By John Coats
UPenn Perelman School of Medicine,
Dartmouth College, BA, 2017
Think of the medical school interview as a giant, modern dating ritual. Your AMCAS application and secondary essay were the first two online dates, and now you have agreed to meet each other in person. The admissions committee already has a rough skeleton of the greatest hits of your adult life, and they have decided that they really like you. However, before they will extend a proposal, they need to meet you in person, and they are willing to spend enormous amounts of their time and your money to arrange this meeting. What your interviewer writes about you for the admissions committee will either make your application come alive, remain flat on the paper, or tragically fail.
Here are a few tips I found helpful:
1) Shaking hands – Confident and Professional
No overzealous bone crushing handshake, no insincere double-handed politician greetings, no awkward misfires, or lame limp dead-fish hands! You must communicate strength, competence, and excitement when meeting people. Your first impression is absolutely key, and will largely stem from how you are feeling inside. You were invited to interview because the school already knows you are qualified! You are an attending physician in training, so act the part–be confident.
Most importantly, when you shake their hand(s), look them in the eye. Nothing says “timid and immature” like staring at your feet when you shake hands.
2) Finding out what makes you tick – come prepared to talk about yourself (and sound good)
Unfortunately, the chances that your personal essay, publications, awards, honors, or even the services trips to your choicest travel destination will stand out amongst the other 40,000 applicants are effectively zero. Nobel prizes awarded for applications? None.
Your application told an admissions committee that you want to be a medical student and that you can succeed in medical school. Whoever interviews you will be trying to find out what makes you tick:
Why do you want to work so hard?
Why do you want to help people?
What about the medical intersection of science and humanity inspires you?
You absolutely must come prepared to answer these questions, or your interview will be bland and do nothing to help your interviewer advocate for you.
3) Showing off their school – be observant; don’t be over-enthusiastic
Just like dating is not a one-way street, neither are medical school interviews! Each school knows that they too are on the spot. I had two interviews in which people representing the school (one student and one faculty member) behaved so poorly that I seriously questioned wanting to be at their institution.
Do not waste time preoccupied with yourself, but rather be proactive in learning about the faculty, facilities, students, and curriculum. During your interview day you will be given one or two brief lectures by a senior administrator or dean, lunch with current students, and a tour around campus. Do not forget that each school is courting you during this time. This fact should boost your confidence and help you become more observant throughout your interview day. Think about what message or culture the school is trying to portray. Are they sporty? Aggressive? Nerdy? Research-focused? Spend some time thinking about what the best fit is for you (or how you can use your observations to your advantage).
Finally, don’t be over-eager or desperate. Nobody wants a third date where the other person is already holding a wedding ring. You should be positive – i.e., don’t act like you are uninterested or criticize them during the tour – but non-committal. Desperate medical students hovering over their tour guides and explaining 1,001 reasons why “this is my first choice” get themselves nowhere. You ever hear the expression “people want what they can’t have”? Well, the opposite is also true – people don’t want what is thrown in their face and clinging to their every word. Show you have the confidence and poise to stay relaxed, ask real questions (i.e., don’t ask “how is this place so great!?”), and treat this time for what it is – your interview of them. You should behave as you would like your ideal interviewer to behave.
4) Sizing you up
If you have read any advice indicating that medical schools are not sizing you up, and to just relax and be yourself, then please erase that garbage from your memory. Medical schools invite students to interview for the express purpose of sizing them up. The interviewer’s job is to determine whether they believe you would be a good fit with their institution’s unique values and culture. Learn what these are before your interview day and be aware of them while you are visiting. If you have a friend at that school, ask him/her to characterize the school’s values and culture. If not, you might consider spending a little extra time on-campus before your interview. Hang around the library or any popular common areas, and see how students interact (or whether they interact at all).
You may realize some parts, or perhaps the entire institution, are not for you. However, you will also see things in nearly every school that draw your attention and pique your interests. Similar to a great 4th or 5th date, when you realize that you truly connect with that special someone, shoot for a similar connection with your interviewer and the school where you are interviewing.
One way you can help ensure a connection is doing a little pre-interview sleuthing. Once you know who your interviewer(s) is/are, you can find out some key information about them. Get on Google and Facebook and start looking. What you want to figure out is: a) what are this person’s key interests both inside and outside of medicine; b) what is this person known for? Has he/she had some big publications?; c) what kind of personality does this person have? For this last part, you can get a good sense of what someone is like from their Facebook page. Are there a lot of comments on the wall? If so, this is probably a fairly social individual. If you look at his/her pictures, how many are taken with other people that aren’t family? If every picture from an outing with friends, chances are good that this person is very social and extroverted. Don’t try and bring your internet-stalking insights into the conversation; instead, use what you find to help you gauge your audience, and possibly to steer conversation towards topics of mutual interest.
5) Helping the committee decide
An interview gives life and color to your application, without which the admissions committee would have to choose applicants randomly, like monkeys throwing darts at a dartboard. Nearly everyone who applies to medical school shows tremendous potential through their achievements and hard work. Your interview is the one opportunity where you can gain personal advocates at the institution where you applied. It is like having a younger sibling or best friend of the person you want to date willing to talk you up. The admissions process already functions like a lottery. Your interview is a chance to take control and help the admissions committee decide in your favor.
Oh, and please dress sharply and write thank you notes. It’s the simple things.
For more tips on the medical school interview, check out this article on the 6 mistakes admissions officers from the top medical schools hate to see in the interview.
To discuss this or any article on SDN please visit our Article Discussions Forum. Hope to see you there!