Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Medical School Interview: Some Advice

So, I haven't posted in a while and I thought I'd post some of my musings.

I work as an admissions ambassador at the medical school I attend. It's a nice extracurricular and gives me a chance to show off the school that I'm proud to be attending to prospective students. I also like helping applicants feel at ease through what is a very nerve-wracking experience.

My favorite part of the job is conducting the student interview. I really get excited when an applicant gives well-thought responses to the very ambiguous and often intellectually difficult questions that the admissions board dreams up. However, after conducting a bad interview or two, I thought I might post some suggestions for any pre-meds reading this.

What not to do during an interview:

1. Do not ask the interviewer what he or she thinks about the question.
I've thought about the question, I've probably answered it in my interview. The idea of the interview is for me to get a better idea of you as a candidate, not the other way around.

2. Name dropping isn't impressing anybody.
No, I'm not interested that you share Schopenhauer's opinion on the subject. That is, unless you explain what Schopenhauer's idea was and why you agree with it. Asking me if I've "read Schopenhauer" and stopping when I say that I have doesn't make you a better candidate.

3. Don't bring weaknesses up unless asked.
I make it a point to ask what applicants think their biggest strengths and weaknesses are. However, don't start the interview off by telling me why you got that "C" in Physics. I didn't even know you got a "C" in Physics until you told me. And now I have to listen to your awkward excuse. If you are going to say things without a prompt, make them positive things.

4. Speaking of weaknesses... be honest.
I wasn't the strongest candidate for medical school. I wasn't the 4.0, 15 extracurricular, 42 MCAT student either. But when I ask you a question that requires some honest introspection, don't give me a weak answer. For instance, if I ask, "How do you think you won't be a good fit for medicine as a career?" a bad response will be, "I care too much. I will have a hard time if I don't get the tests I need when I want them." Or when I ask what you think is a character weakness, don't reply, "I am too compassionate. I would spend all of my time on every patient so they receive the best care I can give, at the expense of my own time."

Give me a real weakness and a real solution. I will give you points for self-examination.

5. Don't ignore the strengths and weaknesses of each program

I chuckle when I read the U.S. News and World ranking of medical schools. You know how they make their lists? They rank schools based upon faculty bias, the credentials of entering students, and the number of applicants that the school rejects. I'm serious, check out their methodology.

The fact is: latissimus dorsi, glycolysis, Trisomy 21, dermatomes, H&Ps, and all of the details that a med student are expected to learn do not change from one medical school to another. Every student is expected to demonstrate the same proficiency on the USMLE and every school will likely prepare you.

So don't ask me about my schools rank.

Instead, tell me the aspects of the program you are applying for that you like or don't like (if you care to). For instance, my school puts an emphasis on developing globally minded physicians who have a concern for the underprivileged. My school also wants to create doctors that will stay in state. My school has one of the best Primary Care programs in the country.

Telling me you are a future Dr. Meredith Gray hoping to go into CT Surgery out in suburbia will not earn you points.

Yes, our students pass the USMLE at higher than the national average (which is already 90-ish percent). No, I don't know our exact score. Yes, you will likely place your first or second choice residency if you try hard enough. Yes, even programs like Mayo and Mass Gen. No, I'm not impressed that you went to Darthmouth.

6. Choose your examples wisely
One thing that impresses me is when an applicant supports his or her answer to my questions with an example from his/her clinical experience. I'm aware that not everyone has clinical experience, but I can guarantee it will make a much stronger applicant out of you if you do.

If you don't have clinical experience, talk about some sort of experience that might be equally significant, such as volunteering at a charity or following a family member through a medical problem.

The reason I say this is because I find it hard to believe that your experience at Best Buy working on the Geek Squad taught you as much in terms of interpersonal communication. I'm sure it was a difficult day for many of the people who came in with broken computers and software. But I doubt the experience was as life changing as you are describing it. Besides, I don't these people are having nearly the "bad day" that they could be having in, say, a cancer ward or emergency room.

Hope the advice helps. Or at the very least, amuses.

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