August 8, 2022

4 Overrated Medical School Interview Tips and What to Do Instead

The Savvy Premed

There are countless blogs and advice columns with medical school interview tips, but are they all created equal? Which medical school interview tips are worth pursuing and which ones should be disregarded? It's not an easy question to answer, and it's clearly subjective based on the kind of interviewee you are.

But the Savvy Pre-Med is here to weigh in on what tips we think are overrated and what strategies you can use instead. You might not agree, and that's okay, so let us know in the comments below if we missed any valuable (or bad) medical school interview tips!

Overrated Medical School Interview Tip #1: Use the STARR Method

Many sources on the internet recommend the “STARR Method,” a structured way to answer interview questions. The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and Reflection. The idea is that by fulfilling each letter of STARR in your answer, you will be able to hit all the important points and clearly convey your competency to the interviewer. Let’s look at an example: 

Example Question: How would you feel about treating a patient who has tested positive for HIV?

By using the STARR method, you may describe a previous encounter you had with a patient who had a stigmatized disorder:

“When working as a medical assistant, I encountered a patient struggling with depression. My job was to take their vitals and medical history. They shared what they had been doing to manage their symptoms and what they still wanted to work on. I treated them as any other patient and validated their feelings. I was able to successfully prepare the patient before the doctor came into the room and made the patient feel comfortable. Reflecting on my experience, I would treat a patient with HIV with the same understanding and empathy as I did the patient with depression.”

Although you may have hit each of the STARR letters, this is not an effective way to answer the question because it does give the interviewer additional context to why you would treat the patient with HIV a certain way. 

Instead, you could say something like this:

“As a doctor, my job will be to treat all patients without judgment. It does not matter to me if the patient has an infectious disease, a genetic disorder, a sexually transmitted disease, or anything else. I know HIV often has a negative stigma around it, so I would ensure that I educate my patient on how to manage their disease and talk to them with empathy and understanding. It is vital to give each patient the same level of respect and not judge them for past choices or any medical condition they are dealing with. If I were to treat a patient who tested positive for HIV, I would feel the same about them as I would any other patient.”

This answers the question more directly and gives the interviewer insight into the way you think rather than just describing a semi-related situation. 

Why is This Medical School Interview Tip Overrated?

The STARR method is only useful sometimes because it does not apply to every single interview question. It may be useful in situation-based questions that ask about previous experiences, but it most certainly is not the only way to go about answering them. This method could come across as too lengthy/detailed of an answer or it simply may not be the best way for some people to communicate. When interviewing, you want it to feel more like a conversation rather than a speech.

What Should You Do Instead?

We propose that you answer the question however feels most natural to you!

Make sure to practice common interview questions beforehand, and if you feel the STARR method works for you, then use it. However, if you find a different approach that feels more comfortable, there is absolutely no harm in sticking with that. Do not feel pressured to base your interview answers off of the STARR method because the person interviewing you is definitely not expecting every candidate to answer questions the same way.

About the Author:  

Vanshika Goyal is a graduate from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. Her aspiration is to become a physician with a focus on patient-centered care and individualized treatment. She currently works in Hemophilia clinical research at the University of California, San Francisco. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and painting.

Overrated Medical School Interview Tip #2: Be Prepared to Talk About Yourself

On the surface, the advice of “be prepared to talk about yourself” seems to make sense. You will be grilled with questions about yourself for 10, 15, 30, or even 60 minutes, so you’ll need to be ready to talk about yourself.

But what does that mean exactly?

Why is This Medical School Interview Tip Overrated?

The advice of “be prepared to talk about yourself” is a bit overrated and vague. It might serve as a nice reminder for novice interviewees who have done little to no preparation. However, that’s not the case with most pre-meds on the cusp of an interview. An interviewee won’t get much out of this advice since it gives very little direction on what one should say about themselves and what specific aspects they should focus on. This makes the advice totally ineffectual.

The advice does a disservice to itself by not covering all the details, which are the real difference-makers in an interview. You need to be aware of how things could go wrong when talking about yourself.

What Should You Do Instead?

When talking about yourself, you might reveal information that distracts from the main argument about your candidacy for the field of medicine. Let’s look at some examples and discuss how you could find a better balance:

  • You have a hobby in computer science. You love to code and optimize your life through coding, and this hobby helps make some extra bucks to pay for college. Talking about this with an interviewer is fine. It shows that your interests are diverse and that you can find solutions whether in programming or in life to help pay tuition. However, this might confuse the interviewer and make them think you're more interested in programming than medicine. Instead, you could mention how you love the fact that this little hobby helps you improve your quality of life. And to you being a doctor means that you have a direct impact and a chance to help improve a patient’s quality of life. 

  • You have spent hours developing your love and ability in tennis. You have played at several tournaments and even played internationally. You are ranked extremely highly in the US. This is unique and shows that you have overcome the obstacle of balancing studies and sports. However, the interviewer might question why you have left the sport and whether you're currently on a path that you really want to go down. Instead, you could talk about how it helped you be more compassionate to others despite what your situation is - injured, lost the match, or won the match. Compassion is important in medicine as the patient who you may be treating will arrive in different conditions and with different circumstances. One should be able to show an equal level of compassion no matter what.

  • You could explain how you spent countless hours on research. You have published a lot of articles and spent hours being a mentor to other undergraduates. This shows that you are passionate about your research and willing to commit a lot of time for something you are passionate about. Again, the interviewer might have a lot of questions for you about this and spend the rest of the interview questioning why you want to be a doctor instead of a researcher. To avoid this, you could mention your time as a mentor in your lab and how you also hope to mentor others as a physician, and how being a physician is another outlet for you to contribute your knowledge and time towards a field that you are passionate about.

About the Author:

Srinikhil Vemuri is a second-year biomedical engineering student at Texas A&M. Srinikhil is passionate about sports medicine and integrating his education in engineering to further aid in the development of technologies that assist in the recovery of injured players and to detect the chances of injury before they even occur, all while working as a physician. Srinikhil's other interests include watching soccer, reading magazines about cars, and spending time with friends and family.

Overrated Medical School Interview Tip #3: Retell Stories from Your Personal Statement to Answer “Why Medicine?”

One of the main goals of the medical school interview is for the admission committee to understand you as a person. Consistency with your application is vital during an interview, and you don't want to deviate too much from it. When you are asked, "why do you want to become a doctor," some people suggest that you retell your stories from your personal statement. Would it be worth it? Since such a question is frequently asked during an interview, we should discuss the approach to this question in more depth because it will impact your application to most schools.

Why is This Medical School Interview Tip Overrated?

The opportunities to represent yourself to the committee members are limited during the application cycle. Thus, you should utilize every opportunity to present yourself, and each opportunity should add more about yourself. You couldn't fully express yourself in the personal statement due to several possible reasons, like character limits.

This is why I am against simply retelling your story from your personal statement during the interview because you can add a lot more to your stories. You can be more descriptive about your stories and add more details between events.

An example: "My first step was to familiarize myself with chronic neurological diseases. I took a program assistant position at the Alzheimer's Society to learn …"

These are the sentences from my personal statement when introducing my experience at the Alzheimer's Society. I suggest changing this to: "I realized that although I am motivated to understand more about neurological diseases and studied neuroscience for my undergraduate, I realized that I did not know much at all about the logistics of how people with dementia get help from the community. This is why I decided to join Alzheimer's Society as a volunteer - to help them directly and learn the actual reality of the disease."

Adding details that provide different perspectives or add more layers to the big picture is essential, such as why you made the decision or why you think it's important to take this kind of action. Even non-verbal communication, such as emotions like enthusiasm or sadness in your voice, can be helpful. Remember, you are telling your own story, so you want it to sound natural and authentic like you are telling a fresh story rather than simply retelling your personal statement.

What Should You Do Instead?

We propose you take this approach. First, edit your personal statement in preparation for the interview. Edit it by adding a few more details in between the sentences. Add the sentences and descriptive words you previously cut from the personal statement. You can color code them to identify which information the interviewee knows and which information they don't know, so you can effectively emphasize your new information.

Rehearsing the "why medicine" question is essential to identify how much detail you want to add to your answer because you don't want to spend half of your interview only talking about this one question. I'd suggest around two minutes because the typical interview length is around 15~30 mins, and using more than 10% of the interview time to explain one question may be too much. Also, you want to keep your interviewer's attention, and you may lose them if your answer is too long.

You may think the amount of work for this question may be too much, but considering that most schools you apply to will ask you "why medicine" questions, committing this much effort to this question may be worthwhile. You can take similar approaches to other frequently asked questions like, 1.) What qualities of yours will make you a good doctor? 2.) How do you cope with stress? 3.) What medically related experiences have you had?

Remember, you want to present every aspect of yourself to the admission committee member, and you need to utilize every opportunity since the committee members can spend only a limited amount of time on each applicant.

About the Author:

Gerard Kyungwook Kim is a second-year master’s student studying neuroscience and cell & systems biology at the University of Toronto. Gerard is motivated to learn more about brain health and how to facilitate translational neuroscience research. Gerard’s goal is to obtain medical knowledge and clinical experiences through a career in medicine and utilize that knowledge to investigate research questions that arise during his career. Gerard likes to work out, travel, and meditate during his free time.

Overrated Medical School Interview Tip #4: Dress Conservatively

We often hear the advice, especially for females, to dress conservatively for medical school interviews. While this is valid advice and I would not recommend someone to dress in a manner that distracts from the content of their answers, it does not hurt to express yourself. 

Why is This Medical School Interview Tip Overrated?

While I do agree that an applicant should dress professionally, I think it’s okay to wear something that is not traditionally “conservative,” especially in terms of color.

It’s also important to note that certain clothing and hairstyle choices are protected from discrimination. For example, in California, the CROWN Act prohibits professional discrimination based on hairstyle and texture. Similar laws were enacted in New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Colorado, Washington, and Maryland. Violating these laws can result in a significant fine and other negative repercussions. 

What Should You Do Instead?

What we propose instead is that you dress based on how you wish to present yourself to the admissions committee and interviewers. A pop of color in clothing or something distinctive about an outfit can make an applicant stand out and be more memorable; however, sticking with neutrals is always an option.

Here are some possible alternative choices or accessories:

-Wearing a black blazer with a pink/dark green shirt/blouse

-Wearing a tan blazer with a white or black shirt/blouse

-Wear a blazer with a belt  

Examples of What is Acceptable vs. Unacceptable Dress in Interviews

Typical Example of “Dressing Conservatively”:

Example of Something Acceptable but More Interesting or Expressive:

Example of Something Unacceptable:

About the Author:

Suchitaa Sawhney is a second-year biomedical engineering student at Texas A&M. Inspired by her passion for science and helping others, Suchitaa hopes to pursue a career in medicine and restore the public's faith in the healthcare system by becoming an advocate for her patients. Suchitaa’s other interests include spending time with friends and family, listening to music, and watching puppy videos.

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