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The Medical School Interview

As part of the admissions process, applicants who are seriously being considered for admission are invited to the medical school for an interview.  Medical schools devote immense resources to conducting interviews with applicants, even though they already will have gleaned a good deal of information about you from your GPA, MCAT score, and written application.  They would not invest so much time in the interview if they did not feel that the interview is critical in making decisions on the applicants they will admit.  Therefore you should prepare carefully for this crucial component of the admissions process, no matter how strong your credentials.  The central purpose of the interview is to assess your social skills and how you would actually conduct yourself with patients.  The interview also allows schools to learn additional information about you, and perhaps to get a sense of the likelihood that you would accept a spot if they offered you one, so it is important that you express your enthusiasm and sincere interest in the school.

As a physician you will need to be able to walk into a room, meet a stranger, establish trust with that person and build rapport with them within a few seconds, so that person may open up to you and even tell you something that makes them uncomfortable, in order for you to make a correct diagnosis.  Perhaps the most fundamental question for your interviewer is, “If I were a patient, and this person sitting before me were my doctor, how would I be feeling?”  One of your most important goals is to demonstrate in the interview that you will have the requisite social skills and ability to connect with others to function in the highly-complex social role of a physician.

Medical school interviews often involve a more profound psychological dimension than most job interviews.  Most employers will not be as interested in your psychological motivations for your interest in a position.  Medical schools do want to understand your personal reasons for pursuing medicine and want to determine whether you are truly prepared for the psychological demands of the profession, and the ethical challenges you may face in your work with patients. 

In order to prepare for interviews, you should review your personal statement and all of the experiences outlined in your application that have helped you prepare for medical school and a career in medicine. You should be prepared to discuss your interests and experiences in detail with your interviewers. Think about your best features as an applicant, and how you would like to present these features to your interviewers if the opportunity arises. It is also helpful to put yourself in the position of a member of the admissions committee, and honestly ask yourself what potential areas of weakness might cause a committee member to have doubts or reservations about you as an applicant. Then try to think of ways that you could counteract these concerns, in order to put your best qualities forward.

You should practice responding to interview questions with a friend or alone (a list of questions for interviews may be obtained in the HPPLC office). Often interviews begin with a very open-ended question, such as "Tell me about yourself," or "Why do you want to become a physician?" These types of questions allow you to decide how you want to set the stage for the interview, so you should practice responding to them until you can do so comfortably. Often, once you get through the initial questions calmly, the rest of the interview goes much more smoothly.

However, you should also be prepared to respond to unpredictable, probing, or even controversial questions. You may be asked situational ethics questions, in which you may be presented with a difficult scenario involving a patient, and asked how you would resolve it.  Often interviewers seek to ask you questions that will allow them to see how you can think on your feet. Although you cannot predict all the questions you may be asked, one key to handling difficult, complex questions is to slow down, take your time, and try to break the problem that is being presented to you into components. If you are presented with a complex scenario involving a patient, it is often helpful to talk about all the steps you would take in resolving the problem. Although your interviewers may not always agree with your opinion on a particular topic, they will always give you credit for being able to analyze a complex situation, look at a problem from different points of view, and demonstrate your awareness of the complex legal and ethical environment in which you will operate as a healthcare provider.

You should also prepare to ask questions about the school and its curriculum during your interview. You should review the school's website and any available publications so that you can ask intelligent, informed questions about their programs. Coming prepared with thoughtful questions will help you connect with your interviewers, and demonstrate that you are truly thinking realistically about becoming a student at the school. Remember that the interview does not only give the school the opportunity to learn about you, but for you to learn about them. The best interviews often turn into conversations, real exchanges of ideas and information, between you and your interviewers. If you can focus, relax, and engage with your interviewers in a meaningful discussion you will have a much better chance of a successful interview.

Long before you reach the interview stage you should take every opportunity to interact professionally at events on campus and in the community.  Attending the annual HPPLC-sponsored Health Programs Fair gives you the opportunity to meet directly with admissions officials from medical schools and gain some informal practice interacting in a professional atmosphere, long before you have formal medical school interviews.

If you are an Indiana University premedical student preparing for the interview process you should plan to attend one of the HPPLC-sponsored Interview Skills Workshops that are held early in the fall semester each year. Watch for periodic announcements on the HPPLC premed email list or consult the HPPLC events calendar.