The Medical School Interview: They Aren’t All The Same!

“What kind of interview will it be?”
This is not a question applicants ever asked 10 or 15 years ago but often do now. Every year, more medical schools now conduct Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) while most still conduct “traditional” one-on-one interviews. A few medical schools also conduct group interviews with either groups of students who are interviewed together or several faculty who interview one student together. Therefore, when thinking about the medical school interview process, it’s important to be aware of what you might encounter on the interview trail.
I will be writing a series of articles that will focus on the three primary medical school interview types, what to expect from each, and how to prepare:
1) The Traditional Interview
2) The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
3) The Behavioral Interview
Why do medical schools conduct different types of interviews? The reason is simple: though all schools want to select students who are a good fit and will make excellent doctors, they differ on how best to achieve that goal depending on the admissions committee’s experience and perspective.
Regardless of the type of interview, all medical schools evaluate applicants to make sure they have certain qualities and characteristics. Some schools will do this in a more structured fashion by using standardized basic questions, the MMI, or behavioral interviews. More often, however, since most medical schools still conduct traditional one-on-one interviews, which are not standardized and differ depending on the individual interviewer’s style, these evaluations are fairly subjective.
The Association of American Medical Colleges has determined the qualities and characteristics it deems most important for medical school applicants:
1) A well-developed sense of ethics
A medical school applicant must always do the right thing! This means one must be honest, ethical, and possess a superior level of integrity. Applicants must be able to adhere to rules and respect process, procedures, and everyone with whom they might work.
2) Reliability and dependability
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Practicing medicine is a huge responsibility. Applicants must be able to fulfill all obligations predictably.
3) A service orientation
Admissions committees want to be convinced that an applicant desires to help others and alleviate suffering, can empathize with all types of people, and is able to recognize his or her responsibility to society.
4) Social and interpersonal skills
Being able to work and communicate respectfully with different types of people is essential for all medical school applicants. Admissions committees want to know that applicants can interpret social and behavioral cues and adapt accordingly. Applicants must also be professional and courteous.
5) Capacity for improvement
As a doctor, you will always be learning. You must be able to show that you seek to improve and learn and that you take feedback constructively.
6) Resiliency and adaptability
Medical students must be able to bounce back easily from adverse situations and adapt readily to new environments and situations.
7) Cultural competence
An understanding that socioeconomic and cultural factors impact how people behave, react, and communicate is essential for medical students as they will be caring for people from diverse backgrounds. One must also be aware of how bias might influence interactions and perceptions.
8) Good oral communication
Not only must a medical school applicant be a “good talker,” but she must also be a patient and attentive listener. She should be sensitive to communication difficulties and adapt as needed to resolve any communication problems.
9) Team player
Medical students and doctors must work together as a team. To do so, one must respect others and put team goals ahead of individual needs.
In addition to all of these qualities and characteristics, applicants’ desire to become doctors and their commitment to achieving this goal also is assessed by medical school admissions committees. They also want to ensure that applicants are mature and possess the intellectual ability necessary to be a physician.
In the next article in this series, I will discuss the traditional medical school interview, still the type medical schools most often conduct.
Dr. Jessica Freedman is president and founder of MedEdits Medical Admissions and author of four best-selling books about the medical school and residency admissions processes.