8 Tips that Helped Me Ace My Medical School Interview

By: Sean Kiesel

The interview is possibly the most stressful part of the application process.  As someone who recently went to a half-dozen interviews (both MD and DO), I wanted to share the eight tips - from least important to most - that helped me succeed in the interview.  

Getting to my first interview was an odyssey.  My twice-delayed 7-hour flight finally landed at 11 pm, so it was pitch black as I navigated the rural Tennessee highways to a cheap hotel in Middlesboro. After two hours of driving through unknown territory, I arrived, relieved to get some rest for my interview at Lincoln Memorial in the morning.

Interview day started at 10am, so I had time to steam my suit and review potential interview questions in my head.  I arrived at the school by 9:30, and realized too late that I hadn’t removed my suit jacket prior to driving! Tip number 1: if you want your jacket to remain unwrinkled… take it off before you drive.

The front desk receptionist issued a cheerful “hello,” gave me my interview packet, and directed me to a large conference room, the interview hub for the day’s events.

Since I was early, I got to sit and chat with staff members and other potential classmates as they trickled in.  I also got to enjoy the freshly bathed wet-haired guy in front of me, as he combed his hair in front of the interviewing staff. Tip number 2: I thought this would be obvious, but do not perform personal hygiene in front of the interviewers.  

The most memorable staff member was Bob, the driver for the school’s tour bus.  We spoke at length about local dining and Bob’s life, and he offered to show me around after the interview (and I took him up on the offer).  This brings me to tip number 3: everyone at the school is a part of the interview committee. It would have been easy to ignore Bob (since what say does the tour bus driver have), but how you treat anyone is how you treat everyone.  

At 10 am we listened to presentations on financial aid, curriculum, rotations, student life, and a lot more. The school provided lunch for us in the cafeteria and gave us a tour of the entire university, with a focus on the buildings medical students spend most of their time in. Last but not least was our interview.

I absolutely loved the people who interviewed me. It was 30 minutes with two faculty members, a biochemistry professor and a family medicine physician.

The biochemistry professor fetched me from the conference room and greeted me with a smile and a handshake.  We made small talk as she walked me through an unmarked door down a hallway lined with offices. By the time I got to the room, most of my nerves had worn off.  I believe that the small talk helped, which is tip number 4: make small talk during “the walk” to eliminate awkward silences.  Say anything to get the professor talking - what they love about the school, about their job, whether they have kids… whatever you can say to get the conversation going.  This will also help you work out your nerves so that your interview doesn’t have to start from a dead silence.

To kick things off, I was asked the famous ice-breaker, “So Sean, tell us about yourself.” Good thing I had prepared for this question.  I was able to come up with a solid response that included my personality, experiences, and motivation.

As the interview carried on, the professors seemed to be pleased with me and enjoying our time. They asked me questions such as:

  • “Why this school?”

  • “Tell us about your extracurricular activities.”

  • “Tell us your greatest failure and greatest triumph,” and of course

  • “Why medicine?”

Tip number 5 is precisely what helped me succeed on these questions: find a list of questions to use to prepare for the interview in advance.  I used the interview reviews on studentdoctor and googled a list of questions.  You can also find a bunch of helpful articles on Savvy Premed that will help you with some of the harder questions you’ll face on interview day.

The hardest question was by far “why medicine,” because we all go into medicine to help people, but the interviewers don’t want to hear that generic answer. I came up with three reasons:

  • to help people (although I said it in a way that I never actually said I want to help people, I shared a story of a very touching experience I had during my employment as an EMT).

  • my love for the science of medicine, and

  • the ways I hope to improve the current healthcare system.

Tip number 6 is this: for answering the dreaded, “why medicine,” be sure to use personal stories and details to help your answer avoid sounding cliche.  And if you really do want to help people, use specific language in a story that SHOWS that you want to help people rather than saying the words, “I want to help people.”

After they asked most of their questions, I had questions for them that they answered.  Though it was only scheduled for 30 minutes, my interview ended up running for an hour, probably because we were all enjoying the interview.

Part of the reason for my success was the practice I had put in before the interview.  I practiced my responses to the sample questions and even videotaped myself so I could see how I act in an interview and adjust as needed.  Tip number 7: videotape yourself and critique your performance.  The tape doesn’t lie, so anything that’s cringe-worthy will show up on that video.

The final tip (number 8) is: research the school before you go.  When I was asked “Why do you want to go to LMU?” I was able to respond with well-researched reasons, because I had taken the time to learn what makes the school stand out.  Review the school’s website with a fine-toothed comb, talk to current students who go there, and pay attention during the interview day so that you can tailor what the school offers to what you are looking for.

After a few weeks, I learned my fate: I had been accepted!  I hope that the tips above will give you the insight you need to prepare and get into a great school for you.  If you follow these tips, I have faith that you too will be able to get in.

Guest Post By: Sean Kiesel www.pathtomedicine.com


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