It’s August, and that means that medical school interview season is right around the corner. I was always told that if you are offered an interview, it is because the school believes you are a qualified candidate for their program. However, that didn’t really help calm my nerves on interview day; the truth is, interviews are nerve-wracking, but preparation and understanding of the interview process can help to put you at ease.
So, in an effort to share information that current M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students found useful for their medical school interviews, I have compiled some advice from current IU students about how to prepare for the big day.
1) Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right attire.
A professional, clean appearance will go a long way in forming first impressions. If you want to stay wrinkle-free, take off your coat/blazer while you drive. Also, make sure your shoes are appropriate for dress and walking. Don’t make the same mistake I did – avoid the nickel-sized blisters on your feet at the end of the day.
2) The hardest interview questions to answer are the broadest ones.
Questions like “Why do you want to be a doctor (or medical scientist)?” and “Why would you want to come to this school?” are deceptive little topics that can cause you to stumble if you aren’t prepared. Note that “money” and “getting a competitive residency spot” are usually taboo answers to these questions. Oh, and re-read your application materials. Nothing is worse than contradicting answers that you put in your own application! (Okay, yes, I guess there are worse things, but still…)
3) John Wells, an MS2 in the M.D./Ph.D. program, says that networking can make the difference in a successful interview.
Not only do recommendations carry more weight if your interviewer knows your recommender, but that connection gives you an easy way to strike up a conversation to get your interview going (you don’t want dead time to lead to an awkward conversation). So, it is probably a good idea to ask your recommenders if they know any of your interviewers once you have your interview itinerary. Also, it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. Everyone you meet during your interview is interviewing you – faculty, staff, students, co-applicants, secretaries, janitors, etc. Treat everybody with respect and courtesy.
4) Prepare for the interview very purposefully.
Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself (actually watch the recording!), and have family/friends practice asking you questions. I guarantee you, your first few tries will be very cringe-worthy, but that is how you get better. Also, practice how you might use a whiteboard in case there happens to be one in the interview room – it can be very handy and impressive if you need to explain technical aspects of your research. Likewise, make sure you are ready for common interview questions, non-medical personal questions, and ethics/policy/current events questions that may be asked of you. You can find lots of sample interview questions on the interwebs.
5) Hannah Kline, a GS1 in the M.D./Ph.D. program, recommends that you remove “I never thought about that” from your vocabulary.
It is okay, you will not know everything about medicine before your interview. However, if an interviewer asks you a question about a topic, it is because that topic is important to them and to the school. While it is acceptable to admit the shortcomings of your knowledge, you also want to demonstrate that you understand and acknowledge current important topics in medicine. Keep this in mind if you are asked a question that you are not prepared to answer.
6) Andrew Sivaprakasam, an MS1 in the M.D./ Ph.D. program, says that confidence in your abilities is the key to interviews.
Despite all your preparation, there is no way you will be able to prepare for everything on interview day. At some point, you just have to trust in yourself. In addition, it is okay to enjoy your interviews too! Relax, be nice to everyone you encounter, and if you allow yourself to enjoy your experience, it will be apparent to your evaluators.
7) One MS3 in the M.D./ Ph.D. program, who has asked to remain anonymous, recommends that you are prepared to address not only your strengths, but also your deficiencies.
Perfection is not expected, but you will need to convince your interviewer that you will still be able to succeed in medical school.
8) Handwritten thank-you notes (or sometimes emails) have come to be expected with interviews nowadays.
However, what separates the good from the average are notes that recall specific details from the interview. I would recommend carrying a note sheet with you, and jotting down the interviewer name and topics discussed immediately after the interview. This way, you can write a killer thank-you note and follow up appropriately with specific details from each interview.
9) Monica Cheng, an MS2, advises interviewing students to remember that interviews are a two-way street.
Ultimately, you want to land at the school that is the right fit for you. Interviews are a chance for you to find answers to questions that are not answered by a school’s public materials. Furthermore, it reflects well on you to observe and ask good questions during your interview.
With these recommendations, I hope you feel prepared to tackle your interviews. If you have any questions, I am happy to respond to personal messages. Follow the MSTP program on Facebook at @IUMSTP!
– Nate Smith, MS2