Be Prepared for the Medical School Interview

Do your research, streamline your story, and plan for tough questions before interview day.

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So you've got the E-mail that has the coveted phrase, "We'd like to invite you for an interview." Many a med school applicant hopes for weeks, or even months, that this message appears in their inbox or on their applicant status update page. Once you've surpassed this hump, what do you do?

Interviews can be very stressful days unless you've prepared thoroughly beforehand. Many times applicants don't know where to start, or prepare things recommended by people with the best of intentions (parents, friends, etc.). Unfortunately, a lot of times there are certain aspects specific to medical school interviews that don't translate well to other types of interviews with which they're probably more familiar.

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In preparing, you should keep in mind:

Researching schools: As we said in an earlier post on maximizing medical school visits, being an informed and inquisitive applicant is crucial on interview day. Nobody expects you to know all the inner workings of a school, but you should research school pamphlets and websites to be able to ask specific questions to your interviewers.

It's also okay, when asked if you have questions, especially at the end of a long interview day, to say, "All my questions were thoroughly answered by my previous interviewers, but thank you."

Streamlining your story: Medical school interviews can feel brief at times, so it's important to package your background, experience, and interests into something you can speak about in 45 seconds or 15 minutes.

Interviewers' personalities and interview styles vary widely, so it would be advantageous to prioritize what you want to communicate beforehand so you don't walk out of an interview feeling that you didn't do your best.

It's always beneficial to do a practice session, ideally with someone you don't necessarily know, to get feedback on how your story comes across. The way you present yourself or your story could potentially make or break your candidacy.

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Answering difficult questions: Sometimes, interviewers may ask tough questions, whether it be on ethics, something they noticed on your application, or anything else. It's important to have a basic awareness of some of the current issues and events in the medical field, as that will definitely be on the top of your interviewer's mind.

It would behoove you to think about your feelings on certain issues—such as healthcare reform, a patient's refusal to accept recommended care, or other issues—because interviewers are, in most cases, gauging your awareness of these issues, rather than your specific opinion (as long as it's informed).

Having an appropriate appearance / wardrobe: Though you're not going to a beauty pageant, you should be aware of how you come across to faculty and students in a field that remains largely conservative. The interview shouldn't be the time to make a fashion statement, whether it be by hairstyle, tattoos, or piercings.

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During your interview, you'll want to remember:

Etiquette: Many of the same rules we talked about in the previous post on school visits apply to the interview day. You want to make sure you are respectful and polite to everyone with whom you interact, whether or not you think they're directly involved in your admissions decision.

Energy: Many interview days are eight or more hours long; you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you're dozing off or not at your sharpest. It's okay to carry your own snacks or whatever else you may need to maintain your ability to make it through the day. Medical schools do provide lunches, but you never know what they'll choose to provide.

Logistics: Sometimes there's confusion about interview schedules and other issues; you'll want to make sure that you are prepared. So, don't be late or too casual with people with whom you interact.

For many, the interview can be the most stressful part of the admissions process. With some preparation, the interview can become something you feel is an opportunity—rather than a chore—in this sometimes difficult process.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.