Preparing for Your Medical School Interview: General Approach and Big Picture Questions

Posted by Sam C. on 4/6/18 3:01 PM

Interview 2-1

First things first - congratulations on getting a medical school interview.  It is no small accomplishment and you should take a moment to appreciate all the hard work that has gotten you to this point.  There is still much hard work ahead, but let the “wins” fuel you moving forward. 

In this post I will cover how to best approach and attack the medical school interview from a big picture perspective.  Next month will focus on how to handle specific, challenging questions. 

What interviewers want to know

In order to properly prepare, it is important to first think of this from the interviewers’ perspective.  They largely want to find out two things:

  1. How are you different and/or better than the person they just spoke to before you
  2. Will you be a good fit in this community

The remainder of the post will focus on how to direct your answers at addressing these issues, including examples with big picture questions.

Your Goal - Tell a Story

If you have been invited to interview this means they were impressed with your paper application. They were enticed enough by your accomplishments that they want to hear more and they were not put off enough by your short-comings that they were deterred.  You have a foot in the door and now your job is to win them over. 

You have a short amount of time in which you have to be impressive, inspiring, and memorable.  The best way to do this is to tell a story.  Your application is a narrative, everything you have done is connected by a common theme, and each question you answer is a chapter that relates to the narrative.  The narratives may vary. You could have been an English major and were drawn to medicine by the marriage of art and science and the humanity and characters of interesting patients. You could have been a basic science major, spent a large amount of time working in a lab, and getting an MD will help you start your own lab to further immunotherapies and change the game for how we treat cancer.  You could have been moved by seeing a loved one work as a physician or witnessing a stranger care for a loved one, and realized that you wanted to do what they did, even if at the time you didn’t know fully what that was.  Regardless of the theme or the story,  it all ends the same - with you becoming a doctor. 

How Do You Do This

It is easier said than done to make sure all of your answers to difficult, sometimes surprising questions, are united by a theme.  There are two irreplaceable elements

Be genuine

There are a lot of “boxes to check” when applying to medical school, and as a result, not every extracurricular you participated in was out of passion for what it was, but was because it fulfilled a requirement. When you discuss these activities, do not fein enthusiasm; it will be obvious. But even if you were a teacher and had no interest in research, there was some reason you chose to work in the lab you did choose or with the mentor that you did.  Focus on the elements you did choose.  It is a long and often difficult process to become and train as a doctor.  You have to love what you’re doing.  Show that excitement and be genuine.  In addition to consolidating your story it will make the interviewer feel happier talking to you and more eager to talk about you when they discuss you at the admission’s meetings.

Practice

Brainstorm what you want to say and once you have found an answer that makes you excited, say it aloud. Say it aloud many times. Write it out first if it helps to organize your thoughts, but do not memorize a paragraph.  Say it aloud to yourself.  Say it aloud to multiple listeners to get feedback.  The words should feel comfortable coming out of your mouth, but not sound so rehearsed that it loses what makes it organic.  If you’re a confident person, make sure you don’t start to sound arrogant.  If you’re a shy person, make sure you become comfortable with talking and even “bragging” about yourself.

The General Questions

Tell me about yourself/describe yourself in X words/what do you want me to know about you that isn’t in your application:

As with all questions, it is important to identify what is really being asked.  While the interviewer may want to know something new about you as an applicant, what they really care about, is finding out what is important to you, what will you talk about first.  This can help show them if your values line up with theirs and if you’ll be a good fit.

I always started with what is most important to me - my family and my upbringing.  Depending on what exactly the question dictates it may be appropriate to give a concise “highlight reel” of your life/education/experiences up to this point. But if all the interviewer learns from this questions is that I am the oldest sibling with a younger brother and sister who grew up going to public school in New York City, then they have already learned a lot about what is important to me and the foundation that influences many of my decisions. 

What’s to come

The next post will go into more depth regarding how to approach specific, challenging questions.  If there are any questions in particular that you would like me address, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Tags: MD/PhD admissions