Health professional schools are quite unique in that they are very interested in meeting and getting to know their candidates through an interview. Only a small percentage of applicants are invited to interview (the actual number varies greatly from school to school) and this is the final phase of the application process. Interviews are absolutely required for admission and students must travel to the medical school to complete this process.
How important is the interview?
Very important! It is important to recognize that each school has its own evaluation system leading to interview and then to acceptance. Although admissions committees strive to be as equitable and objective as possible, it is not a perfect world and therefore there is no perfect system. You will be confronted with different types of interviews and these interviews will be weighted differently in the overall evaluation by each school. Most schools will use the interview evaluation in their final admissions decisions. On average, you can expect the interview evaluation to be weighted at about 35% (Iserson, Getting Into Medical School).
Getting to the interview stage is definitely a good sign. It usually means that the committee is interested in learning more information about you. But students should not take it too lightly. This is the only aspect of the application that is still within the applicant’s control. Applicants cannot change their MCATs or their GPA, but they can be well- prepared for the interview and make a positive impression.
What is the purpose of the interview?
In general, the purpose of the interview is to assess the applicant’s personal characteristics. The most common characteristics that they are looking for are listed below:
Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies as defined by AAMC:
Service Orientation: desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on responsibilities to society
Social Skills:awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways social and behavioral cues affect people’s interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; and treats others with respect
Cultural Competence: knowledge of social and cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect form multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse background.
Teamwork: works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.
Oral Communication: Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed
Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others: Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; and develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.
Reliability and Dependability: Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance
Resilience and Adaptability: Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks
Capacity for Improvement: Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.
Other personal characteristics:
Logical thought/Problem Solving
Depth of thought
Scheduling the Interview
You can be invited to interview anytime from August through April. You may be invited by phone or email, or an online status page. You should maintain a consistent address so that you can be certain to receive notifications and you should also have a professional sounding voicemail message. Music or silly messages should be erased for the duration of the interview year.
Generally, you will be given a choice of dates or asked to go online or call to schedule your interview. You should try to adhere to the choices and try to schedule your interview earlier rather than later. Remember that many medical schools are rolling admissions and therefore earlier is better.
While most medical schools discourage you from requesting interviews, in special circumstances it may be appropriate for you to request one. If you are traveling to a distant city for another interview, it is appropriate to bring this to the attention of the schools in that city and ask if they might have a decision about your application in time to combine interviews. The more advanced notice you can provide the better.
Re-scheduling interviews is discouraged but if an emergency occurs and you need to reschedule or cancel an interview, you should deal with the school courteously. Contact the school as much in advance as you can so that another candidate may fill your space (this could be another candidate from Columbia!) If you call to change an interview or withdraw from one, follow-up in writing to confirm. This type of communication should not occur solely via email, you should call to make the initial request and then confirm via email. Remember that your behavior not only reflects on you as an individual but on Columbia as a whole. Please be professional.
Travel: When scheduling your travel, plan enough time before and after interview. If possible, plan to arrive the night before so that you have an opportunity to relax and get to know your surroundings. You may consider spending the night with a student host to save money. This student will also be able to give you a good perspective on student life and what to expect for the interview. This is usually a great opportunity for you to learn more about the school.
Costs: Interviewing is expensive. You need to budget for travel, possibly hotel, rental car, an interview suit etc.
Dress: Dress conservatively and comfortably. A solid suit – knee length skirt or pant suit for women—and shoes that you can comfortably walk in. Men should have an actual suit (i.e. no khakis and blazer). Be careful of excessive jewelry, which can be distracting. Also be careful about wearing cologne or perfume.
What To Expect
Each school handles their interview process somewhat differently, but in general, applicants can expect a whole or half day of events accompanying their interview. Applicants may meet students, get a tour of the campus and/or clinical facilities, sit in on a class, eat lunch etc. Applicants will be a part of a larger group of applicants who are also being interviewed that day.
The interview day may include one interview, a series of interviews by different individuals, or an MMI (Multiple Mini-Interview). About two-thirds of medical schools have applicants do two interviews, about one-third require one interview and a small number require three or more. The number of schools utilizing the MMI format is small but growing. On average, an interview usually lasts about 45 minutes. The MMI generally has about 8-10 stations and you spend 10 minutes at each station. It is to your advantage to find out as much about the interview process before the event as possible. You should talk to your Health professions advisor, students at the school, and admissions staff about the format and schedule. You will be more prepared and relaxed if you know what to expect.
In this type of interview, the interviewer has access to the entire application file during and/or before the interview. With an open file interview, applicants should be prepared to talk about any weaknesses in their application (that C in Organic Chem), their extracurricular experiences and whatever they wrote in their personal statement. You should also re-read your PAC application since we draw from it for your Committee Evaluation. While the interviewer may have had access to your entire file, he/she may not have read it closely, so also be prepared to repeat things that you explained in your application.
In this type of interview, the interviewer knows nothing about you or has limited information beforehand. The idea here is to remove bias based on information in the file. In this type of interview, you need to be prepared to talk about yourself and establish rapport. This person may not have read your personal statement, so you will not be able to refer to it. This interview format is usually more open-ended and don’t be surprised if you hear “Tell me about yourself.”
Occasionally applicants will be faced with a panel interview in which they are being interviewed by a small group of individuals. The panel may present you with a scenario or each may ask individual questions. This type of interview is less common. (Emory and Northwestern)
Multiple Mini Interview (MMI): This format uses several short independent assessment stations in a timed circuit. In this format, interviewers will not have access to your file. You will read the prompt provided and enter the room to discuss or role play the given scenario. The goal is to assess your core personal competencies including critical thinking, ethical decision making, cultural sensitivity, communication, empathy, teamwork, etc. In this format you could be asked to discuss a topic, role-play a scenario, respond in writing to a prompt, or engage in a team activity.
Who are the interviewers?
The interviewers may be clinical faculty, researchers, admissions personnel, and/or medical students. Applicants should know the position of your interviewer so that they may tailor the interview. For example, an applicant would ask different questions of a medical student than they would a clinical faculty member. Or if an applicant knows that the interviewer is on the curriculum committee, they should ask pertinent questions about the curriculum.
Preparing for the Interview
The purpose of preparation is not to prepare “canned” responses to questions that you might be asked but rather to do some serious self-reflection. Think about yourself and how you relate to your chosen career. Ask yourself what has brought you to this point and why you are pursuing this application. Delve into your past and try to understand all the factors that influenced your decisions and goals in medicine. How were your attitudes shaped by your experiences? Be honest with yourself. Think about your strengths and weaknesses. Think about how to present these in the most positive light. The purpose of this self-reflection is really to learn about yourself, to better understand your opinions, motivations, and character. You should have a strong sense of who you are and how you differ from the rest of the pack. As you begin to think about yourself, have a pad and pen handy. Writing your ideas down will help you to organize your thoughts and formulate good responses.
Here is a list of sample questions to help you prepare.
Know About a Medical Career and the Required Training
From your volunteer and other health-related experiences you should have a working knowledge of the field of medicine. You should know both the positives and negatives of this career and lifestyle. You should also know what to expect in medical school and residency. You should know about the current issues and policy debates affecting the field. Read medical journals, news magazines, and newspapers, attend lectures and conferences. The more knowledge you are able to demonstrate about medicine, the more committed you will seem.
Know School-Specific Information
It is absolutely essential that you read and reread all the material that you can find about the school at which you are interviewing. Peruse their web page, , know their curriculum and unique programs, connect with one of our alums that is attending. It is important that you do not ask questions that were clearly stated in the school’s brochures.
Prepare Your Questions
It is important to prepare questions to ask interviewers. These should be questions that are not answered in their written materials. Ask your questions in a way that expresses enthusiasm for the positive answer. Ask straightforward and open-ended questions.
The Night Before
- Reread all of your application materials that you sent to this school
- Reread your PAC application.
- Reread all of the information that you have about the school
- Review your questions to ask the interviewers
- Make sure you know how to get there and that your suit is cleaned and pressed and ready to go
- Get a good night’s sleep
YOUR INTERVIEW PERFORMANCE
It is important to remember that every interview is unique and will be affected by the personality and style of the interviewer. Your own style therefore should change depending on the situation. It is important to try to establish rapport with your interviewer. The interview is a conversation and it is important that you listen carefully and answer the questions asked. Do not try to dance around a subject. Be honest and sincere, and be yourself. When asked for your opinion, give it. As long as you are able to support your arguments and opinions, the interviewer will respect them.
Remember that the interviewer is in charge. Applicants should try not to get flustered if the interviewer cuts you off or changes the subject abruptly. The interviewer may have a list of questions that he/she has to get through in the allotted time. Also if the interview seems to get off task, don’t panic, again let the interviewer take control.
Expect the unexpected. Be ready for criticism. Don’t be surprised if an interviewer is brusque or unfriendly. The interviewer may be testing emotional stability and an ability to deal with difficult people. Remain confident and positive.
Think before you speak. Applicants will undoubtedly be asked questions that they may be unprepared for. It’s okay to ask the interviewer for a few moments to think. It is better to have a few moments of silence rather than giving an unorganized response.
Appear confident. Give a firm handshake, maintain good eye contact and body posture, and a strong voice.
Be pleasant. It is important to be positive and pleasant to everyone that you interact with on the day of the interview (this includes secretaries and receptionists, students and other applicants). Remember that applicants’ actions are being scrutinized all day.
After the Interview
Thank You Notes: You should send thank you notes to each of your interviewers. The style can be formal typewritten or handwritten note (be sure you have legible handwriting). I would also choose simple, clean note cards. Please be sure to make these notes personal – reference something that you spoke about during the interview. You want this person to remember you and this might help.
Your own Notes: Jot down some things about your experience so that you remember the experience. You might find yourself in a bit of a quandary down the line if you have multiple interviews and end up to have multiple choices.
Interview Feedback (both medical and dental): www.studentdoctor.net
AMSA Page on Student Resources: www.amsa.org/members/career/resources-for-students/
NYTimes: www.nytimes.com – you can search by health topics.
Kaiser Family Foundation: http://www.kff.org/
Additional Materials from our Prehealth Interview Workshop: