By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff
David Wilcox is a folk singer who traveled the country recording live albums. When reviewing his live performances, he came to quite a surprising revelation: the nights where the audience was reacting most to the music, his performances were just okay; the nights where the audience was not responding well to his music, he performed the best.
Now you may be asking, why are you wasting my time with anecdotes about folk singers? I need to be preparing for the AAMC VITA!
Well, Wilcox has a lesson for you. For him, a lack of feedback pushed him to go above and beyond to make the audience happy. And since the AAMC VITA is a one-sided virtual interview, with no facial expressions or nods of approval from the interviewer to guide your answer, hopefully you will be like Wilcox and rise to the challenge of making your one-sided interview performances the best you’ve ever had.
In the AAMC VITA, you will be presented with complex questions aiming to gauge your ability to address the AAMC pre-med competencies. Don’t panic quite yet! We’re here to cover some tips for how to ace your responses.
There are six competencies that will be tested on the VITA, with one question dedicated for each (3 minutes for each response):
The six questions are designed to assess core competencies and provide information about your journey on the path to medical school. According to the AAMC, there are three types of questions:
Sample: Why did you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
Sample: Imagine you are working in a group project and one of your teammates is not doing their share of the work. What would you do?
Sample: Describe a time when you experienced a conflict with a classmate or a coworker. What did you do? What was the outcome?
You only have one shot at this recording, so you want to make it your best.
We have designed a FREE Practice VITA, so definitely take that ASAP to get your feet wet and discover how you may need to improve!
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result - it’s a helpful framework to follow, and you can rely on it for almost any question, particularly situational ones.
Here’s an example situational question to get us started:
One of your friends is suffering from depression, but they refuse to seek treatment because of family and social pressure. What should you do in this situation?
Before freaking out, remember that this question doesn’t look so different from a CASPer question.
Applying the STAR technique here, start by identifying the Situation and Task: you have a friend suffering from depression, and your task is to respond and help him/her in this situation.
Before taking any Action, you will want to search for more information. Most situational questions are purposely missing crucial information. Before even trying to answer the questions, recognize what you don’t know so as not to make assumptions about what is being asked, or what the circumstances are.
For this situation, consider what the cause of the depression could be, and what types of family and social pressures your friend might be facing. Ask if anything else is pushing them away from seeking help? A bad past experience? Stigma?
The more you explore what’s unsaid, the more insightful your answers will sound. Plus it will help you take up some time in your three-minute response.
Another tip for responding with your plan of Action is to use use if/then conditional statements. For example:
“If my friend’s family has negative views about seeking therapy, then I would reach out to the family to better understand their perspective and inform them of the benefits of professional help.”
“If they are afraid to approach their family alone, then I would offer to go along with them for moral support.”
“If my friend fears facing stigma for seeking professional help, then I would help them look into teletherapy.”
These if/then conditional statements are like a cheat code for situational questions, because they let you create your own criteria for answering the question, while also showing yourself as someone who can think ahead and anticipate different outcomes.
When explaining your planned Action for this situation, you may want to draw on your past experiences to guide your answer.
As part of your preparation, you will want to identify some sample experiences that you can share in your VITA to address questions and show that you demonstrate the competencies AAMC is looking for.
You’ll need a specific example for each competency. Ideally, two. Don’t memorize your responses, but you can create skeletons and memorize their bullet points:
The last tip of the STAR method is to think about the Results. It won’t hurt to be forward thinking about the result of the action you plan to take.
If you have time at the end, it always helps to go above and beyond and talk about the implications of this question. In this case, talk about access, stigma, and normalizing continued conversations about mental health.
In this case, an obvious red flag would be to tell your depressed friend to “just get over it.” This would communicate to medical schools that you lack emotional intelligence, empathy, and any skills in de-escalation.
If sensitivity to people’s problems isn’t natural to you, maybe work on empathy and compassion before going into a field like medicine that requires extreme sacrifice for the sake of others.
Some of you overachievers might be thinking: "This is so common sense. I'm sure everyone answers these questions the same way. How do I stand out?"
During the VITA, and interviews in general, your success will hinge more on professionalism and sound judgment than originality.
We’re not saying you can’t be creative in your responses, but you don’t want your outside-the-box thinking to be misconstrued as some kind of red flag. This is especially true for the situational and past behavior questions, which are more concerned with you doing the appropriate thing than the unique thing.
If you want to stand out, try to save your more daring or creative responses for the “medical school journey” questions.
Use all of your time! If your responses are too short, your thoughts will seem underdeveloped or too simplistic, especially compared to the countless other applicants who will undoubtedly use every last second available to them.
Three minutes is a long time, so make sure to time yourself to see how long it takes you to move through each of your prepared examples.
Remember, our FREE Practice VITA is a great way to gauge the duration of your responses and get into the rhythm of the video interview!
Have any questions about the VITA and other medical school virtual interviews? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!