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Medical School Interview

After your application is complete, the medical school will decide whether or not to grant you an interview. At Mount Sinai School of Medicine, for example, for the class matriculating in 2019 out of 6,156 applicants, 930 (15%) were interviewed and 140 (15% of those interviewed) were enrolled. The interview is therefore an important part of your application. If you have submitted your application in early June complete with MCAT scores, you should receive requests for interviews in September and October.

1. Preparation for the Interview

The purpose of the interview is to find out who you are and why you want to be a doctor. It is also a chance for you to learn more about the medical schools, which will help you later on in making choices. Normally, presentations, tours, and question and answer sessions are part of the interview day.

Prior to the interview, you should study the school's website and its entry in the MSAR, and prepare questions you have about their program (obviously not ones which are answered in the above resources). You should be well groomed and dress appropriately and conservatively (skirt suits or dresses for women; suits or jackets and ties for men), and arrive on time. Wear shoes that will be comfortable as your tour the facilities, which can entail more than an hour of walking. The interviewer will be evaluating you on your personality, your ability to communicate and relate well to others, and your motivation for medicine. If you are able to talk compassionately about people or patients you have worked with, that will help. You can also talk about research experience. Interviewers will also look for depth and breadth of general knowledge, meaningful experiences and interests in and out of the classroom, and evidence of compassion, creativity, independence and leadership.

One way that you might prepare is to think of three or four things that you hope to cover in the interview. That way, you will have a ready response to open-ended questions, and you won't waste an opportunity to let the interviewer know something really important and interesting about your candidacy.

While you will probably not be quizzed on current events, it makes sense to keep up with the news on developments in the health care field, so that you can make intelligent conversation. This can be done by reading a good daily newspaper or weekly newsmagazine.

You will have the opportunity to do a mock interview with Gigi, so that you can have a chance to practice and get feedback on your interviewing style. The Health Sciences Office keeps applicants' reports of their interviews at various schools; you should request these before an interview.

2. Types of Interviews

Normally, the people who do medical school interviews are skilled at making you feel as comfortable as possible. They will want to give you every opportunity to express yourself to your best advantage. There are several types of interviews, and you should be prepared for anything.

  1. Informal Interview — The person interviewing you will make you feel relaxed, and may even serve coffee and doughnuts. It might feel more like a friendly conversation than an interview.
  2. The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) —  You will have several very brief opportunities to respond to a question or a prompt, usually on an ethical dilemma.
  3. Informed Interview — In this type of interview, the interviewer has looked over your essay and our Committee letter and will use this information to direct the questions. Harvard University uses the informed interview.
  4. Blind Interview — In the blind interview, the interviewer has not read all or part of your folder and has no prejudged opinion. The University of Pennsylvania uses the blind interview. Some medical schools have two interviews, one blind and one informed.
  5. Group Interview — You may be interviewed by several interviewers at once, or there may be several candidates interviewed at the same time. Sometimes they ask straightforward questions; in others, candidates are asked to participate in a group exercise.

Almost every applicant relates that she or he has had one terrible interview. Sometimes they end up getting accepted at that school anyway. However, if you do have a bad interview, please let Gigi know about it. Medical schools want to know when their applicants are treated illegally or unfairly.

3. What They're Looking for

The interviewer is looking for the following:

  1. Communication skills: How well do you express yourself? Can you express a point of view convincingly? Are you a good listener? Can you engage in conversational give and take?
  2. Personality, evidence of maturity and the ability to relate to others.
  3. Motivation toward medicine, concern or compassion for others: If you can discuss lab research experience or an internship with a doctor or volunteer work in an emergency room, do so. Do not generalize. Be specific about observations about patients or accounts of your work. If you have had a family experience with illness or disability and it was an important part of your motivation, describe how it was so.
  4. Depth and breadth of knowledge and interests in and out of medicine.
  5. Meaningful experiences in and out of the classroom and in life.
  6. Evidence of creativity, organizational skills and leadership: If you have been in many activities, stress those activities that you have enjoyed the most, and where you have made your greatest contribution.
  7. Ability to cope with stress: What obstacles have you overcome and how? What would you do differently if you had the chance?  Here you may have the opportunity to explain flaws or weaknesses in your record or expand on your credentials. For weaknesses, take the blame yourself.  If possible, it is good to include what you've done to work to overcome a weakness. For strengths, don't be afraid to brag a bit about your accomplishments.
  8. Match for a particular school. Be prepared to enthusiastically say why you would want to attend that particular school, and why you are a good match for it.

4. Questions That Interviewers Have Asked

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to be a doctor?
  3. What do you think of health care reform, stem cell research, abortion, the problem of the uninsured?
  4. Why did you attend Swarthmore?
  5. Why do you want to go to this medical school?
  6. Have you been accepted or are you interviewing elsewhere? (Be honest.)
  7. What will you do if not admitted to medical school?
  8. What books have you read recently and what do you think of them?
  9. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  10. What do you do for fun?
  11. Why should we choose YOU?

5. Your Attitude

Be honest in all your answers so that you can defend them convincingly.  Be confident but not abrasive. Do not tell them what is wrong with medicine since 1) you have not experienced medicine yet and 2) medicine is their life and profession. Medical schools are looking for capable, mature persons. That is what you are and the interview will give you an opportunity to demonstrate it.

Make sure that you are polite and pleasant to everyone with whom you interact. If you are rude to the receptionist on the phone, for example, that could come back to haunt you. Don’t criticize the school, or any of the people associated with it when you are there.

After the interview, be sure to send a brief thank you note to the faculty or admissions staff who interviewed you. It should be an email, making specific reference to the conversation that you had, and noting why you would want to attend that school, or why you would be a good match for it.

6. Questions You May Want To Ask

You should ask questions at your interviews, both as a way to learn more about the school, and as a way to demonstrate your own interest. Be sure you have read the school's publications carefully, and ask questions to amplify or clarify topics of interest to you. Do not ask, "Do you have a program in neurobiology?" but rather, "Tell me more about your program in neurobiology." Save lifestyle questions for informal conversations with students or Swarthmore alums.

In addition, there are many other things you want to learn about a medical school to help you decide if you would like to spend four years there. These can be learned by studying their publications, attending the financial aid session, by informal conversation with students (especially Swarthmore alums) and by your own observation. Many medical schools have re-visit programs for accepted students in the spring. 

After your interview day, it makes sense to jot down your impressions of the school. You may find it very useful several months down the road, when all your memories of your school visits begin to blur, when you are trying to decide which one to attend.