Avoid These Medical School Interview Bloopers

By choosing not to panic under pressure, these applicants succeeded.

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It's your worst nightmare—after all that preparation for your much anticipated medical school interview day, something terrible happens. You might spill coffee on your white shirt, step in the mud, or maybe lose your suit in luggage gone astray. Many of you have probably heard some horror stories, but is there a silver lining underneath?

Though most interviews are uneventful, no matter how much we prepare there is always a possibility that something can go wrong. There are many areas in which applicants struggle. This post will focus on stories of applicants who have been wrung through the wringer, but eventually persevered and succeeded.

[See U.S. News's Best Medical Schools rankings.]

The applicant who cut things too close: An applicant from Boston invited to the University of Chicago decided to catch an early morning flight to Chicago, leaving 45 minutes to get from the airport to the school on time, which seemed more than reasonable.

But Chicago's notorious winter weather delayed the departure, and mid-flight, a passenger experienced chest pain. Neither the applicant nor anyone else on the plane was in a position to help, so the flight was diverted to Cleveland to offload this passenger.

Unfortunately, this sequence of events brought the medical school applicant to Chicago more than two hours late. Every interviewer knew his situation, saying, "Oh, you were the one on that flight."

Luckily, this applicant was able to laugh about it and spun the experience into a lesson about dealing with the helpless feeling of being unable to intervene on the flight. This must have resonated with interviewers, as this applicant was accepted shortly thereafter.

[Learn how to prepare for the med school interview.]

• The applicants who forgot something: One candidate interviewing at Columbia University planned to arrive there from California the night before her interview, catch up with her friend and host for the night, and interview early the next morning. Her airline had different plans: Her luggage never made it to baggage claim.

Though she carried her suit on board, her shoes were in the missing bag. By the next morning, she realized the promised delivery service would not come through in time to deliver her bag, so she proceeded to Columbia in her suit and sneakers.

Whenever an interviewer's gaze was drawn to her shoes, she briefly mentioned the lost bags and made light of an otherwise stressful situation. Her composure and timeliness, despite a potentially sabotaging incident, was not forgotten by admissions; she was eventually accepted to Columbia.

Another applicant arrived at an interview on the West Coast and realized that she was having an unexpected female problem that same morning. Rummaging through her purse in the ladies' room, she quickly realized she lacked the necessary supplies.

Seeing another woman in the restroom, she politely asked for the supply she needed and the woman generously obliged. Crisis averted, she checked in for her first interview. As it turned out, her first interview was with the director of admissions, who happened to be the generous lady who helped her in the restroom.

Initially feeling like a deer caught in headlights, the applicant was able to turn the situation into a learning experience about the importance of preparation. She received her coveted E-mail weeks later.

[Read about four medical school admissions myths.]

• The applicant who (literally) went the wrong way: One candidate, who scheduled back-to-back interviews to save time, was on his way from Washington University in St. Louis to University of Pennsylvania when inclement weather struck St. Louis. Amidst the weather-related confusion, this applicant boarded another carrier's flight to Houston, rather than the original flight to Philadelphia.

Once he realized he was traveling in the wrong direction, he immediately phoned Penn. He not only provided a bit of comic relief for the admissions office but also got his interview rescheduled. He enrolled at Penn the following year.

Though these are a mere handful of the many interview mishaps that befall applicants each year, they all illustrate one key lesson: the importance of resilience and ingenuity. What distinguishes applicants whose mishaps come to the attention of the admissions committee is how the applicants handle them.

If you hit a few road bumps on the interview trail, turning them into learning experiences, rather than overwhelming incidents, will make you and your story stand out—in a positive way.

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.