Interviews can be a nerve-racking process. There’s no denying that. To be honest, most of us feel that way about interviews—at least in the beginning when we have less experience with them.
Interviews are a key part of the medical school admissions process, and thus it is only natural to have some apprehension about them. But rest assured—they are a very manageable process. With thoughtful preparation and dedicated practice, interviews can become more fun than daunting.
Interviews are no different than any other portion of the medical school admissions process in that they deserve time and preparation. Interviews may be easy to overlook in this regard. But you won’t make that mistake. Here are the simple keys to success on interview day.
For a complete overview of common interview questions, preparation advice, and mistakes to avoid, read our Medical School Interview Guide.
1. Know What Questions You WILL be Asked
This is the easiest place to start. There are a few key questions that you must be able to answer during a medical school interview. You can bet that most, if not all, of your interviewers will start with some version of these few questions.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to become a physician?
- Why do you want to go to this school/program specifically?
Start by preparing a 1-2 minute response for each of these questions. You want to know what you are going to say while allowing your answer to flow and sound conversational. Try not to sound like you are reciting a memorized set of lines. Be yourself when answering these questions, and be honest. Honestly, or a lack thereof, will be easy to spot.
2. Know Your Application Inside and Out
This is absolutely crucial. Whatever you have written in your application is fair game for an interviewer to ask about. You don’t want to be caught off guard and unable to discuss something you previously did. This would be a red flag.
Take some time to review your AMCAS application. In particular, know your research, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities well. The most important is probably research. Interviewers often have a research background and can be genuinely interested in what you have to say regarding your prior research. This is a chance to wow them!
Know the details of your project, and prepare to deliver a succinct summary of your work. Provide a summary that can catch others’ interest and be easily understood without prior knowledge of the topic.
3. Prepare Questions You May Be Asked
It is impossible to anticipate every question that will arise in an interview, but in addition to the guaranteed questions listed above, there are some common topics that it pays to prepare for.
Search common interview questions online, but to start, these are a few questions you will commonly encounter:
- What is your biggest strength and your biggest weakness? (Note that it is particularly tough to talk about a weakness. The key is to pick a slight professional weakness that won’t be alarming, and to spin this weakness in a way that shows personal growth and potential.)
- Tell me about an ethical dilemma you have faced and how you handled it.
- What is the greatest adversity you have faced in your life?
- What do you think is the biggest challenge facing medicine today?
- How are you unique, and how would you add to our medical school community?
4. Know Specifics About Each School/Program
This is a point where many applicants falter. Prior to interviewing for any program, look up that program and school. Read a bit about the curriculum, research strengths, student groups, and other opportunities available.
If possible, try to pick out one or two unique aspects of that program. Then sell these aspects as reasons why that program is a great fit for you. Even if it is your last choice program, you need to look and act interested. Sell it and show your interest through the background research you have done about the program online.
5. Practice Your Interview Skills
Practice is crucial. Any skill takes time to develop, and interviewing is no different. Start by reciting answers to common questions. Move on to having others practice with you, and perform mock interviews.
Another resource that’s very helpful is your university’s career center (or analogous service). These centers generally offer mock interviews, which can be scheduled. Do this. You will not regret it. Treat it like a formal interview. It will help you come interview day to have gone through the motions and practiced interviewing with a stranger who is experienced with the process. Why not have a scrimmage before the real game?
6. Prepare for MMI
MMI stands for “multiple mini-interviews.” It’s a popular interview format being used at many schools nowadays. First of all, check which interview format your programs use (traditional versus MMI) and be prepared for that. The goal of MMI is to elicit an understanding of the applicant’s interpersonal and critical thinking skills.
There are a few different formats of questions that fall into these categories:
- Traditional interview questions
- Ethical dilemmas
- Interactions with an actor in which a scenario is acted out. It is generally some sort of challenging discussion or situation
- A task requiring teamwork during which you are paired with someone else to solve a problem or even build something
- Brief essay writing in response to a prompt
You will rotate through a number of stations with different questions/scenarios, most of which will fall into the general categories above. This is a difficult format to prepare for. It won’t be possible to know which questions will be asked prior, but you can search online for old or sample MMI prompts and go through them on your own.
For example, you may have to convince someone who is deathly afraid of flying to board a plane. At another, you might need to build a replica of a model out of several small building blocks.
The key to MMI is to practice thinking on your feet. You won’t know the exact prompts, so take a deep breath, and do your best. Think quickly, but take a few moments to breathe during the process. Don’t worry—it won’t be as bad as you think.
7. Prepare a Few Examples of Personal Experiences
Prepare a few examples of experiences you’ve had that can be applied to many questions.
If you have a few key experiences, such as adversities you have faced, challenges in school or the workplace, instances of personal growth, times when you were pushed to make a difficult decision, these can be applied to a multitude of questions.
Interviewers are looking for concrete examples and experiences from your own life. Use a personal anecdote to answer a question as opposed to giving vague or abstract answers. By having a set of significant experiences, you can make it easier to answer unexpected questions.
8. Be Prepared to Discuss a Few Current Event Topics in Medicine
This is not always a part of the interview, but it may come up. For example, when the Affordable Care Act was introduced, it was a common topic to be asked about. Since we’re slowly coming out of the first pandemic in 100 years, it’s likely you will be asked about something to do with COVID-19, vaccines, etc.
No one expects you to be a political expert, but it’s important to be able to speak intelligently about basic current events in medicine.
9. Dress for Success
What you wear to your interview may seem like a small piece of the interview process, but if done poorly, it can leave a lasting bad impression. Interviewers are looking for candidates who take this process seriously, and that means dressing professionally, respectfully, and sharply. That means close-toed shoes, a tailored suit, skirt, or dress, no gaudy jewelry, and much more.
For more tips, learn how to dress to impress for your medical school interview.
10. Remember You are Being Observed at All Times
This is something many people forget about when interviewing. Your interactions with support staff, administration, medical students, and others may all be used as data to evaluate you.
Being friendly and positive with everyone you meet on interview day can only help you. On the flipside, any discourteous behavior can really harm you. Be kind and friendly to everyone you meet. Treat the entire day as an interview and portray the best version of yourself at all times.
11. Have Fun and Be Yourself!
Be positive. Make eye contact with interviewers. Be confident and friendly. It will go a long way.
With all the preparation above, you will be more than ready. Your interviews will feel more like conversations than anything else. Relax, enjoy the process, and let your personality shine through.
Follow these 11 steps, and without a doubt, you will be well prepared for success on interview day. Good luck!
To take up to the next level, be sure to check out our Interview Services, where you can practice mock interviews with real doctors that have already conducted hundreds of medical school and residency interviews. It’s as real as it gets.