I was a non-traditional applicant with three years’ experience post-college, including work and graduate school. Even though I had been through a fair share of interviews, I was still nervous. Being nervous about your interviews is a normal part of the premed process. To mitigate my anxiety, I overprepared. I hope the lessons learned from my medical school interview experiences help you out!
Below are some of my pre-interview preparation tips.
I approached my first interview like I was preparing for battle! Padfolio in hand, fueled by caffeine, and with pages of school-specific notes and answers to common interview questions, I felt ready to conquer. Being so prepared helped me minimize my nervousness and feel more in control. Being an over-preparer, I arrived at my first interview about 45 minutes early.
After waiting alone for the first 20 minutes, other students arrived and chatting with them helped me feel less scared. It was reassuring to discuss interview experiences with the other students while we waited. And since some people say that the school is always watching you on interview day, it probably doesn’t hurt to be seen socializing. After waiting some time, we all followed a staff member into a conference room where they told us about the school. I made sure to take active notes so as to show my interest. Then it was time for our individual interviews.
I always sent thank you emails to the people who had interviewed me (unless it was an MMI). I wrote a general template for these thank-you emails that I edited for each school. Using the notes that I had taken on interview day, I would mention specific things I learned, saw, or experienced on interview day and why those factors made me want to attend that school.
For example, in my letter to my current medical school I mentioned a local center for health disparities, current students’ focus on social justice, and specific research opportunities.
By the time I went on to further interviews, I had developed a personalized “interview day” routine to maximize my success.
While I was a “traditional” applicant in the sense that I applied to medical schools during my last year of undergrad, my application cycle was anything but normal. Starting with AMCAS application dates getting pushed back and MCAT dates getting cancelled and subsequently delayed, applying to medical school during the COVID pandemic led to uncertainty and changes in the format of interviews. All interviews during my application cycle were held virtually, a concept that had not been previously conducted for the majority of medical school interviews.
Interviews were held in a variety of formats that for the most part mirrored the interview style that each medical school had held in previous years. MMIs, group, panel and individual interviews were still held virtually within various platforms. For MMIs, participants are typically placed in virtual “waiting rooms” in between various stations and rotated through virtual “rooms” with different interviewers for a set number of minutes for each station.
I personally experienced individual (one-on-one) and MMI interviews virtually. I found that I was actually less stressed than I would have been for an in-person interview since there was no stress of finding the building or room where the interview would be held and no waiting in line, watching each person in front of me get interviewed and then leaving.
In addition, the comfort of being in my own home helped calm my nerves and allowed me to relax and essentially do whatever I needed to do to get in the mindset until moments before the interview started. While interviewing virtually may not have given me the entire experience of getting to see the medical school campuses and interact with faculty members and students in person, I feel that I performed better given the less stressful circumstances.
With a profound nervousness in the pit of my stomach, I hovered over the submit button on my medical school applications. At this point, in May, there was no way to know whether I would get secondary applications, let alone interviews. Once I received the first interview invite, it felt as though they came quicker than I could get days off of work. At the time, I worked full-time at Johns Hopkins Hospital during night shift, which posed considerable challenges for me in terms of logistics. I would need to request time off of which I meticulously accrued in advance in addition to scheduling traveling accommodations. Aside from this, I spent time searching for the “perfect” interview outfit of which, admittedly, was not perfect since brand new flats and my heel skin had a scuffle. The flats won.
After preparing, traveling for interviews was a renewing experience. It allowed me the opportunity to show exactly who I am as a person as well as demonstrate what kind of medical student I would be as well. Based on my experiences, here are a few of the overarching pieces of advice I have for pre-medical students:
Whether you are a good communicator or struggle to articulate your thoughts, practicing only perfects your responses and evolves your ability to communicate with your interviewer. Being afforded the opportunity to perform many mock interviews for students, I have been humbled to see student progress between interviews. I, myself, can also attest to the fact that my latter interviews during the time I applied were likely better than the initial ones. Think of it this way: we are all guilty of thinking up the perfect response or dialogue and then it not coming out at all how we planned. This is where practice comes in to obtain both muscle memory and repetition. Over time, your responses will evolve and you will correspondingly be able to make additional connections to prove your candidacy for medical school.
At this point, you likely think I have not had enough coffee because I just told you to practice. Practice and preparation are similar though here are the differences:
Do not wait until the last minute to purchase a suit or find your attire. Occasionally, alterations will need to be made. This can be pricey, though remember this is an investment to your success and you will absolutely wear this formal attire again. Further, do not assume your attire fits from years ago. Try things on and practice in your attire as well!
These are a few of the considerations you might consider prior to sitting for your interviews, though additional considerations will certainly depend on the applicant’s individual circumstances.
Expressing your gratitude for the school’s consideration of you as an applicant never hurts. This includes writing personalized follow-up thank you emails to your interviewers to express similarly. Remember to be professional and thankful throughout the interview day since you never know who is watching!
While I submitted applications early in an attempt to offset re-application and two gap years to acquire additional experience as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, it was hard to know whether interview invites would arrive or not. Needless to say, I refreshed my inbox incessantly. When interviewing at the school I currently attend, I had nothing but positive experiences despite being tremendously nervous. Above all else, I could imagine myself at that school as I formed connections during my interview with those who worked at and attended the college.
Walking away from your interviews, remember that you have done all you can. Often the interviews of which I received very positive feedback and correspondingly thought I had a good chance of earning acceptance ended up being the schools of which I was surprised to be met with rejection. Similarly, some of the interviews where I felt I had not performed as well during the interview ended up being schools of whom were, in fact, interested in accepting me. Sometimes you can just never know. Despite this, going into the interview with confidence that you have prepared and done all you can is certainly enough!