August 20, 2014

How to Tackle the Two Toughest Med School Interview Questions

Rob Humbracht

It could be argued that "why medicine" is the hardest medical school interview question.  Everyone asks it, and it's difficult to answer it in a unique way without sounding too cliche.  But we've found that most students do fine with this one - as long as they have enough exposure to medicine not to sound too naive in their answer, they generally make out okay.

The following two questions can sneak up on you.  You will almost certainly be asked to answer the following two questions, but follow our advice, and you should be well prepared to withstand these difficult questions:

1. Tell me about yourself

Take a second to try to answer this question out loud.  Go ahead and try it - how hard can it be?

Pretty hard, right?  While you are the world's leading expert on you, picking what to say without delving into everything can be tricky.

So here's a formula for how to answer this question:

a) My name is ______

b) I (go/went) to school at _______, and I majored in _______

c) Something most people don't know about me is that I ________,

d) And I love to _______

Presumably, you can fill in the blanks yourself for a and b.  For c, pick something that's unique to you, and for d, pick your favorite hobby (or in lieu of a hobby, pick your most recent trip you've taken).  "Something people don't know about me is that I once had dinner with Barack Obama, and I have a secret passion for scuba diving."  If you choose those last two items well, the next 5-10 minutes of your interview will be about re-living the story behind c or discussing your interest in d.  And what a great way to start your medical school interview on a topic that you know a lot about and feel comfortable discussing!

2.  What is your opinion on (abortion, euthanasia, cloning)?

Whichever issue the interviewer chooses to ask, the gist of the question and the answer are still the same.  The question involves an issue with no clear right or wrong answer so that you can stake out a claim for one side or the other.  

And while it's easy to let these types of questions keep you up at night, don't freak out.  Do you actually think the interviewer wants to spend a long time with you discussing your views on this controversial issue?  It's pretty repetitive for the interviewer to have this conversation with every applicant, so all she wants is for you to take a stance, defend it well, and move on with the interview.

Here's what to do:

a) Acknowledge that it's a tough issue.  

b) Explain briefly the first side of the argument.

c) Explain briefly the other side of the debate.

d) Take a firm, uncompromising (and preferably, not nuanced) stance in favor of one of the sides, grounded in the underlying morals of the debate.

So, abortion:

"Well, abortion is a tough issue, one that our country seems pretty divided on.  On the one hand, I can see how if you believe that life begins at conception, we are obligated to protect the life of the child.  On the other hand, I can see how a woman's right to choose would supercede the right to life, since the right to control one's body is the pre-existing right.  Personally, since I believe that life begins at conception and since it's so hard to figure out exactly when a child becomes viable in the womb, I believe that abortion should only be performed when there's a threat to the health of the mother."

Since your position is grounded in morality, "since I believe that life begins at conception," it will be hard for the interviewer to budge you, no matter how argumentative, since you can continue to go back to that moral principal as the one most persuades you.

So there you go.  The 2 toughest interview questions along with how to answer them.  Good luck as you head to your first interviews!

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