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How to Tackle Medical School Interviews

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How to Tackle Medical School Interviews

Interviews play a significant role in getting accepted to medical school. They are the last hurdle applicants must pass in order to secure a spot for the upcoming class potentially.  Knowing what to expect and preparing in advance is the best way to perform well during the interview cycle. This post will inform you about the various types of interviews, what to expect, and examples with tips on preparing before the interview day.

1.What are the different types of medical school interview formats?

The types include traditional/formal interviews, multiple mini interviews, and video recording interviews. You can find more details about each of them below:

A. Traditional/Standard

Traditional, also known as standard interviews, are your typical formal interviews with one or more interviewers. Interviewers can be anyone from practicing physicians to upperclassmen medical students or staff members. Recently, traditional interviews are not as popular as the other types, but many medical schools still use them. They can last anywhere from about 20 minutes to an hour.

A word of warning: these interviews can be quite subjective since each interviewer will have their way of questioning something you may have heard asked differently. Just take a deep breath, take a second to think, and genuinely answer while being yourself.

B. MMI Interview (Multiple Mini Interview)

The Multiple Mini Interview was developed to address concerns regarding traditional interviews being too subjective and meant to test your medical competencies and soft skills.

MMIs are equivalent to a situational response test carried out by 8 – 12 interviewers each evaluating your response to a specific prompt.

Each interviewer will be at their station. In most cases, when you get to that station, you will be given 1-2 minutes to read the prompt, or it can be read to you by the interviewer or even occasionally acted out by actors in the room. Then you will be given time to think and about 4 minutes to respond. There is an example of a flowchart below. (This may vary by school, but they will provide instructions before you start the interview).

Prompts can include topics that are an ethical dilemma, policy-based question, or even a traditional question.

An example of Multiple Mini Interview prompt: Imagine the scenario, you as a surgeon have two patients in critical condition that require a kidney transplant, but you only have one available. The first patient is a successful elderly female who helps her community immensely while the other is a college dropout 19-year-old alcoholic. Who do you choose and why?

1-What should you do?

    1. Restating the question or summarizing the main point and problem in the scenario before you begin can serve not only as a great introduction to your answer but also clarify any misunderstandings before you start answering.
    2. Even if you have a strong opinion, in this case, regarding, who should be given the kidney transplant, remain non-judgmental. This means weighing all possible outcomes vocally and showing empathy to all perspectives.
    3. Make sure you always mention gathering more information directly from the people in the scenario before coming up with any conclusions.
    4. As silly as it seems – don’t forget to answer the question!
  1. What should you not do on Multiple Mini Interviews?
    1. Do not make any assumptions about anything in the prompt
    2. Do not express strong one-sided opinions
    3. Try not to take all the time given to answer the question. Sometimes interviewers are given follow-up questions that can give you another opportunity to show your mindset and ability to react to such scenarios.
    4. Do not overstep your capabilities – in other words, if you are not fit to make a decision, mention in your answer that someone with a higher understanding should be consulted.
  2. Good Response for Multiple Mini Interview Prompts: As a surgeon, I have a dilemma of needing to choose who should receive an urgent kidney transplant – a successful female who is an active member of her community or a 19-year-old male alcoholic who dropped out of college. I will first need to gather more information to make an informed decision, and I must remain non-judgmental so I do not jump to false conclusions. First, I will see if both patients are matched to receive the kidney transplant and if their conditions are suitable for the operation. I would then need to inquire about their post-transplant prognoses to see if perhaps one patient will have a better quality of life than the other. Because a transplant procedure includes a scarce resource and requires many people to finalize and conduct it, I should ask other healthcare staff, physicians, the transplant board, or even hospital ethics staff for their educated opinions. There can be only two outcomes from this scenario, either the elderly female receives the kidney transplant, or the 19-year-old male does. The decision would be made after consulting many educated team members non-judgmentally and after obtaining more information on who will have the strongest recovery after the transplant. The patient who will not receive the transplant will be accommodating with other resources, and the healthcare team will inform them of other potential treatments and the next steps that can be taken to help them. Thank you.
  3. Improper Response to Multiple Mini interview Prompts: I believe the elderly female should get a kidney transplant because she obviously helps others in her community, and although she is old, she is better than the 19-year-old alcohol who did not even get a college education. In terms of who can better serve the community, it would be her, so she should be saved.

C. Video Recording Interview Submission (Snapshot by Altus)Just like it sounds, the applicant will submit a video recording to interview questions or prompts

  1. Just like it sounds, the applicant will submit a video recording to interview questions or prompts

  2. Snapshot by Altus is an example of a video recording interview that consists of three interview-style questions. Each question gives you about 2 minutes to respond and allows interviewers to get a “snapshot” of who you are. This is an opportunity for you to bring your C.V. and personal statement to life!

2.How should I prepare for the questions and content that will be asked?


A. General tips:

  1. Control your tone: be affirmative and believable

     

    1. Practice speaking in the mirror or even video/audio recording yourself.

    2. Attend mock interviews at your school or online. You can even ask family or friends to ask you general questions for practice.

    3. Learn to answer based on the interview format (Standard vs. MMI). Look into what type of interview that medical school conducts.

  2. Never lie about anything.

  3. Read common everyday topics (especially healthcare reform and policy)

    1. Some places like to ask questions like this, so just try to stay updated with news throughout the interview cycle

  4. Be friendly and respectful to everyone  in each part of the interview because everyone is observing you and  may submit a report about their opinion on you to the committee             

 B. Know your AMCAS application:

  1. Read your primary and secondary application/essays. It is important to be familiar with what you have mentioned and highlighted. This includes being well-versed in the topics mentioned in your personal statement, your work and activities, and any secondary essays.

  2. Review your accolades and resume. Interviewers want to know more about you and your experiences. Some interviews are open files meaning they can see your application, allowing them to ask detailed questions about what you have done in the past and what awards you have received.

  3. Be able to talk about anything in detail, from volunteering to research topics that you have on your application. Instead of only describing the details of these experiences, focus on how they have impacted you and your personality.

C. Look up the specific school you are interviewing at for information on curriculum and their stats.

I. If you are interested in MD schools, you should look into getting an MSAR(Medical School Admission Requirements) subscription through AAMC for $28. It offers individual schools’ comprehensive data such as the average MCAT and GPA for accepted and matriculated students for the past few years, deadlines for each program, mission statements, tuition costs, and more.

II. However, if you are interested in DO schools, a relatively new resource that parallels MSAR but for DO schools is Choose DO.

3. What are some questions that I can ask the interviewers during my interview?


A. Formulate your own questions based on your interests and their websites (don’t ask anything that can be answered with information available on their website)

       I. Examples:

    1. “Are you involved in research here, and what is the process if I want to become involved?”

    2. “On the website, I read about [insert a program from the school] and was interested in learning more about it. Are you a part of it, or do you know anything about it?”

    3. “What do students do in their spare time here?”

    4. “What resources are available for student wellness?”
Interview Preparation(1 Hour)
The best way to learn something is to do it. That’s why we divide our one-hour interview preparation sessions into two parts. The first half of the session would be a mock interview as if you are interviewing with a program while the second half would provide you with feedback on your performance.

4.What are some of the commonly asked questions in a medical school interview?

 

A. Come up with quick talking points to common questions (describe yourself, interests, strengths, weaknesses, why medicine, future plans, etc.)

 

        I. Tell me about yourself:

    1. This is similar to an elevator pitch. Include highlights about your life and facts about yourself, family, where you grew up, relevant clinical experiences, volunteering, research, and hobbies

    2. Good Response: I am a first-generation American from Seattle, Washington, and my parents are immigrants from Europe. Growing up I lived near a vulnerable community and from a young age, I witnessed the impact healthcare providers can make on these communities which is what I too hope to achieve in my professional career. In my free time, I volunteer at the local food pantry and loving playing tennis on the intramural team at my school.

    3. Weaker Response: I am from Seattle, Washington. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since I was little because I want to help people feel better. Science was always an interest of mine

      II. Why medicine?

  1. Give personal anecdotes that show your interest yet still answers the question
  2. Good Response: In high school, my grandfather died of a brain stroke in a small rural city in Sri Lanka. My family later learned that if there had been a specialized clinician who knows more about neurology, he would have survived longer. That moment sparked me to embark on this medical journey to prevent such situations within other families by increasing health equity and availability in any way I can.
  3. Weaker Response: Through my numerous experiences, I realized that I truly enjoy helping people. Medicine is a good avenue for me to pursue this endeavor while achieving other goals of self-accomplishment and success.

     III. Why this school/program?

  1. Good Response: My ambitions upon becoming a doctor are to advance the medical field, positively impact society, and most importantly, treat patients to the best of my ability. To achieve my dreams, I need a comprehensive medical education. The (insert medical school name) provides this education along with additional compelling factors through treks in the field of networking and international exchange. The university’s location, student body, and dedication towards providing research and medical opportunities to benefit medically underserved populations greatly appeal to me.
  2. Weaker Response: I believe I am a good fit for this school because my passions and accomplishments align with this (medical school name) mission of helping the people within the local community.

    IV. What would you do if you did not attend medical school this year?

    V. What is one strength/weakness?

  1. Talk about a significant experience and mention a quality or skill you did or did not have
    1.  If it is a weakness, be sure to include how you worked on it or are currently working on it.

     VI. What are your career goals?

     VII. What do you do in your free time (hobbies/interests)?

5.What is CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics)?

 

An exam that some medical schools will request an applicant to take. CASPer is a situational judgment test similar to a Multiple Mini Interview. It is used to determine your mindset when presented with a problem and to observe your behavioral response.

If you take the CASPer Test through Altus (required by some medical schools), remember the ethical prompts and how you responded since some schools will ask similar things or even what your opinion is about CASPer.

  1. General tips for CASPer:
    1. While taking the exam, it is important to find a quiet environment with no interruptions for about 100 – 120 minutes.
    2. It is also helpful to type quickly – taking a typing speed test can help determine where you are and if you need to practice!
    3. Make sure to attempt the practice CASPer test provided by Altus.
    4. Check your system ahead of time to ensure no technical difficulties and be familiar with the format of the test.
    5. Keep in mind to wear smart casual attire since raters can see what you are wearing when they rate your video responses. No need to go over the top, but a dress shirt or blouse with pants is recommended.

C. CASPer example scenarios and example answers:

  1. Example of a word-based scenario: You are with your science project group and are currently at the library. John, Christie, and Sue want to go to the coffee shop to work on the project, but Chris seems hesitant and insists on staying at the library and finishing it. You remember that Chris is hard of hearing and just recently went under a procedure to get hearing aids. Chris is a hard-working student and is always responsible, and has been a great team member in other projects, so you know he would rather not be excluded from doing the work. The rest of the group does not understand why Chris is being unfair about not wanting to go to the coffee shop, especially since the others are hungry and the majority vote is to go there.

  2. Questions:

    1. The rest of the group looks to you since you are the one member who has not voiced your opinion yet. What do you do?

      1. This situation must be diffused appropriately and non-judgmentally without any further conflict. It is important to first gather more information about how Chris truly feels and why he is uncomfortable with going to the coffee shop. If he confirms it is because it will be difficult to hear and therefore hard to work on the project, then it is important to tell him that it is a valid reason. Reassuring him that he is also a valued member of the team and that his comfort will be considered is key, and the next thing I would do is ask him if he is comfortable with telling the others why he does not wish to go to the coffee shop. This will ensure that they are given a reason from him which may ease their confusion, and they may start to think of another way to accommodate Chris. If Chris is uncomfortable with giving his reason, I would tell the group that for personal reasons, he does not wish to go, but since he is a sincere student which we have seen in the past, we must also include him in our plans so we can all work together as a group. If John, Christie, and Sue are hungry, I will offer to get food and bring it to the library if possible so they can also work in comfort. It is a priority to understand and try to meet everyone’s desires, especially if possible.

    2. Do you agree with John, Christie, and Sue that Chris is being unfair?

      1. Good Response: I can understand why John, Christie, and Sue are possibly unsure and upset with Chris since he did not give them a possible justification for his opinion. However, I do not quite believe that a majority vote should apply in this case if there can be a better solution that accommodates everyone, as stated above. It is necessary to find common grounds first before having to push aside a partner’s opinions since teamwork utilizes trust, dependency, and comfort among all the members so sincere effort can be carried out smoothly. I would try to reassure John, Christie, and Sue by verbally telling them I understand, but there must be a reason for Chris’s decision, especially since he has shown his hard-working ethic in the past. I would also advise Chris to voice his reasoning if he is comfortable as stated above.

      2. Weaker Response: Yes, I agree with the others that Chris is being unfair. We should follow along with the majority vote in a group without asking any questions or giving any excuses. If Chris does not want to come, then it is on him.

    3. What aspects do you think are important for team members to consider to improve functionality?

      1. As seen in this scenario, a team needs to work through any hurdles or issues immediately without ignoring or excluding any member. It is essential to look for multiple solutions to accommodate everyone, so team members feel comfortable working together. It is also helpful to have clear communication when improving functionality whether it is voicing concerns or even while completing project work since sometimes project work has to be divided but must still come together cleanly. Furthermore, if there are any other barriers or obstacles that pop up, it is important to have a supervisor to improve functionality of a team so that they have someone to ask for advice who is more knowledgeable.

6.How to prepare for the physical aspect of the interview and the day as a whole (physical aspect)?

 

  1. Virtual/Online

    1. Dress professionally still (business formal is advised)

    2. Look directly into the camera to give the best sense of eye contact
      1. Tip: have a piece of tape or move the zoom/google hangout window as close to your webcam as possible if that usually is what attracts your eyes.

    3. Have a good microphone and webcam/camera

      1. Test with friends or family to make sure they work in advance before you interview

      2. Be prepared to have a backup in case something runs out of battery or you have a technology issue.

    4. Make sure the background/environment is appropriate

      1. Don’t let distractions occur mid-interview (cat or family member coming in, etc.)

  2. In-person

    1. Wear business formal

    2. Take a padfolio and have questions ready to ask interviewers

    3. Early is punctual! – Be 15-20 minutes early

    4. Even when being given a tour or having a lunch hour, there is a good chance you are being observed. Always be on your best behavior and act the entire day professionally!
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7.What are some things to do as a follow-up after completing the interview?

  1. Get your interviewer’s email (the school/program coordinator can provide this for you upon request if not already given)

  2. Send an email thanking them for their time and express gratitude and any interest you may have in attending their program.

  3. Continue to stay informed about the program (follow social media, their website, and other online public forums to see how other students are interacting with the school)

Written by: Varun Yarabarla

Varun graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering and is currently a 4th-year medical student at PCOM and will be applying for an Anesthesiology Residency this upcoming ERAS cycle. He has helped numerous pre-medical students and medical students with writing their personal statements, improving their interviewing skills, and providing many tips about the application process.

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