Preparing for the Medical School Interview - Sample Questions, Tips, and Format

First of all, the discussion of the medical school interview in Chapters 22-25 of Iserson's book is excellent.(Get into medical school: A guide for the perplexed, by Kenneth V. Iserson, Galen Press, 2nd ed.). Read it well before your scheduled interview dates! Other printed and web sources addressing the interview are also valuable. At some schools interviewers ask a set of standard questions with some leeway; at others, different interviewers may ask different questions.

Next, know the purpose of the interview at each school where you are invited to interview. Is the interview a final step in the selection process or a preliminary step? Does the school interview only those who have gone through extensive screening or is the interview mandated by residency and certain threshold scores on MCAT? Whatever the purpose, the interview provides an applicant with the opportunity to view the basic and clinical facilities, meet and talk with students and faculty in the program, and have any questions about the school answered by people who are knowledgeable. Also, the interview provides opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their knowledge, communication skills, and personality. The interview can serve to clarify any aspect of the interviewee's application that may require explanation. Remember that an interview is a two-way process. The medical school is looking at an applicant and an applicant is looking at the medical school. By knowing the specifics about the medical school at which you are interviewing and asking perceptive questions that you would like to have answered shows that you have an interest in that school. Interviewers look for that interest in you.

Interviews often reveal information about applicants that cannot be determined by other means. How well does the applicant communicate? What impressions about personality does the applicant project? Is the applicant's demeanor one that inspires confidence and trust? The interview may give clues about how an applicant will interact in the future with patients, an important consideration in an admission decision for medical educators today.

Listing of interview questions

The following list of questions should not be considered complete, but they do represent the types of questions frequently encountered during the medical school interview. By considering thoughtful responses to these questions beforehand, your interview will move more smoothly. Always make sure you understand the question. Clarify the question, if necessary. Be careful not to go overboard with responses. However, simple questions do not always demand simple answers, but may require explanations and reasons for an answer. Questions such as: "Name one person who is your role model," for instance, generally begs the interviewee to provide the reasons why a person was chosen. Also, remember that many questions do not have "correct" answers, but any answer you have should be thoughtful. Some dilemma-type questions may be asked that require more information in order to answer. Don't be afraid to indicate that more information may be necessary to answer such questions and volunteer what additional types of information would be needed. Watch out for leading questions that test interviewees' commitment to their own positions. If you express any strong opinion, you must be able to defend it. Experienced interviewers may test you with leading questions to see if you have the gumption to defend your position.

The category headings of the questions below are arbitrary and may be somewhat overlapping.

Open-Ended and General Questions:

Basically, open-ended questions are designed to assess the interviewee's (1) knowledge and information; (2) mental organization; (3) ability to express and defend opinions and positions; and (4) personality.

  • Tell me about yourself. (Don't give a complete life history. Summarize the key points in a chronological manner and sprinkle with few details in your more recent history.)
  • Why do you want to be a doctor? (Give several key points in summary form). Replace very general responses like "I want to help people" with more specific intentions.
  • Why should we choose you?
  • I note that you did not perform well on the (section of the MCAT). Explain why you are weak in this area.
  • Why did you apply to this medical school?
  • What are your positive and negative qualities? (Pick one or two of your strengths and at least one of your weaknesses, but be sure you pick a weakness that you have recognized earlier, have improved upon, and indicate how you have done so)
  • If you were to do anything differently in your preparation for medical school, what would that be?
  • What do you see yourself doing in ten or fifteen years from now? (Include personal goals and professional goals. You may specify a general area of interest but qualify your specific interests in medical specialties by acknowledging you have yet to experience the range of opportunities in medicine. Do indicate your interests in the general environment where you intend to practice, such as small town, large city, and region of the country. This question encompasses the next two more specific questions.)
  • Where do you plan to practice?
  • What field of medicine are you interested in? What branch of medicine most interests you?
  • What other health care professions have you considered and why did you select medicine?
  • What most recent advances in medicine have occurred that you believe will have the greatest impact on how you will practice medicine?
  • Who are your heroes and why?
  • I see you got a "C" in (an undergraduate course). Why was that course so difficult? Explain.
  • What is your concept of the doctor/patient relationship?
  • Why do you want to come here? (Be sure to have reasons that involve the unique qualities of the school. Mention also some personal reasons if these are applicable.)
  • What makes you a better applicant than others?
  • Is this school your first choice?
  • What role have your parents played in your decision to become a physician?
  • What is going on in your life?
  • Tell me what you know it is to be a physician?
  • What makes you happy?
  • I see that you have had a research experience in college. What have you leaned about that process?
  • Let us say that you are rejected for admission into all medical schools to which you have applied. What would be your second career option?
  • Who are your role models?
  • What are your goals in medicine?
  • What causes your greatest frustrations in life?
  • What kinds of experiences have you had in the medical field?
  • List several qualities that you feel are the most important in being a good physician.
  • List several qualities that you feel are the most important in being a good medical school student.
  • What other medical schools have you applied to and why? (Be honest)
  • Which primary care area of medicine would be the greatest interest to you?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you care about? How does that caring express itself?
  • What concerns you about medicine?
  • What is your concept of the biopsychosocial model of medicine?
  • Tell me what you know it is to be a physician.
  • Who was your greatest source of inspiration in deciding to pursue medicine?
  • What aspects of medicine draw you to this profession?
  • What haven't we talked about?
  • Do you have any questions to ask me? (You must have questions at this point, but engage the interviewer as much as possible by having questions about his attitude or opinion of the school.)

Practice interviews and other professional program admission pointers are available to majors in Biomedical Sciences in BMS 494, Senior Seminar in Cell and Molecular Biology.

Ethical Questions:

There is a host of specific issues that may be brought up in this category: determinations of death, the right to die, care of the elderly, patient privacy, children's and parent's rights, care of the mentally handicapped, rights of the handicapped, rights of the physically handicapped, rights of the terminally ill, rights of defective newborns, abortion rights, religious rights to reject certain medical procedures, experimental treatments, etc. You should plan what considerations or what positions you have on these issues.

  • Would you get out of your car to help a victim after observing an accident?
  • What do you think of affirmative action?
  • What are your thoughts on euthanasia?
  • A pregnant 15-year-old unmarried teenager comes into your office asking for an abortion. What would you do? Would you inform her parents?
  • You observe a fellow medical student cheating on an examination. What would you do?
  • How would you tell a patient just diagnosed with cancer that he has only a few weeks to live?
  • A 14-year-old gay and promiscuous male comes to you to be treated for a STD. During the conversation he mentions that he has been tested for HIV several times and would like to be tested again to see if he is still uninfected. How would you handle this situation?
  • What is the difference between an HMO and a PPO? Which system do you prefer and why?
  • How would you express your concern for a child who needs an amputation?
  • During a routine physical examination of a 10-year-old girl you discover unmistakable evidence that she has been physically and sexually abused over a period of time. Both her parents are in the waiting room. How would you respond to this situation?
  • You have two patients who have been admitted after a serious accident. Both require immediate attention in order to survive. One patient is 20 years old; the other is 60 years old. Which life would you save?

Social Questions:

  • Do you think that doctors are being paid too much or too little? Why?
  • How do you feel about the new HIPAA regulations?
  • How would you go about improving access to health care in this country?
  • What are your views on the latest changes to the Medicare program?
  • Do physicians have the right to deny care to patients on Medicaid?
  • What are your views on alternative medicine?
  • What have you recently read in the press about health care?
  • List three issues that confront medicine today. Of the three, which is the most important and why?
  • What do you think should be done to control health care costs in this country?
  • What are your thoughts on capitation?
  • I see that you have had considerable volunteer experiences. What have you learned from those experiences?

Interests, Maturity, and Performance:

  • What is the last book you read?
  • Describe an experience you had helping others.
  • Who are your senators, congressmen, and governor?
  • What would you do next year if you don't get accepted into medical school?
  • What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
  • Who was the best teacher you have had and why?
  • What qualities would you look for in a doctor?
  • Describe an experience you have had in which you were misjudged. What were your responses?
  • How did you go about investigating a career in medicine?
  • What person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
  • What is the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome?
  • If I offered you a spot in our next class before you left this interview, would you accept?
  • How would the person who knows you the best describe you?
  • Which science (or non-science) class did you enjoy the most and why?
  • Describe the most unusual event in your life.
  • Have you ever written or sent a letter to a political representative in which you have expressed your views on a subject?
  • If you could be any type of cell in the human body, which type of cell would you choose and why?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How well do you feel you function under pressure?
  • How do you relax?
  • What are your hobbies? Do you plan to continue your hobbies while in medical school?
  • What was the last movie you saw? What did you think about it?
  • You are granted any three wishes by a genie. What would your wishes be?
  • You are stranded on a desert island. What one book would you want to have with you?
  • Who do you admire most in your life and why?

Tips for the interview

An interview assesses more than how well you answer questions. You are being observed during your entire visit, not just during your interview. Find below a list of tips.

  • Read through sample questions, think about them, and practice how you would answer them. Do not specifically memorize questions or your answers.
  • Practice, practice, and practice before your interview and work to improve faults.
  • Make sure your "body language" accurately represents you. Arrange for a mock interview with your advisor or other person to detect false impressions.
  • Research the school at which you are interviewing. You should know the special features that the school represents. Determine what type of candidate they are looking for.
  • Review your primary and secondary application materials including your essay, personal statement, and academic record. Review the details of your background and accomplishments.
  • Dress conservatively in professional business attire. Dresses with jackets or suits for women; suits or jackets with ties for men. Avoid excessive jewelry or make up.
  • Have shoes shined and finger nails cut and clean.
  • Arrive ten to fifteen minutes early. This gives time to deal with any last minute changes.
  • Maintain decorum at all times outside of the interview itself. Keep comments on any negatives to yourself. Treat everyone you meet as if they are the ones that determine your admission. This includes other students, other applicants, the janitor, and the office receptionist. Be friendly and social.
  • Sit with proper posture facing the interviewer. Relax, but do not slouch or fidget. Make good eye contact with the interviewer, but do not stare down the interviewer. If there is more than one interviewer, maintain an unbiased eye contact, but concentrate on the person who has asked the question. Be yourself.
  • Listen to the complete question before responding.
  • Never lie, make excuses or blame others for past difficulties, or try to guess what the interviewer wants to hear. If you do not know the answer to a question, indicate this and move on.
  • Be prepared to ask questions about the school, curriculum, and students.
  • Avoid the "uhs", "like", and "you knows" in your answers.
  • Watch the pace of your answers to questions. You will be nervous and will tend to talk more quickly than usual. Use pauses between the question and your answer to help you slow down.
  • At the conclusion of an interview, make sure you thank the interviewer and follow up soon after with a short written thank you in which you express the willingness to answer any further questions.

The medical school interview format

Just as the purpose of the interview differs, the decision to grant an interview differs from school to school. Several schools grant interviews after prescreening. The degree of prescreening varies from using GPA and MCAT cutoffs to others who have considered the complete application. Other schools may invite potential students in which there are unanswered questions after review of the application. Several schools do not interview at all, while others may interview the top candidates to promote their acceptance. In all cases, the interview is by invitation only. Applicants who receive an invitation to interview usually have opportunity to schedule in advance. Most medical school interviews are scheduled between September and April although early decision applicants may be scheduled for August and September. Most schools will schedule limited or no interviews during holiday recesses, such as the Christmas season. "No shows" are severely frowned upon and applicants are urged to phone and write schools if they have to reschedule or cancel an interview.

Although your interview with the Missouri State University Pre-medical Committee may include several "stress questions", most schools do not give stress interviews and have become much more sensitive to the feelings of interviewees, particularly women and minorities. Furthermore, most interviewers are aware of impermissible, improper, or inappropriate questions and do not ask them. If improper questions arise during the interview, the interviewee should report the problem immediately after the interview and usually will be given a second opportunity to interview the same day.

Most schools interview from October through April. The time allotted for most interviews is 30 minutes, but some schools schedule interviews up to an hour in a tightly scheduled day. Most schools have a group orientation session during which promotional videos and financial aid information are provided. Most schools provide lunch and tours with some opportunities to meet with medical school students. If interviews are not scheduled for Saturday, some schools offer an opportunity to sit in on a medical school class. Most schools try to be hospitable with housing arrangements, but this depends on their budgets.

In the past, most interviews at osteopathic schools used a panel while most allopathic schools were one-on-one. Recently, more allopathic medical schools are using panels to interview each student. The decision of the interviewer or panel is usually made shortly after the interview period. The decisions are to accept, to reject, or to place the applicant in an alternate group or "wait listed" category. Many schools require a letter of intent for the candidate to remain on the wait list. For most schools, a final notification for those on the wait list comes around the time classes begin. Wait listed applicants must make sure that the school that wait listed them knows how to contact them at all times during the summer period.

Ever since medical schools dropped the use of the "stress interview", applicant impressions of the medical school interview process have been positive. To read feedback from students who interviewed at the schools to which you are applying, visit the Interview Feedback Page of the Student Doctor Network. Note the questions that are asked at the school where you intend to interview. You should be aware that interviewees who report negative interviews use this feedback because they were not accepted or demonstrate characteristics not befitting a physician in their responses. Also, in evaluating the responses, note the period of time between the date of the interview and the date of the submission of the feedback in evaluating the legitimacy of the feedback.

For more information

Contact one of the following pre-medical advisors:

Dr. Colette Witkowski* 417-836-5603, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 404

Dr. Scott Zimmerman* 417-836-6123, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 353

Dr. Richard Garrad* 417-836-5372, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 345

Dr. Amanda Brodeur* 417-836-5478, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 352

Dr. Lyon Hough 417-836-6485, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 409

Dr. Jianjie Wang 417-836-6140, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 339

Mr. Joseph Williams 417-836-6782, Kampeter Health Sciences Hall, Room 347

* indicates current member of the Pre-medical Committee

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
901 South National Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65897