectives of medical schools. How does knowing this help me stand out in a medical interview?
In fact, if you look more closely, the repetition of “improvement” – of health, health care systems, and health care delivery – indicates that this is a priority. Medical schools choose the words in their mission and vision carefully, and here, Geisel is emphasizing their role in the improvement of several aspects of health and health care. They also indicate how they do this:
Using this keyword approach, you can break down and demystify a medical school’s priorities. Engaging in this active analysis will help you remember these key points during your interview. You can also link them to the , if you are in Canada, or the for entering medical students, if you are in the US.
With this foundation, it’s then a good idea to check out any recent news on the medical school’s website and information posted on their blog to get an idea of what their most current activities and foci are. Do this on a regular basis, several days a week prior to your interview, to get to the point where you feel you really know the school. That knowledge will shine through as confidence during the interview. Think of it as effective, intensive study, rather than as cramming for the big test.
3. I Feel Like I Know the School, but It’s the Interview I’m Worried About
The best way to get ready for an interview, once you know the general format, is to engage in with a qualified, professional admissions advisor. Admissions consultants provide support and guidance for your interview in addition to showing you or helping you with .
The three most common types of medical school interviews are the one-on-one interview, the panel interview, and the multiple mini interview (MMI). If you will be participating in a multiple mini interview, you can look into an and .
The admissions committee has only a few places to fill in next year’s class, and the purpose of the interview is to identify students who will genuinely value and make good use of them. They are mainly focused on your conviction and capacity to become a physician but also looking to see if you can relate to them on a human level. In other words, they are attempting to determine whether you are the kind of person who would eventually make a trustworthy and interesting colleague.
With being so low, getting invited to an interview is a great sign, but keep in mind that although admissions committees want you to succeed, they must also consider reasons for not accepting applicants. Compared to other graduate programs, medical schools have higher admission standards. They have constraints that permit them to refuse applicants who they think will not achieve the program’s objectives or meet the high standards of a field where people’s lives are on the line. are not a formality prior to acceptance; they are the primary means of deciding between who looks good on paper and who will actually be a great fit for the class, school, and medical profession. Therefore, not only is this an opportunity you can’t afford to miss, but you must also find a way to impress the interviewers and stand out from the crowd.
How can a med school advisor help in your medical school interview? Check this infographic:
Now that you have a better idea of how to generally prepare and present yourself, it’s important to note that the medical school interview can start in various ways. If the interview is in an open file format, the admissions committee has had an opportunity to review your work history, accomplishments, MCAT score, and . Now they will be curious to learn more about you than is possible from your resume. Even if your academics and professional activities are excellent, they want to know more than these simple facts can convey.
Be prepared for any number of different questions to start, ranging from “why medicine?” to “why do want to live in X city?” Each answer you provide should illuminate your personality, explain your thinking, and always circle back to why you want to be a physician, why you will be a good physician, and what you hope to learn from their school in particular.
After your second interview, if not your first, you will be glad you engaged in practice, because it will have provided you with effective strategies and the flexibility to adapt your answers to any suite of questions, in any order. Maintaining your poise – grace under pressure – will create a great impression with the interviewers, as this skill alone can indicate how you would perform in an emergency or other critical situation. If you have memorized and rehearsed rote answers to certain questions, but they don’t come up, it can be easy to get flustered and lose your way. One quirky question can throw the whole interview off. Instead, equip yourself with the proper tools, and they will be readily at hand when you need them.
Medical school interview questions can be classified into about six main categories:
For every category, your approach should be: “show, don’t tell.”
To learn more about each category and how to stand out in your answers, read on.
1. Your Story
Inquiries about “your story” are intended to find out more about your background and are often framed as the open-ended question, “.” The interviewers are depending on you to fill them in on who you are because they don’t yet know you or your personality. They are unable to predict what drives you and telling them is your responsibility. They are asking, “who are you, really?” and “what passion, desire, or interest defines you as a human being and inspires you to embark on the difficult path of becoming a physician?” Your task is to see any open-ended inquiries as a rare chance to contribute something personal.
Developing your story: Your story should show you in action. Don’t focus on other people or the specifics of the institutions and occupations involved. Instead, concentrate on your own insights and choices. Organize your story into episodes in which a dramatic moment occurred when you learned a crucial lesson about the world or yourself. Focus on that exciting moment. You don’t need to talk about every episode in one answer or even all the episodes you prepared but try to insert at least one significant event in each answer. When all your experiences are considered, they should demonstrate how your self-awareness and commitment, which underlie your current decision to pursue a career in medicine, have grown over time.
What you choose to share will depend on how much of your interview’s agenda you have completed thus far. This point is essential to recall throughout the interview. Your success depends on your ability to be attentive and versatile, while keeping track of previous answers. If you cover part of a topic in one answer, avoid the temptation to repeat that information in another.
For example, “tell me about yourself” is different from “why don’t you begin by telling us about your interest in medicine?” Even if you only expected to introduce yourself at this point, listen carefully and answer the question as asked. As soon as you hear, “why medicine,” know that your response is crucial. Don’t miss this opportunity when it presents itself. To answer this question, you should have a clear thesis prepared (see below), rather than a few simple words concerning your background.
2. Your Thesis
Your thesis comprises the reasons you wish to go into medicine. These questions are usually framed as “why medicine?” and “why our school?” Answers to these questions are meant to explain why you are committed to and enthusiastic about a career in medicine, and why the specific school you are interviewing for is perfect for achieving your goals. In short, this is the most important question you will answer in a medical school interview.
For your thesis, be ready with a concise explanation of why you are drawn to the medical field, both professionally and emotionally. This is the key point you wish to make. Your thesis should:
- convey true excitement
- show that you will thrive as a physician
- be based on your own independent reflections on your life experiences to date
- incorporate at least two key themes from your personality, with one being your passion for medicine and your desire to treat the sick
In short, your thesis exhibits self-awareness and purposefulness. It should be your calling card. It should represent you well and come across as genuine and certain. You should respond quickly, with conviction, and leave no doubt in the interviewers’ minds that you know why you want to be a doctor and why you want to attend their school.
Reviewing can really help with this part of the interview. However, when you first consider the question, don’t overthink it. Rather, consider how you have answered friends, family, peers, or colleagues when you have been asked the same question in the past. What did you say? Chances are that the core values at the heart of your response will be found in your early replies to people you care about. Work those elements into a concise, strong response to this question.
3. Your Current Activities Related to Medicine
Evidently, being active in the medical field prior to applying to medical school attests to your commitment to the profession as well as any particular interests you may have in the field. “Tell me about what’s on your ” is an example of a question designed to find out more about your medically related activities. If you do not have much background in research or in a clinical or urgent care setting just yet, the interviewers won’t inquire about it directly but may ask, for example, about experiences you have had of caring for clients. Choose the closest illustration you have of working in the field and describe it.
However, to stand out in a medical school interview, recall that the activities themselves are not what interest the admissions committee. If you are interested in research, specify that, and truthfully express why that is. Caring for patients goes beyond the bedside. You might be fascinated with treatments for a specific disease because you know someone who has had to deal with it, or you might be invested in a particular population because you feel that it has been underserved. Whatever it is, know why you engaged in certain activities and tell the committee what you learned and how they furthered your desire to continue in medicine.
For each activity, structure your response as follows:
- Describe the activity and your part in it in one sentence.
- Focus on a single moment, encounter, action, or discussion to illustrate your involvement.
- Connect the event to your thesis.
Importantly, be sure to include throughout your interview at least one and ideally more than one example of when you demonstrated leadership. The perfect example is one in which you used your leadership skills to help someone else. Also highlight how a lesson about leadership gained from a mentor or through your own experience influenced your choices and how you see that knowledge impacting decisions you will make going forward as a medical student or as a physician.
4. Other Activities
While extracurriculars will not be your focus, they do offer an opportunity to stand out in a medical school interview. Pre-planning and selecting appropriate can have a positive impact on your acceptance chances. In fact, if you’ve been invited for an interview, it may have something to do with the way you presented your extracurriculars in your application.
Clinical and research activities, community service, teaching, and hobbies, such as sports, music, art, or event planning are all excellent dimensions of your personality you can leverage in your medical school interview. Participating in activities of a purely altruistic nature shows that you are a well-rounded person with interests beyond medical school that will help sustain you and give you an outlet when immersed in a profession that can be stressful. Such activities also indicate that you have developed a foundation in important skills and qualities, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and empathy.
5. Issues in Medicine
Be prepared to discuss a current issue in health care in detail. This requires reading and research into significant general issues, ethical issues, issues related to your field, and issues being addressed by the medical school where you are interviewing.
When such questions come up, you can use the opportunity to connect them to your thesis, express your understanding of the problem, consider potential solutions, and explain why the topic may be controversial. As these may be some of the most wide-ranging and complex questions you will encounter, it makes sense to learn .
For any issue you discuss, know enough about both sides to be able to mention the pros and cons, risks and benefits, and outstanding questions related to it. Note that you might also be expected to give your opinion and state what you would do. This is the case for policy questions included in the .
6. Questions for the Admissions Committee
This often-neglected component of the medical school interview deserves more attention for its role in helping you stand out. At a very basic level, how do you feel when you leave a conversation where the other party spent the whole time speaking about themselves and never asked you anything? Of course, you are supposed to do most of the talking in an interview, but nevertheless, what you are trying to establish is the beginning of a relationship between you and the school.
Remember that those who are interviewing you, whether individually or as a group, will be your peers, colleagues, mentors, or supervisors should you be accepted. As much as they are evaluating you holistically and objectively, they are human, too. You can try to work a few questions into your responses if they fit in naturally. For example, perhaps you are keen on joining a specific lab group but were unable to determine when or how you could connect. You could start by explaining why you are intrigued by the work they are doing and simply ask if you should make a request to join in your first term, or a little later, if you are accepted. It’s a small thing, but it makes for a more conversational tone and might open other topics of discussion.
More typically, you would ask your questions at the end, so come prepared with a few. Don’t ask questions for the sake of saying you did, especially if they concern information that you could easily find out through the admissions process or on the website. Select questions that address genuine interests or concerns you have, and if you know the interviewer’s field, ask questions you think they may be able to answer, based on your knowledge of their role at the school. The purpose of this step is not to exhaust all your questions (or exhaust the committee!) but to express interest and curiosity about the place where you hope to spend most of your waking hours in the coming years.
You can prepare your answers to typical questions by writing a draft response. The purpose is not to memorize this text but to get a rough sense of what and how much you can include in your answer. About 260–300 words make up a 2-minute speech, which is about what you should aim for with most of your answers. Some will be shorter, some will be longer, and some will prompt follow-up questions, so an average of two minutes will allow you to cover your main points and as many questions as the interviewer decides to ask. Limiting yourself and practicing your delivery will also prevent you from resorting to rambling if you feel like you have not provided sufficient information.
At the end of the interview, make sure to ask the admissions committee the questions you prepared for them. Be attentive to their signals concerning whether your time is up or not. You don’t want to overstay your welcome. At the very end, smile, thank the interviewers enthusiastically by name, and express your genuine appreciation for their time. Tell them that it was a real pleasure and privilege to be invited to interview for their school.
Finally, do send a to the committee through whichever channel is encouraged by the school. It will serve as a polite way of acknowledging the time they devoted to you and remind them of your name and other important interview information.
There’s an art to making a great first impression; a poor impression is much easier to achieve!
Here are 15 common mistakes to avoid:
- Approaching the interview like an exam with correct and incorrect responses.
- Reciting your resume; repeating information from your application.
- Memorizing answers.
- Crediting someone else with your decision to go into medicine.
- Apologizing for weaknesses or setbacks in your record.
- Working out your reasons for attending medical school during the interview.
- Flaunting your credentials.
- Attempting to “prove” why you’re a top candidate.
- Checking off qualities.
- Speaking poorly of another school, group, or person.
- Talking about a patient without mentioning the outcome.
- Taking a political position.
- Talking about how caring you are.
- Neglecting to mention interests other than medicine.
- Insisting on a single specialization.
Easy trick to stand out in your med school interview:
Remember that this is your interview. You are always in control of the substance of the interview, even though the interviewers are formulating the questions. By properly preparing for a range of questions, they won’t feel like curveballs the committee threw at you. If a specific question gives you pause, take a breath, reflect, and say something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea,” or “That’s not something I had thought deeply about before.” Take a moment. Then, answer the question as asked – briefly, if necessary, and prepare for the next one.
As a general strategy, always circle back to the main idea you want to convey in your response and use humor, points of connection, and imagery – rather than facts or information – as fundamental communication tools to stand out in your medical school interview and win yourself that coveted spot.
1. What’s the most common interview format?
There are many different interview formats, including one-on-one, panel interviews, and multiple mini interviews (MMIs). One-on-one interviews generally don’t last much longer than 30 or 40 minutes. Many interviews today will be held online and are often part of an “interview day,” when you will also be introduced to some key people and the campus. During the interview, you’ll be asked a range of questions, some of which may be unexpected. You should inquire in advance at the school regarding the interview format and details. In this article,
2. What is a mock interview?
A professionally conducted imitation of the medical school interview is known as a mock interview. You’ll get a sense of the types of questions asked and how to respond by participating in a mock interview, which will be conducted in the same manner as the actual interview. The interview coach can even represent the pressure on an applicant during an interview by asking unexpected questions, seeking clarifications, and making open-ended statements. The mock interview is by far the best method for getting ready for and becoming more comfortable with the interview process.
3. What do I wear to an 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.
4. How early should I be for my interview?
Be on time, which means arrive at the exact location of the interview well in advance. If your interview is virtual, be at your computer well ahead of time, check all your connections, ensure that you can access the interview platform, test your camera and microphone, and sit down and wait quietly about 10 minutes before the start time.
5. Should I memorize my answers?
No, a memorized response will sound stiff and artificial. Instead, prepare an outline of your responses and have a clear idea of what you’ll cover. In any case, you will not know which questions you will be asked in advance. You can practice your answers to and speak with an admissions consultant to get a better idea of what to expect in the interview.
6. Should I connect every answer to health care?
Almost every question in the medical school interview can be connected to health care and should be. However, you do not have to draw a direct line every time. What’s most important is to leave the admissions committee with a great impression, confidence that you will be an asset to their school and the medical profession, and a strong sense of who you are as a person.
7. What should I absolutely avoid in my medical school interview?
Worrying about right and wrong answers; repeating facts from your application; crediting someone else with your decision to go into medicine; bragging; obsessing over the school’s prestige; insulting a different institution, community, or individual; adopting a political stance.
8. Is it necessary to send a thank you letter to the admissions committee?
While it may not be necessary, it is certainly a good idea to do so. In addition to expressing your appreciation for their time, which is a respectful gesture, it will also remind them of your name and interview details.
9. What if I forget the interviewers’ names? I’m really bad with names.
It’s important to recall the interviewers’ names, even if it means asking them to repeat them and noting them quickly on a piece of paper. Regularly use the interviewers’ names when answering their questions. It’s not necessary to repeat them robotically each time: the point is to be polite and respectful. If you forget a name, you can still be cordial by saying, for example, “thank you for your question.” Don’t let going blank throw you off your whole interview.
Remembering the names of patients is an important skill you can develop, as it sends the message that you see them as a person and as an individual. One way to practice when you don’t have much exposure to memorizing long lists of names is to practice with your classmates. Ask people their names, write them down somewhere, study them, and then confirm them the next time you see them.