This is part 3 of our 5-part series on medical school interviews. For information on the other posts in this series, see our overview post here.
Overview of Med School Interviews
In our previous posts on medical school interviews, we’ve detailed the process of taking the Altus Suite and AAMC PREview™ assessments, which—if the programs you’re applying to require them—are taken and submitted along with your application materials. Traditional interviews (in both individual and panel format) are different in a few ways. First, they are held in real time, either in person or online—unlike the Altus and AAMC tests, which are completed asynchronously and virtually. Second, while all applicants take the Altus Suite or PREview test if the school requires it, only a small fraction of applicants to a given school are invited to participate in traditional interviews. Finally, while Altus and PREview scores are submitted along with your application materials, traditional interviews take place after schools have reviewed your application materials and selected you as part of a small group of highly promising candidates.
Medical schools vary in whether they require Altus, AAMC, a traditional interview, and/or multiple mini interviews (MMI), which we’ll detail in a subsequent post. Some schools require you to first submit either an Altus or an AAMC score, then potentially invite you for a traditional interview or an MMI. Other schools don’t use Altus or AAMC at all, and only invite select candidates for on-campus interviews. Still other schools rely solely on Altus or AAMC, and have abandoned conducting interviews at a later stage of the application process. So make sure to check programs’ websites and keep careful track of the requirements of the programs you’re applying to. (In a subsequent post, we’ll detail the interview requirements of a handful of programs as examples.)
Here, we’ll detail the process of undergoing traditional interviews, which can take place one-on-one or with a panel of interviewers.
The format of traditional interviews varies: you might speak one-on-one with one person, or have two or more back-to-back, one-on-one interviews. Other schools offer panel interviews, in which you’ll speak with a group of interviewers at one time (rather than a single interviewer). Interviewers may include admissions committee members, med school faculty members, doctors, nurses and/or med students. Prior to COVID, interviews were conducted on campus, in person; now, many are conducted virtually, a possibly temporary change.
You’ll most likely receive interview invitations between September and January after you’ve submitted your application. However, since invitations are sent out on a rolling basis, it’s possible you’ll receive some in July or August; and invites continue to be sent out through March.
Respond to your interview invite as quickly as possible and aim for an early slot. This will show you’re interested, responsive, and dependable; ensure that you get a slot that works for you; and enable you to get in on the rolling action early. The interview process usually concludes by late spring. Some schools will let you know shortly after your interview whether you’ve been accepted, while others will let all interviewees know on a specific date.
In the interview, you may be asked to provide more context and texture around information you’ve discussed in your primary application and secondary essays. In addition, the admissions committee seeks to gain a sense of who you are beyond what your application conveys. Are you easy to be around—the kind of person who will not only be genial toward classmates and professors, but also, after graduating, toward patients and fellow doctors? Are you professional—do you dress well, speak well, and comport yourself with confidence? Do you value patients as much as your application claims you do?
Remember that if you’ve made it to a school’s interview stage, your application materials have already impressed the admissions committee. As Sunny Nakae, assistant dean for admissions at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, put it in a post on the AAMC’s website, “Remember that you were selected ‘as is.’ If you fear that you have some fatal flaw or deficit in your application, there is nothing you can do about it now and nothing in the interview that will make up for it. So relax and be the best version of your genuine self on interview day.”
Review your application. Go over your application materials repeatedly and in detail before your interview so they’re fresh in your mind and your answers are consistent with what you’ve written. Some interviewers will ask follow-up questions about content you’ve included on your application; other medical schools have “blind” interviews, in which interviewers have not seen your application. Make sure you know the nature of your particular interviews and prepare accordingly.
Practice. Familiarize yourself with common interview questions, and practice interviewing! Make sure you are speaking clearly—without many “likes” or “ums”—and give specific examples to substantiate your points. Working with Collegiate Gateway or another medical school consulting service that conducts mock interviews will give you an ideal forum in which to refine your interview skills.
You can also look up common interview questions and practice saying the answers out loud to yourself, and/or to a trusted friend. Common questions include “Why do you want to become a doctor?,” “What is the biggest challenge you have overcome and what did you learn from the experience?,” and “What experience have you had with diverse populations?” Come prepared with questions to ask your interviewer when you’re invited to do so.
Pay attention to your nonverbal behavior. As you practice, focus as much on the way you’re speaking as on the content itself. Rehearse good eye contact, open body language, and a professional tone (warm, but not too casual).
Behavior on interview day. On interview day, arrive on time if not early, dressed in a professional outfit. Be cordial and gracious to all the people you meet. Be an active participant in your interview. Demonstrate your listening skills, responsiveness, and knowledge.
Evaluate the med school. Don’t forget that interviews are also your chance to determine if a school is right for you. “Keep in mind that you are also interviewing the school,” Nakae writes. “The exploration of fit is a two-way street. What are you looking for in a medical education? Does this school fit all or most of your specifications? These personal evaluations can help you make a decision down the road.” Hopefully it relaxes you to remember that schools don’t have all the power—you have power, too!
After your interview. Take notes immediately after the interview with specifics about the various interview day events. Send a thank-you note after your interview that expresses gratitude for the opportunity; include a few specific mentions of highlights of the interview day and features of the med school that particularly align with your values, experiences or goals.
Applying to medical school is a complicated process, and interviews are no exception. We encourage you to read through the rest of our blog posts on med school interviews. Feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway if you would like guidance on any aspect of the med school application and admissions process. As always, we’re happy to help!