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5 Common Questions about the Medical School Interview

The medical school interview is a huge day for you. As a premed student you’ve worked hard to get to this point. Only about 15-20% of applicants to a medical school get interviewed at that school, so if you received an invite, you’re ahead of the game.

As a physician and host of The Premed Years podcast, I get asked a lot of questions about the interview process. I pulled out five common and interesting questions that I hope will help you as you prepare for your big day.

 

Question 1 – “How do you approach the interview if you have issues with saying “umm” or “ahh?”

Verbal pauses are hard to fix immediately, but they can be fixed. As a podcaster, I had to overcome this myself. The goal is to slow down. Let yourself think about each word as it goes out and when you are about to open your mouth to use a filler word like an “umm” or “ahh” you just stop. Let silence take over until you are ready to say your next words.

One of the hardest parts about using silence is that we don’t like it. When you are in a conversation, as soon as there is silence, it gets awkward. Someone wants to try to break that silence immediately. In this situation you have to be okay with it and you have to be practiced at it.

The best way to do this is to do mock interviews. The more you can practice giving answers and practicing not using any filler words, or utilizing silence, the better you’ll be.

 

Question 2 – “How can one avoid sounding too rehearsed”

The best way to avoid sounding rehearsed is actually to be very rehearsed and prepared. The best way to do that is through mock interviews. Knowing common questions that may be asked, and having answers prepared for them is a good start. The problem is that many students try to memorize the answer. There is a difference between memorizing your answer and rehearsing it.

Think about a first date that you go on with someone. Do you rehearse and memorize your answers? No. You go into the date, with some understanding of what will be asked, and you have some general outlines ready to answer those questions. You let yourself fill in the outline as you go and it allows you some flexibility once you start talking to change course based on their response.

This is exactly how you should do it for your interviews.

 

Question 3 – “What are some questions to ask the interviewer that can’t be answered by doing research on your own?”

When I’m doing mock interviews with students, having good questions ready to ask seems to be one of the hardest parts for them. The majority of students ask very specific questions related to the school curriculum or about programs or clinics the school may be associated with.

You have to understand who is interviewing you. Some interviewers are very closely tied to the medical school and may have no problems answering questions like that. Some interviewers are volunteers that aren’t associated with the medical school outside of doing a handful of interviews each year. These volunteers wouldn’t know how to answer very specific questions.

In the end, I would say it’s not good to ask specific questions to either type of interviewer. Specific questions get specific answers and aren’t memorable. Asking opinion based questions allow for much more dialogue and have the ability to be memorable to the interviewer. This is exactly what you want.

One examples of this question is “what would the graduating class say is one of the best experiences they had here at this school?”

This question allows the interviewer to think outside the box and give you an opinion based answer. They don’t have to have specific knowledge of a program to answer your question. This is perfect!

 

Question 4 – “In case they ask, how far in-depth do you have to talk about your mental illness?”

A variation of this question can be asked a little differently to – “how much should you talk about a mental (or physical) illness in your application?” This is a very straightforward and easy answer. You don’t talk about it at all.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly states that you cannot be restricted employment, or in this case, enrollment in school, based on any disabilities. Does that mean it doesn’t happen, even subconsciously? No.

The last thing you want to do as an applicant to medical school is give the school any reason to put your application in the “do not interview” pile or once you are at an interview, give them reason to doubt your ability to be successful in medical school and beyond.

If you need accommodations for anything, take that up with the school after you have an acceptance, not before.

 

Questions 5 – “What are cliché things to say and do they really impact what the interviewers think of us?”

Cliché answers are like nails on a chalkboard when I’m doing mock interviews with students. It tells me that they haven’t prepared well, or else they would have known that it was a cliché answer.

Look up the definition of cliché and you get this: “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” Focus on the last part – “lack of original thought.” This is the biggest problem with cliché answers.

When I ask you what your biggest weakness is, and you give me the cliché answer of “I am a perfectionist,” it tells me that you didn’t put in the time or effort to really dig in to find your true weakness. You didn’t ask friends or family. You didn’t do any self-reflection. You just blurted out an answer that I have heard a hundred times today alone.

So yes, I will judge you based on your cliché answers. You need to do better. I can’t give you a list of cliché answers, I think you just know them when you hear them or say them.

I hope those five common questions about the medical school interview will help you as you prepare for your big day. Congratulations for making it this far.

If you are looking for more insight on how to prepare for the medical school interview, check out my new book “The Premed Playbook: Guide for the Medical School Interview


Dr. Ryan Gray is a former Flight Surgeon in the United States Air Force. Ryan graduated from the University of Florida (GO GATORS!) with a B.S. in Exercise and Sports Sciences, and received his M.D. from New York Medical College. After graduating from medical school, Ryan completed his internship through a Tufts Medical Center transitional medicine program at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.

Ryan is the publisher of MedicalSchoolHQ.net and OldPreMeds.org and the podcast host of The Premed Years and the OldPreMeds Podcast. He is also the Director of the National Society of Nontraditional Premedical and Medical Students.

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Planning for College Freshmen

Welcome to college. You’re finally free of the constraints of high school – now it’s time to chill until the MCAT in a couple years, right? Wrong! If med school is on your radar, now is the time to plan the next few years of your college career. One of the biggest mistakes premeds make is not outlining milestones and critical early-stage activities in college like, connecting with faculty, joining key organizations, shadowing doctors and volunteering, or planning coursework.

Incoming freshmen this year also have one unique challenge looming: the new MCAT in 2015. Unless you take the MCAT by the end of summer 2014, you’ll be preparing for major updates to the exam. Current materials won’t adequately prepare you for the exam and should be taken with a grain of salt. Although we’ll be learning more about the exam structure between now and then, official practice materials won’t be made available until 2014.

Premeds are constantly vying for top spots in their classes, key internships and volunteer positions, as well as building relationships with well-known professors. To stay ahead, you need to have a game plan. Start thinking about the key parts of your application; what you’ll need and what milestones you need to achieve. The following chart displays some of these key components that you should begin considering.

Dates Recommendations Volunteering/Research Coursework MCAT
Now Identify key researchers, professors and other figures who may become your recommenders for medical school. You don’t need to contact them now about writing you a rec letter – just make a running list of individuals who can provide you good mentorship during undergrad and potentially vouch for you when the time comes. Though it’s early, think about the kind of work you might be interested in. Make lists of campus organizations and people to reach out to for opportunities. Look into summer programs where you can develop these interests. It’s never too early to map out your course plan based on the different majors that might interest you. Identify the key courses you need for med school and (especially with classes that have a reputation for being difficult) try to spread them out between semesters so you can focus. The earlier you take classes that cover content on the MCAT (e.g. intro bio, orgo, etc.), the better-prepared you’ll be for the exam. Many students fail to take these courses until after or during their MCAT, making it difficult to master the content!
Freshman + Sophomore Years Keep this list and revise it as you go through the next few years. Stay in touch with promising leads. Also, check out our post about Getting Solid Rec Letters. This is your opportunity to dip your feet in different activities – volunteering, research, sports, anything! Narrow down 1-3 key positions where you can truly develop a passion and gain leadership skills and experience. Of course you should do as well as you can in your courses! Go to office hours and get to know your professors. And please, don’t just take all science – take something you find interesting. You may discover a passion you never knew you had. As more content is released, get your hands on it and start practicing! At least you will have a sense of the type of content you’ll need to know and where your weak areas are.
Junior + Senior Years Continue building your network and narrow down your list of contacts – reach out to them and let them know about your interests and your goals; ask them to provide you a recommendation. Start reflecting on your experiences and thinking about how they might tie into your personal statement. Ensure you’re meeting all your coursework requirements and take any required classes that you’re missing.. Study hard and take the MCAT!

Don’t fail to plan because you “don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 3 years.” While you may not have a magic crystal ball (you may be able to grab one from your local mystic), the point of planning isn’t to dictate the rest of your life; it’s to give you a roadmap for key milestones you need to remember and prepare for. Plans can always be updated as your goals and milestones change, so start planning early! What are some of your goals for this academic year?

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