Student sits in front of two assessors during a medical school interview

How to Prepare for a Medical School Interview: A Step by Step Guide

April 5, 2021

Introduction

Congratulations! You’ve scored an invitation to interview. Your insides churn as you feel the pressure weighing down on you. You have heard the stories of prospective students being rejected from medical school because they failed the interview portion of the admissions process. The most significant error these students make is underestimating the importance of the interviews, so you want to prepare for your medical school interview. This interview is your ticket into the medical school of your dreams. The interview can make or break your chances of admission, so you have to give it your all and put your absolute best foot forward.

Researching medical schools' interview processes can be tricky because each medical school has a different interview format. However, the goal of this guide is to help you prepare for your medical school interview. We will provide you with the information and tips you will need to help you succeed during your final opportunity to convince the admission committee that you are the best fit for their program. 

Step One: Research Medical Schools

Every medical school is unique; each specializes in different medical areas and has individual mission statements, so having a thorough understanding of each medical school you’ll be interviewing at is a great place to start. 

Begin by looking at the mission statement for the medical school of your choice. You want to find a medical school with the same outlook as you. It will give you an idea of what the school is looking for in their candidates and if the medical school’s goals line up with your pursuits. Take a look at the following mission statements from two of the top medical schools in the United States: 

“To nurture a diverse, inclusive community dedicated to alleviating suffering and improving health and well-being for all through excellence in teaching and learning, discovery and scholarship, and service and leadership.” -Harvard Medical School

“The mission of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is to prepare physicians to practice compassionate clinical medicine of the highest standard and to identify and solve fundamental questions in the mechanisms, prevention and treatment of disease, in health care delivery and in the basic sciences.” -John Hopkins University School of Medicine

While both mission statements convey a similar passion for medicine, John Hopkins School of Medicine focuses more on clinical medicine and research, and Harvard Medical School focuses on general healthcare and academic medicine. You will want to find aspects of the medical school’s mission and values that resonate with you. For example, Harvard mentions the importance of a diverse, inclusive community. This may be important for you and you have experiences that support this, such as volunteer work, working with refugees who speak a foreign language, etc. Reference the medical school’s mission statement in your interview, and include key phrases to show the interviewers you have researched their institution. Show them how the university aligns with your goals by using your supporting evidence. 

Another topic to review is the achievements in medicine the medical school you choose has accomplished. This will require a little more research, but by having prior knowledge of this and discussing it in your interview, it will show the admissions committee you aren’t taking the school at face value; you have put in the work to learn whether their medical school is a good fit for you. 

Interviewers often ask why you chose to apply to their school rather than another, so having information about the school is a great way to convey your interest. Tying your medical school knowledge with your desire to pursue medicine will impress the admissions committee more than a general statement stating your willingness to go to their university.

Step Two: Stay Updated on Current Events in Medicine

It’s very likely that you will encounter at least one question regarding current events in medicine, so keeping up with what is happening in the world is crucial to your success. Keep up with political issues, especially when it pertains to health care. Platforms such as CNN and the New York Times are resources to help keep up to date on health issues. Researching scholarly articles and books are also a great way to expand your knowledge. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is an excellent resource as it publishes original research, reviews, and more about medicine. Bioethics, innovative technologies, and medical policies are great topics to stay updated on because they are ever-changing in the medical field. 

When you discuss a current event in medicine during your interview, you will want to elaborate on the topic provided. Interviewers want to see you know more about your topic than shown at face value. For example, if you discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, you shouldn’t make a general statement. Instead, it would help if you elaborated on COVID-19, the struggle for creating the vaccine, what current scientists developing the vaccine are saying, and any bioethical dilemmas. The point is to show the admissions committee your knowledge and critical thinking abilities in current medicine events.

Some topics may be highly controversial, such as marijuana use and abortion, and it is very likely you will be asked to give your stance on these issues. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; interviewers are more interested in understanding your knowledge of such topics and response. Remember, you do not want to generalize your answer. It’s important to represent both sides of a topic fairly, and then choose your stance and be able to defend it.  As usual, you want to be honest. If you are unsure how to respond, ask questions based on what you already know in order to expand further upon the prompt. 

Step Three: Know the Medical School Interview Formats

Each medical school has a different format for interviewing candidates, so you will want to be aware of the various methods.

The one-on-one format is a traditional interview style. Candidates will have one interview with a single interviewer. The one-on-one interview format can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to conduct. Therefore, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Interviewers will ask various questions about yourself, your education, work experiences, etc. You will want to go in prepared to answer any question or scenario.

A panel interview is another common medical school interview format. Candidates will be asked questions from a group of interviewers during a single interview. Unlike one-on-one interviews, you have one chance to make a first impression on multiple members of the admissions committee. Panel interviews can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the medical school. 

The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format consists of a number of mini-interviews, each focusing on a specific topic or scenario. Candidates will be asked to go through a set of short interviews that are designed to gauge your verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Each interview is conducted at separate “stations.” You will be presented with a prompt outside of each station before being taken into the interview room, where you will have anywhere from five to ten minutes to answer the prompt or complete the task. The goal of the MMI format is to assess abilities interviewers can’t receive from an application, such as problem-solving skills and critical thinking. Unlike one-on-one interviews, the MMI format allows candidates to make multiple first impressions. Therefore, if they feel they didn’t do well on one question, they have a chance to redeem themselves with the next Interviewer. 

The AAMC Video Interview Tool for Admissions (AAMC VITA) is a new interview method created by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC VITA is a one-way, one-time recorded interview designed to help medical schools assess an applicant’s competency to be successful in medical school. The interview consists of six questions provided in text prompts, and applicants have one chance to record their responses. You have one minute to read the prompt and three minutes to record your answer; there is no human interaction.  

Video interviews are also becoming a more popular interview format. Candidates are interviewed virtually through platforms such as Skype and Zoom. Prepare a space ahead of time where you will not be disturbed, and make sure you will maintain your privacy for the duration of the interview. It should be in a brightly-lit area so the interviewers can see you clearly. While not in-person, you must dress professionally from head to toe–yes, including bottoms. You will want to convey yourself as you would at an in-person interview, so dressing casually is not an option. Also, make sure your device is plugged in and fully charged. Interviewers are not likely to offer a second interview if your device dies in the middle of the interview.  

Interviewers are either open-file or closed-file. With open-file interviews, interviewers have access to your application materials. Some questions may therefore ask you to expand on aspects of your application. A closed-file interview is where the assessors have not reviewed your application materials.Therefore, you will be interviewing as though they know nothing about you except your name. If your interview is closed- file, you’ll want to ensure you highlight your background, passion, and experiences while answering questions. 

Step Four: Practice for a Medical School Interview

Practicing your interview is one of the best ways to ease your pre-interview jitters. Once you know the format in which the interview is being conducted, you will want to practice within it. Here are some helpful tips:

Review sample questions. Research sample questions and use that as a place to start. This will give you a better idea of what the interviewers will be asking. It will also give you an idea of how you will shape your responses. For scenarios-type questions, it’s important to remain non-judgmental, explore all possibilities, and keep any vulnerable parties in mind while you’re answering. . Interviewers not only want a thorough response but they also want to understand your thought process, so preparing ahead of time for the style in which you wish to convey yourself eases much of the tension with medical school interviews

Practice in front of a mirror. Practicing for an interview in front of a mirror is the best way to check your nonverbal demeanor. Small gestures or ticks can indicate your nervousness to interviewers, so you want to identify them early and manage it prior to the real medical school interview. It will also show you how you are coming across to your audience. Are you projecting your voice enough? Are you stuttering or pausing too long when responding? Did you answer the question fully? These are some things to consider when you are rehearsing in front of the mirror.

Maintain eye contact. With such a time range for interviews, it is no surprise that you can sometimes get distracted. Your gaze may wander away from the interviewer to something else in the room. Do not let that happen. Maintain eye contact with your interviewer as much as possible. If you find yourself getting distracted, focus on what the interviewer is saying and repeat it back to them in your own words. This will not only keep you focused but also make sure you are understanding their question. If you are practicing at home, use an inanimate object as your “interviewer” and focus on it as you practice.

Mock interviews with experts. Seek help from professionals who know what the admissions committees seek in candidates during the interview portion. They will conduct a mock interview and provide you with expert feedback on how to better perform when the actual interview takes place. This is a great way to get an unbiased opinion on how you present yourself at an interview and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. 

Step Five: Answer the Big Question: Why Medical School?

You will be asked a lot of questions during your medical school interview. However, the most important question you must answer will be why you want to go to medical school. This question has multiple components, but this is your chance to state why you have chosen this career path and what it means to you. Consider the following in regards to this question:

Did you always want to go to medical school? If so, why? 

If you did not always want to go to medical school, when did you realize you did?

You applied to a medical school program for a reason. What about the program you selected further emphasizes your desire to pursue medicine?

Don’t use cliches such as, “I want to help people” and “I want to make a difference.” The admissions committee interviews hundreds of applicants, and they all want to help people, so simply stating that you do will not impress the interviewers. If you do make such a statement, you will be asked to elaborate exponentially. Highlight experiences and moments during your undergraduate years that reinforced your desire to pursue medicine. In other words, what was the defining moment in your life that made you say, “This is what I want to do”? If you state that you want to make a difference, interviewers may ask, “A difference in what, and why?” Therefore, being as concise and detailed as possible is the best tactic.

Derailing from your application may weaken your answers' authenticity, so try to highlight your medical school application's critical components during this question. There is nothing wrong with retelling a story from your personal statement–as long as you focus on a different aspect of the experience.

Step Six: How to Present Yourself at a Medical School Interview

How you present yourself during your medical school interview is just as important as the interview itself. The admissions committee wants applicants that demonstrate an aura of professionalism. There are two simple steps to remember when presenting yourself at a medical school interview:

Dress professionally. Whether the interview is in person or a prerecorded video, you must dress in professional business attire–as you would with any interview. As you can see from the chart above from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, professional attire appears more formal than business casual attire. Colored clothing and patterns are not prohibited. However, you will want to tone it down, so the interviewers aren’t distracted by your appearance. For example, wearing neon-printed shirts and having lime-green hair does not give off a professional applicant's impression. The admissions committee will question your ability to be professional as a physician. Add colors, but try to keep a neutral palette. In these medical school interviews, how you dress matters, so dress accordingly.

Be confident. It’s no secret medical school interviews are stressful and nerve-wracking, and it’s okay to feel that way. However, you don’t want to give your interviewers the impression that you are nervous or worried. They will question your ability to handle the pressures that come with medical school and being a physician. Maintain a positive demeanor and be confident in your speech. 

Keeping a clean, polished look internally and externally goes a long way during medical school interviews. It will leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee. 

Additional Interview Tips from a Medical School Student

Receiving advice from a current medical school student provides reassurance to prospective students because they hear firsthand what they went through to get into the school they are in now. Medical school student John Williams of Ross University School of Medicine offers a few tips for handling medical school interviews:

Be yourself. Interviewers want to see who you are beyond the grades and MCAT scores. Show them you are a real person with the qualities they desire in their candidates.

Do not make anything up. Whether your interview is an open or close-file format, you must be honest. They know when you are lying, and if they don’t, they will find out. You will not be offered admission.

Know your application. Know your entire application front and back because they will ask about it and base their questions around it. Your application includes the AMCAS application, secondary application, MCAT scores, academic records, and your letters of recommendation. 

Practice. Practicing your interview responses ahead of time will give you a feel of how you wish to present yourself. Set up mock interviews with professional consultants to prepare yourself for the actual interview. It helps with the pre-interview jitters as well.

Smile. It sounds cliche, but smiling does make a difference. You will be nervous, and it is okay to be Smiling will help calm you down and put your interviewers at ease as well. Never underestimate the power of a smile.

Have questions. When, not if, they ask you if you have any questions, do not say no. Have at least three questions ready for them. It communicates interest. Avoid asking questions you can find on the internet.

Examples of weak questions:

How many students do you accept each year?

What is the student community like?

How much is tuition for a medical student at your institution?

Examples of good questions:

Can you tell me more about the program to which I am applying?

Based on what you have seen, and your personal experience, what advice would you give to a first-year student?

Is there anything else in my application on which you would like me to elaborate further?

Conclusion

There is a lot of pressure when it comes to the interview portion of the admissions process. However, this guide has provided you with the information you need to prepare for your interview in advance. By learning about interview formats, what you should and should not discuss, and special tips from a current medical student, you’re well on your way to a successful interview performance. By following this step-by-step guide, you place yourself at an advantage amongst the other candidates and strengthen your chances of getting accepted into medical school.

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