Hitting the interview trail

Thanks to Justin for prompting an entry discussing my experience with medical school interviews!


[Warning: This post is long and somewhat all over the place… I just wrote whatever came to mind so it isn’t as nicely organized as some of my other posts are. Also, I have inserted some “Applicant tips” throughout the post and there’s a list of resources at the end. If you find you have more questions, please feel free to comment!]
First off, I want to make it clear that having been born and raised in the Midwest combined with two years in the-middle-of-nowhere-Western-Massachusetts, I realized that I love the culture and people of the area. While I can understand the lure of the West Coast [*cough* Mike] and the attraction of the East Coast/NYC, there’s just something about how much sweeter people tend to be in the Midwest. I love being able to smile at random people that I walk by and not receive an incredulous stare afterwards. I love suburbia’s quaint comfort. I love the fact that I can go find a middle of nowhere or a Starbucks without having to deal with ridiculous city traffic. And honestly, I really cannot see myself living an area where snow doesn’t generally fall — snow truly makes winter magical.
Being a Michigan resident, I applied to all of the in-state schools as well as to a number in the surrounding areas (Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota, NY). For kicks, I threw in a couple of California ones, but seeing that they barely have enough room for their own residents, I didn’t have much invested in those applications [read: all pretty quick rejections post-submission].
I was complete at a total of 19 schools and received 4 interviews: NYMC, OUWB, Wayne State, and MCW [waitlist-only]. One of the great things about interviewing at schools in your area is the low cost of travel/lodging and I personally find driving to be a good time to reflect and relax [that is, when there isn’t a ton of traffic…].
On to the actual interview days — each of the schools had a different style of interview day. NYMC was a half-day, starting with breakfast, some free time, an hour-long interview with a faculty member, a tour of campus and finally lunch with a couple of students. OUWB was a full-day, starting with breakfast, a tour, an interview with faculty/admissions member on Oakland’s campus, lunch with faculty, a bus ride to Beaumont in Royal Oak, snacks, another tour and another interview with a physician/faculty from Beaumont. Wayne State was just an interview and optional tour [with lunch]. And finally, MCW was also a half-day [but it started later than the other schools], with lunch, a tour, an interview with a faculty member and an interview with a student. All of the schools [with the exception of Wayne] had some sort of informational presentation about the school, the curriculum and financial aid.
[Excuse me if I fudged the description of any of these interview days — I’m trying to recall events from 6ish months ago…regardless, if you went on any of these interview days and noted that something was off, please let me know so I can correct it!]
Honestly, I had a lot of doubts about whether I would ever receive interviews — the reassurances of my friends and family only went so far since none of them had gone through the process. Because of this, I did not prepare for my interviews as well as I could have. A list of resources I wish I would have used more of can be found at the end of this entry.
I did rely pretty heavily on the SDN School-Specific Discussions to get an idea of what the interview day was like [one of the perks of being later in the cycle is that there’s a greater chance someone posted something about how the interviews are structured]. Luckily, [or possibly, logically… in retrospect, I am starting to believe that medical school admissions committees know more about you that you know about yourself] all of my interviews were “laid-back” ones. Not to say you could literally relax in a comfortable chair and talk for hours on end about how incredible you are since you saved babies in Nicaragua and started a free-clinic… but they were definitely more conversational than “interview-y.” This being said, one of the most important questions applicants should know the answer to is, “Why medicine at X institution?
Most of us had a good answer in our personal statements for “Why medicine” but there really can be a disconnect between what is written and how it is expressed in-person. A lot of things can look great on paper, but not truly mean anything. I feel like a lot of applicants tend to “fluff” what they did in their applications, but then get screwed at the interview because the padding becomes extremely apparent to the interviewer.
Applicant tip: don’t try to make something into what it’s not — if you weren’t moved or touched by a volunteer experience, it’s going to be really hard to convince someone else that you were.
Another thing I did prior to every interview was write down specific things from the institution’s website that I liked/disliked. If the website is… lacking, then try to turn to other sources of information [in this era, I’d hope that all applicants realize the power of Google] or other students who have interviewed at that specific school. The likes can be integrated into your interview responses and the dislikes can be turned into questions for the end of the interview.
Applicant tip: learn as much as possible about each school and don’t be hesitant to use the information during the actual interview. In fact, DEFINITELY use that information…
You will always, always, always be asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer. I cannot stress this enough — but make sure you’re prepared! Even if you have to resort to generic ones [e.g. what made you choose X school? what kept you here for so many years? etc, etc], don’t ever walk out without asking at least one.
Applicant tip: ASK QUESTIONS at the end of the interview.
Thank you letters can also be important, so make sure to write down things that your interviewer said so that you might try to tailor the letter to them. Not everyone sees the value in them, but I have heard far too many times that one or two people will actually be offended if you don’t send them some sort of acknowledgement for taking time out of their busy day to chat with you.
Applicant tip: Thank you letters are almost a standard — make sure to try to include something unique from your interview so that it boggles their memory and helps them remember you better. Also, make send them promptly afterwards.
Some of my favorite interview questions include:
  • Have you ever done something stupid?
  • Define maturity.
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What would you do if you could not do medicine?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Do you have any hobbies?
  • Why do you want to go to school in Detroit!? [ohhh, Wayne…]
I did not receive any ethics questions, but I did hear a couple of applicants during my OUWB interview day had gotten one or two from the Beaumont interview. I cannot really speak for how to prepare for those [since I didn’t…] but I know a couple of my friends read a couple of medical ethics books prior to interviewing. There is never a “right” answer to ethics questions — the most important thing about them is that you show a sound train of reasoning to the interviewer. Guide them from point A to point B and continue until you get to the final destination.
Applicant tip: don’t be afraid to take a moment to formulate your answer or to ask the interviewer to repeat or rephrase the question.
The night before the interview is always an anxiety-provoking, nerve-wracking one, but just focus on breathing. I personally had a wardrobe crisis the night before my first interview [OUWB] and had to make a late-night trip to Meijer… but I still made it to the interview, and must have impressed someone!
If you find that you can’t sleep, I found that literally just thinking “breathe in, breathe out…” over and over again and focusing on the airflow entering and escaping your airways calmed me down enough to fall into slumber. Definitely try to your best way to stay calm in stressful situations.
One way to save money when interviewing away from home is to use a school’s student host program. Some people find that it’s worth the extra money to stay at a hotel and have amenities that you don’t have to pack away into a tiny carry-on bag, but I personally thought both of my host experiences were really helpful for the interview. I was able to get a feel for what the current students were like [read: would I even get along with people here?!] and get all of my burning questions about medical school life answered. I found that especially for NYMC, the student hosts helped bump the school higher on my list just because of the experiences they shared with me. Plus, it was nice to see what a day in the life of a current student was like — you can see if they are frazzled or absolutely in love with where they’re at. In the end, you have to make your own decision on the matter, but I’m a firm believer that it’s worth the sometimes uncomfortable sleeping arrangements [either way you’re gonna have adrenaline coursing through you during the interview!].
Applicant tip: if you can stand it [and when it’s available], use the student host program to get a gauge of the school, where students live, how happy they are and to get all of your burning questions about medical school life answered from a real-life human being. There’s so much you can learn from how a person acts and responds to a question that the SDN forums just can’t convey.
Applicant tip: before the interview, review your AMCAS and secondary essays. No, REALLY. You’d be surprised how much you forget in a couple of weeks…
Applicant tip: trust yourself — as long as you know why you want to be a doctor and why you even applied to the school you’re interviewing at in the first place, then you will get yourself through the interview. However, don’t come across as arrogant. Oh, and smile, please.
Resources for Interviewing (SDN forum links are for 2011-2012 application cycle):
Another post on waitlists and acceptances and such to come… eventually!