Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
Don’t miss Part I of this article, which covered how to prepare before the interview and general interview advice.
COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Tell me about yourself
You should have prepared for this! Like I said, have your key bullets/road map ready. Try to keep it around 5 minutes too. This question usually comes up on closed file interviews (where they don’t look at your file beforehand). You may want to cover a bit of question 2 (below) if you have time, since it may not get asked separately. I think it’s always best to include things beyond the typical premed experiences. Talk about your cultural background, travels, cool hobbies, non-medically related endeavors, odd jobs… They’ve always loved those things most. Mention the relevant premed stuff too, but don’t forget about what I mentioned in the previous sentence. Stand out as a person, not a premed machine!
2. How did you decide on medicine?
This goes hand-in-hand with the first question. Spend time before you go in, and try to think of a unifying thread that makes your whole story make sense! I did somethings that weren’t medically related at all, but I said, “…and that’s how I realized I didn’t want to do business!” You didn’t have to know you wanted to be premed from the age of 5. I didn’t. Highlight your ups and downs in getting there, so make it honest and convincing. Mention your clinical work though. You have to have been exposed to the job you want to do, at least a little!
3. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
See number 2 in “BEFORE THE INTERVIEW”, in the previous post. They probably just want to see that you keep up with what’s going on and that you developed your own opinion. You poli-sci and econ majors can probably offer additional insight.
4. Biggest strengths and weaknesses
Try not to be cliche! Thinking of unique things… like you respond well to criticism. If you do say something somewhat cliche, then come prepared with a very short anecdote or example that highlights how exceptionally true that strength is for you, in particular. It’s always good to demonstrate through examples in interviews, but keep them short, since they often ask for three strengths. Now for weakness – don’t use the cliche “I’m a perfectionist” or “I take on too many responsibilities.” Be honest, and pick something that’s true! Show you’re humble. Don’t pick something absolutely awful, but something they’ll believe. I said “I get frustrated very easily and can be very stubborn at letting things go.” You can use your tone to your advantage here to come across as honest, but light-hearted, and smile!
5. Why our school?
See number 3 in “BEFORE THE INTERVIEW”, in the previous post.
6. Discuss a time where you failed at something
Make this very honest, and use it to show that you can admit failure and own up to things. Being able to acknowledge your mistakes shows a lot about you, and you can really let them see what kind of person you are with this question. I’d advise that you explain what happened, own up to everything, then show how you’re learned from it and made yourself a better person. Use your genuine smile. Smiles go a long way!
7. Why did you decide to attend ________ school for undergrad? (or grad)
I wouldn’t stress about this one. It may be nice to explain that you had a goal in mind, and that the location of your school offered the environment or programs you wanted to reach them. You may use this to come across as someone who takes initiative and does things with a sense of purpose. You can tie this into why you chose to apply to their school, if you can relate your motives.
8. Biggest issues in healthcare/medicine and how would you address it?
You may want to do some research and have one or two things prepared. Use this to demonstrate your understanding of current issues, and your ability to identify solutions. For example, I discussed preventative care, and tried to include things like creating more recreation centers and safer parks for children to have places to get physical activity, especially in poorer areas and inner cities, on top of my other solution ideas.
9. Why should we accept you/what makes you unique?
In a way, your answers to these two different questions are very similar. Many schools have explained that they want “one of each type of person”. So if they already accepted the saxophone playing lacrosse player, they won’t take another, even if he/she has higher stats. You want to highlight all the things that make you stand out, to convince them that you can add something to their student body that nobody else can offer. Show how what you bring will enhance the lives of your future peers. They probably have seen that you can handle their curriculum academically, which is why they interviewed you. This may also be a good time to bring up any family you have in the area. If you did your research, and they have a huge talent show each semester that’s a big part of student life, show how your hobby would be great for it! Do they have a 5k that many students do? That’s great, because you’re an active runner! Are they big on rural care? Then show how your experiences are relevant, highlighting that they offer exactly what you need. FIT is the key word. You want to fit their school, but also stand out. Talk to students through the host program, on SDN, and during the interview day itself, as they walk around, to see what they’re like. Duke, for example, seemed to me to be very big on work hard/play hard. They seemed to be very into keeping physically active as well as studying.
10. What do you do for fun?
Favorite question. Almost always got asked this. I’ve been very aggressive about using answers to kind of make yourself look good, but for this one, I think it’s best to just say what you do and show a ton of enthusiasm. Nothing has to be medically related, and I think it’s better if it isn’t. It’s great to mention specific clubs or events you participated in that are related to your activity. If you play guitar, don’t say you just play. Tell them about how you found some friends to jam with, and how you played at that bar one night! Smile a lot and get really into it. People are attracted to other people who look like they’re having fun. They will like you, and also recognize that you have balance in your life and ways of dealing with stress.
Other less common questions:
11. Biggest influences
They may specify that it has to be an influence to do medicine, but otherwise, you can name anyone if you have a good reason. I even said Jimi Hendrix once, since I interviewed with a rock fanatic, and I do idolize Hendrix.
12. How would a friend describe you? (in three words?)
Again, try to stay away from generic, and don’t make them too gloat-y. It’s good to offer a mix of impressive, fun, and unique adjectives.
13. If you could cure a disease, what would it be and why?
Come in with this prepared already. Psychological diseases count too!
14. Proudest/happiest moment?
I really can’t help you with this.
15. Time you had to use teamwork
Doesn’t have to be work related. I often used music or sports, depending on my interviewer, just to give you ideas.
16. Time you had to work through a disagreement
This is a perfect time to show that you can admit when somebody may have a better idea or that you were wrong. Also, demonstrate that you know how to listen and compromise. Many applicants think they need to be the ones who are right. Set yourself apart.
17. Time you had to go against orders
Be very careful with this. Use this to demonstrate that you think on your own, and that you went against the grain because you truly thought it was the right thing to do. Don’t pick a time when you disobeyed orders for the wrong reasons, unless you really can explain how you were wrong, and learned from it. So you could take this in two different ways.
18. Books you’ve recently read
Before you decide on your book, think of how awkward it may sound to explain certain stories to someone who has never heard them before. Maybe a manga isn’t the best idea.
MULTIPLE MINI INTERVIEWS (MMI)
1. No right answer
These are often designed so that there is not a clear correct answer, obviously. I highly recommend that before you commit to an opinion, you tell your interview that you want to explore both sides of the coin first. Then come up with your answer. More important than having an answer is being able to identify why these are such tricky situations and why both sides have merit. This will impress them more than an instant opinion.
2. Teamwork activity
If you have a group activity, one of their goals is to evaluate how well you communicate. You should ask your partner(s) often if they are following you, and if what you’re doing is working for them. Check that you are on the same page. Use analogies when appropriate to show that you’re able to present a task in different ways to help another person learn. It’s more important to communicate well and use teamwork than to finish the tasks and look like a dictator. I’ve had aggressive people try to stand out and they end up looking like fools. No school wants a student like that.
3. I’m stuck
If you get stuck with a difficult situational question, you can always say that you would refer to your supervisors and higher-up professionals for advice. You don’t have to have the right answer in these (honestly). As a doctor, you will not always know the answer and will often ask supervisors about what to do. Show that you know these resources are available and that you will take advantage of them when you need them. Knowing when to ask a questions is important, and better than making a decision without being fully informed.
4. Don’t forget the touchy-feely
If you have a question where you need to explore some kind of problem a patient or student is having, don’t just look at physical symptoms. Always acknowledge that there may be family, cultural, emotional, sexual, or religious, issues that factor into the problem they’re having. You will have to work with many types of people, so impress them with the fact that you’re aware of these issues and how they may have physical manifestations. Not everything is treated by a pill!
5. Don’t expect a resolution
You may have to role-play and try to resolve a problematic situation. Some schools even use actors. Don’t get frustrated or panicky if you’re not able to provide a resolution during the given time. Even if you’re doing great, they will continue to add layers of complexity and resist your suggestions, probably because they want to keep you in the fire for the full 8-10 minutes to see how you handle it. Just keep trying and keep your cool, because they may never tell you, “Ok, you fixed it. Thanks!”
6. Debate station
Not all MMI schools do this. You will probably be assigned a side, and you have to defend it until they call time, even if you don’t agree with it. Just be sure that you don’t falter – keep defending your side! If they offer a debriefing period, then you can be honest about your actual views and tell them that your opponent raised great points.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
1. Ask if you can have their email to ask questions and send a thank you note.
2. Smile when you say goodbye. I swear, it’s effective.
3. Send a thank you note, either in email or an actual letter. I always did email. Do this within about three days, before they forget you or interview a bunch of other people! Also, do it soon, since who knows, you may catch them before they submit their evaluation of you.
4. (optional) Don’t check SDN’s school specific page nonstop because you will stress out.
WHAT IMPRESSED INTERVIEWERS?
1. Easy-going, amicable attitude
2. Awareness of how culture, emotion, religion, sexuality, etc. can affect health
3. Enthusiasm when I talked about what I like
4. Admitting faults honestly
5. Knowledge about their school
6. Relating each experience back to how it gave me skills relevant to being a doctor
7. My hobbies and travels
Yes, smiling is very important. Basically, you have complete power during your interviews to make even the most trivial experiences sound like the most important things in the world, and absolutely relevant to your decision to pursue medicine. If you’re lacking a little in one field, (like I could have done more clinical), you can use the interview to really embellish your experience. My advice, again, is that you illustrate your points with short examples and anecdotes. Specifics! Finally, you many notice that I often said to be honest with mistakes you made and owning up to them. Interviewers have loved it when I’ve been honest about things and have shown that I can acknowledge when I screw up and that I learn from mistakes. You will look mature if you handle those well.
Practicing helps, but I think it’s best to preserve a set of bullet points for the big questions, to act as a road map. Figure out what makes your interviewer tick, and use your smile, charisma, and enthusiasm regarding your life stories to make them fall in love with you. I’ve had interviewers tell me on the spot that they will ensure I’m in, and that they really hope I’ll pick their school. It’s not worth being nervous, because honestly, the interviews themselves are always the most enjoyable and fun part of the day, in my opinion.