Our Interview Prep Team of doctors and medical students explain their strategy and example answers to common medical school interview questions.
Example Answer: My decision to pursue medicine was essentially a “light-bulb” moment for me. Over various oncologist visits and follow-ups, I heard my mother speak of my father’s oncologist, Dr. Marshall, with such compassion and confidence. This was in contrast to the often tear-pooled eyes and uncertainty in her voice of which I noticed surrounding my father’s diagnosis with stage IV pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
This was the interaction that captured me, even as a high-school student. It demonstrated to me the delicacy involved in the patient-physician relationship. Dr. Marshall possessed the capability to ease my parents’ anxieties despite a looming stage IV cancer diagnosis and gained an enormous amount of trust to the point where Dr. Marshall was practically part of our family. This interaction is what drove me to medicine ultimately. I looked up to Dr. Marshall in that moment as she had done something for my parents which I could have never done as a high-school student but I know I am capable of doing as a physician myself.
Strategy: The interviewer is likely elucidating your commitment to Medical School and your ability to “fail gracefully”. Thus it is imperative to convey your commitment in a realistic fashion. Think about the worst case scenario where you don’t get into any school. How are you going to move forward in life? If you say: “I’m going to go work on Wall Street”, it communicates you are not dedicated to the field. If you say: “I’m going to apply again next year”, you aren’t demonstrating how you will make yourself more competitive in the next cycle. Thus, it is important to convey your dedication to the MD/DO pathway, but includes a realistic backup thought process on how you will bolster your application next year. Remember, being an MD/DO is your end state. DO NOT SAY YOU WILL GIVE UP ON BEING AN MD/DO. If you quit your dream after one (or two) failed applications, the interviewer will conclude you aren’t dedicated to the field.
Example Answer: That would be a significant detour, but it wouldn’t modify my goals and motivations. Ultimately, I want to work in the healthcare community, and practicing medicine as a physician is the way I’ve identified as providing the most meaningful contribution to the field. I understand a rejection simply means my school application has areas that need improving. If that did happen, I would compile all of the feedback from the schools that rejected me and identify the weak points in my application. I’d endeavor to build a strategy to bolster those deficiencies. I guess the simplest example would be if schools told me my MCAT score was too low, I’d build a schedule to study and retake the MCAT. In the meantime between application periods, I would support myself by working at my community hospital at the admissions desk. I know they will hire a high school graduate and that would let me contribute to the field while allowing me to learn even more about our healthcare system.
To the second part of your question, my short answer is: Medical School. I don’t mean to sound stubborn, but I want to contribute as a physician. I will definitely look at related fields within medicine to support and strengthen my application between application periods, but ultimately my alternative career plan is to work in a healthcare capacity until I am accepted.
Wrapping things up, I would just take the rejection as more of a “it’s not the right time” rather than “never” and figure out how to make the next time the right time.
Strategy: Being a physician (MD/DO) is ubiquitous with healthcare. People say “I’m heading to the Doctor’s office” all the time. Brand name awareness for “Doctor” is always going to be high in the general population. Other fields such as pharmacology or social work are less commonplace in pop-culture and dialog. Thus this question is designed to test your knowledge of various competing/contributing fields and see if your decision to be an MD/DO was properly informed. Secondarily, it is verifying that you understand a physician relies on other disciplines to be successful.
While it is not necessary to know the details of every profession in the prompt, it is important to know what they generally do and how they interact. This is important because prospective medical students don’t always have all of the information and might confuse roles and responsibilities of the professions. If you feel fairly confident with the roles in the prompt, feel free to jump to the example answer. If not, read on!
For instance consider the following: “I want to be a doctor so I can take care of patients, place IV lines, be there when they are in pain and change their medications when they need it”. The cited reasons actually are more supportive of a nursing type role rather than a physician’s role. An interviewer might conclude that the applicant doesn’t understand the scope of what a physician does.
In broad generalities, think of a physician as a movie director. A director is experienced in all of the different fields and has to communicate between actors, cameramen, sound-crews and set design. The director coordinates all of these fields to create a movie (treat a patient). The director’s job is to collect all the input possible in order to make an informed decision to make the movie happen. They can certainly use a camera, record audio, act or build sets, but it is an egregious waste of talent and resources for the director to do so all the time. For that perfect shot, the director might take over the camera (place a difficult IV line with ultrasound). For that perfect sound, they might sit in the recording studio editing audio files (placing a Foley catheter in a urethra with a congenital malformation). However most of the time, the director allows experts in that field to conduct the day to day operations.
A good physician knows what their team members strengths are and knows how to “direct” them to achieve the goal of treating a patient, intervening personally only when the situation warrants or when it is actually part of their responsibilities (Surgeon).
Here is a quick rundown of the prompt’s fields:
Nursing: They are the front line with the most patient interaction. They intake patients, gather vital signs, administer medications, feed, monitor, collect lab samples and much much more. If it is hands on, likely a nurse is highly involved.
Physical Therapy: Hands on healthcare workers who follow you after a procedure, injury or illness to bring you back to normal or as close to normal as possible. They support a physician’s treatment plan.
Pharmacology: Drugs! These geniuses are experts in pharmacology. They know dosing, side effects and alternatives. They are not well versed in diagnosing disorders and rely on physicians for that aspect. However physicians regularly consult Pharmacists with treatment plans to ensure patients have the best outcome.
Psychology: Do not confuse Psychology with Psychiatry! It happens to the best of us! Psychiatrists are medical doctors while Psychologists are not. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications while Psychologists cannot (generally speaking). Psychiatrists diagnose illnesses, develop interdisciplinary treatment plans and build therapies that span both psychotherapy, surgical and pharmacological domains. Psychologists exercise psychotherapy primarily as their specialty/treatment modality.
Education: Self explanatory.
Social Worker: Helps disadvantaged patients find housing, government assistance and ensures that at risk children are properly cared for.
If you know nothing about a certain field, readily admit that, treat it like a learning opportunity. Ask the interviewer for more information if applicable. Using the explanation from the interviewer, critically assess how that unknown field does not meet your MD/DO goals. Ideally you will be familiar with all of the fields in the prompt, but if not, the preceding strategy will demonstrate humility, honesty and critical thinking. Trying to “fake” what you know might work, but carries significant risks if called out.
Example Answer: As you alluded, I chose medicine ultimately to help people. I chose to be an MD/DO after carefully examining my skills and weaknesses against the various career fields within the medical community. My proven leadership experience, love of medicine and ability to see the bigger picture from disparate images lead me to wanting to be an MD/DO. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about being a social worker, but the other fields I’ve researched and have a fair understanding of their roles and responsibilities in medicine. How do Social Workers contribute to the healthcare system?
INTERVIEWER: Social Workers are integral to our healthcare system. They connect low income/disadvantaged patients with social programs that help take care of at risk children, financial support and public healthcare system navigation. They are one of your first calls you make when the home environment compromises patient safety.
Thank you for the explanation. I see how they fit into the healthcare picture now. However I don’t find that to be a fit for me as I am more intrigued by the actual practice of medicine. I certainly value their role, but I don’t think being a Social Worker would let me work with patients in the capacity I seek.
While I value patient interaction, I endeavor to be a leader who orchestrates and builds a plan to best treat a sick patient. Shadowing a nurse anesthetist, I thought placing IVs and intubating patients looked really cool! I readily admit the technical aspect of medicine intrigues me greatly. But what really amazed me was seeing how the Surgeon coordinated the procedure and saw the larger picture. Everything was proactive and done for a reason, even if it made no sense to me at the time. When something went wrong, it was anticipated and quickly corrected. It is hard to put to words how amazing that was. I want to have that level of understanding, leadership and teamwork within the medical field and direct patient management like I saw in that OR.
Strategy: I like to think of this question rephrased as: “What do you know about our school?”. That should be the baseline framework you use to build your answer. The interviewer is trying to see if you understand the mission and ethos of the school while assessing if you think you can fit into the institution.
So, before even getting to this point (i.e. before the interview), be sure you understand the mission and goals of the school and program. This is generally a fairly quick bit of research. However if you can find a small factoid about the school that stands out, even better. For instance, “I really like the new simulator facility you opened this year”.
Then personalize the answer to you. Explain why those features are attractive to you and if possible how you can contribute.
Sometimes, the interviewer will follow this up with “Why would you not want to go here?” style of question. This is obviously a check to make sure you aren’t pandering (as aforementioned) and have critically thought about attending this school. If this school is not your number one choice and you don’t have a reason not to go, the interviewer will notice the discontinuity. Make sure you have one minor “negative” which you can mention if asked, but quickly minimize its importance with your decision making. Try to find a negative that is universal. A good example is increased distance from family or urban to rural transition. This will be the case at nearly every school you apply to.
Example Answer: From a macro perspective, the overall mission of XYZ Medical School resonates with me on a core level. As you know from my application, my calling to the medical field arose from watching physicians changing lives in rural and disadvantaged settings. It really inspired me seeing how the right knowledge and techniques could radically improve the lives of patients in austere settings. Naturally, XYZ’s mission to train rural family care physicians nested quite well with my general career goal. I try to look holistically at a school and XYZ has a near 100% match rate, the student reviews are top notch, the cost of living in XYZ city is low and XYZ city has a ton of amenities. Something that set XYZ apart from other rural programs was the annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic where students, residents and attendings all gather together and provide several days worth of free healthcare to the community at the fairgrounds. If we have some time later, I would love to learn more about that!
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely! I think you’ll meet someone today who participated in the RAM clinic. Be sure to ask them. You have nothing but glowing remarks about XYZ Medical School, but what is something that might make you decide it isn’t right for you?
If I had to build a Pro and Con list, the only Con would be adapting to rural life. I grew up in a city setting and attended a city college. XYZ Medical School would be somewhat of a change. Also, it would be the first time I’d be more than an hour away from family. But honestly that’s me grasping at straws to find a Con. It will be a lifestyle change for me, but I’m ready for this new adventure and openly embrace it!
Advice: I would really recommend trying to have a few values or qualities that you hold dear in your back pocket if put on the spot like this. You’ll be able to relate these to some personal experiences and not be caught off guard in the moment!
Example Answer: Three qualities which I cherish and believe every medical school candidate should try and exemplify are kindness, passion, and perseverance. As a child, my parents taught me the difference between being “nice” and being “kind”, and I have seen the difference between the two in my time working as an EMT. As student doctors, we will be presented with the privilege and opportunity to shape the future of medicine in this country, and I will do my part by exemplifying genuine kindness in my conversations with all patients. My passion for life stems from my grandfather, who always emphasized the simple joys of living well and being with loved ones. I am passionate about helping patients continue to live healthy lives through the application of modern medicine alongside strong advocacy for exercise and proper nutrition. Finally, perseverance has always been a key to my success in both athletics and academics. Both require sustained, hard work over long periods of time, something that will be necessary in the coming years. Although I am among a very large pool of competent applicants, I believe that these three qualities form the groundwork for my own character and will ultimately contribute to my success as a student doctor.
Advice: Diversity questions have always come more difficult to me. I would suggest thinking back to situations that have challenged your belief systems, and/or forced you to acknowledge that there are valid perspectives out there other than your own! Perspectives and values vary amongst cultures and ethnicities, and this is something you will have to embrace and cherish as you enter medicine. Try your best to think of an experience like this that you have had, and relate to your future practice as a physician!
Example Answer: While working as an undergraduate anatomy research intern, I had the pleasure of working with groups of students with entirely distinct backgrounds. Originating from many different cities, states, and countries, each student had their own unique way of communicating. I soon realized that the students did not all learn in the same fashion and that I would need to adapt my teaching style to meet their unique, academic needs. Before this experience, I only had to worry about what learning style was best for me, but I now had to take others’ preferred methods and individuality into consideration. Taking some time to get to personally know each student, I discovered that small group sessions would be an effective teaching method and implemented this into our anatomy lab with success.
College was one of the first places where I was introduced to many people from all walks of life, and I graduated with a better appreciation for our country’s diverse population. Now, as I prepare to enter the world of medicine, I know that patients will represent a diverse range of religious beliefs, cultures, and life experiences. Each patient will have their own individual culture, outlook on life, and goal for their care. I believe that by leveraging my past experiences with a diverse population, I will be able to connect with and serve the individual needs of my patients while being conscientious of their own unique perspectives.
Advice: “This is an example of the interviewer assessing your ability to do some triage! This question hits on a few different fields including medical ethics, mortality, and utilitarianism. The reason there is technically no “one right answer” is that these situations are often up to interpretation and are heavily affected by one’s experiences and personal belief systems. I would recommend acknowledging the difficulty of approaching this situation objectively while stressing the fact that you will do whatever you can to deliver the most help/care possible. If you have any experience in a situation like this, definitely draw back on it! If you don’t, that is fine too! Just explain your rationale behind how you would triage and handle this difficult situation in the best way possible.
Example Answer: In my experience as an EMT, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in some Mass Casualty training exercises. In these situations, the number of casualties and involved patients typically is overwhelming, and decisions must be made about whom to focus life-saving efforts, resources, and personnel. Typically, I have seen EMS implement a triage color system in which patients are assigned and tagged as either green, yellow, red, or black. Although the decisions I would have to make would be difficult, I would attempt to follow this system.
Green-tagged patients are ok, and likely only have minor injuries if any. Yellow-tagged have mild to moderate injuries, red-tagged patients have serious, life-threatening injuries, and black-tagged patients have injuries too grave to concentrate supplies and resources on. I would first concentrate my efforts on identifying and assigning patients to each of these categories. This is often the most difficult decision, and may require taking a holistic approach to deciding who can benefit the most from care. This count includes factors such as age, extent of injuries, and equipment and personnel available.
As patients are assigned to their various color tags, the treatment can be administered accordingly. Green-tagged patients can essentially be ignored in the initial response efforts. Yellow-tagged patients would be tended to appropriately by the most capable first responders, and red-tagged patients would require the most immediate attention and the most resources. My focus would mostly lie on the management of these red-tagged patients, as they face the biggest risk of losing their life.
Although major emergencies and disasters are often chaotic, we can bring some sense of order by implementing this organized triage system, directing our efforts towards actions that save the most lives.
Advice: Show the interviewers that you understand terminally ill patients can have a variety of reactions to their prognosis. Explain how their plan/treatment is a joint effort between the physician and the patient to ensure the patient has their voice heard and is comfortable. This is also a good question to mention treating the WHOLE patient, not just the symptoms – I believe this should be a no brainer for any type of physician, but DO schools really pride themselves in this teaching. Always remember that your job is to be there for the patient.
Example Answer: Some topics, such as DNR and healthcare proxy, overlap between terminally ill and non-terminally ill patients. These are both important topics that should always be discussed with any patient. However, with terminally ill patients, physicians must appropriately listen to the patient’s concerns and feelings about their prognosis, understand the patient’s point of view, and be able to formulate a plan that keeps the patient’s mind, body, and soul as comfortable as possible. I think it’s extremely important to remember to treat patients as a whole, rather than just treating symptoms, especially with terminally ill patients. I would make sure to take time out of my visits to ask the patient about their feelings and any concerns they might have. I would recommend counseling or therapy groups to help them have some peace of mind and to know that they are not alone. I would also make sure they have proper medications to reduce pain, if any. Lastly, I would help get their family and loved ones on board with our plan and help them understand what to expect. My goal would be to validate their experiences and reassure them that I am going to be there to help make them as comfortable as possible.
Advice: This question will help the interviewers understand if your morals and core values align with those of their medical school and the medical community. As a physician, “judgement” is never part of your job. Your answers to these types of questions should show how you want to go into this career to truly help people.
Example Answer: I would feel the same compassion and motivation to treat this patient, as I would with any other patient. The type of illness a patient has will never change how I feel about treating the patient. My job as a future physician is to bring health to my patients and NOT to bring judgement or personal beliefs into their treatment. The only difference in my treatment plan of this patient, and any other patient with a chronic and progressive disease, would be to maintain frequent follow-ups with the patient to ensure we diagnose and treat any secondary illnesses so that the patient remains as comfortable as possible.
Example Answer: My social responsibilities as a physician include being an upstanding and respectable citizen inside and outside of the office. Patient’s entrust you with their health and well-being, therefore as a physician you should strive to be trustworthy, understanding, and accepting. I also think that physicians should take on the responsibility of increasing health literacy in their community. Physicians have so many resources available to them and the best way to share these with the community is to present them in simple, non-jargon ways that facilitate better understanding. For example, if I happened to meet someone who is lax about taking their Metformin I would take the time to give a simple explanation about how their Metformin helps their diabetes. I believe that, as physicians, it’s our responsibility to ensure everyone has the knowledge they need to keep themselves healthy.
Strategy: My personal advice is to avoid polarizing subjects within an interview. Others may advise differently. Remember your interviewers are not cut from the same cloth. One may be a local business owner (I actually had this happen) or a pure academic. Choosing a divisive polarizing topic is a 50:50 prospect of being on the same side as your interviewer. From my perspective, I’d rather not risk those odds. Therefore, I counsel diplomacy.
If you are given this question, it might behoove you to have a cache of little known social problems that fall outside of mainstream debate and dialog. You might even be able to parlay a difficult question into reinforcing your accomplishments if performed properly. Here are some potential (and very bland) “social issues” that try to avoid a polarizing subject and permit a little bit of showboating:
“I think we need more education and awareness nationwide about antibiotic resistance”
“I think we need to emphasize health literacy across all age groups”
“I think we need to teach our citizens about the dangers of chronic soda use”
“I think we need more compassion for one another”
“I think we need more role models for children”
“I think we need to volunteer more to help those in need”
You might have noticed some of those prompts are technically social issues, but bring the subject back to medicine and try to establish a position that is not controversial. If you feel you have a good assessment of the interviewer and wish to use a more polarizing topic, feel free to do so. I will always counsel caution with subjects such as these. I purposefully omitted COVID prompts because that will be what everyone does…we have to make you stand out!
Example Answer: While COVID is the clear obvious answer, I’m looking at something even more important. I might be a worry wart and an over-thinker, but I think the biggest social issue for the United States is actually lurking in the background. I know it sounds odd, but I think antibiotic resistance will be a massive social problem in the future that needs addressing today. There certainly are a plethora of social issues at play currently in the country, but I think it pales in comparison to a world where stubbing your toe can kill you. I don’t know how we can adapt to such a scenario without massive adjustments to our social lives. Surgeries, manual labor, social settings, everything will be different.
I think, of course, the solution is twofold. First, invent new antibiotics or treatments and second, make sure everyone is a good steward of antibiotics. If children can learn that smoking is bad in Kindergarten, they can learn antibiotics are treasure and need to be protected. As a Pre-Med student, I helped teach a fifth grade class about antibiotic resistance. And I think the adult population needs to internalize the danger as well. Most importantly, providers need to potentially assume greater risk by treating only patients who truly need antibiotics. In the end, we can only buy time until a new medical breakthrough occurs. But as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Strategy: Ok, stop for a second and make sure you clarify the question. You need to know what question you are answering. The interviewer might be asking about national healthcare (Public Option, Expanded Medicare, Single Payer, Socialized Medicine) or health insurance that transcends state borders OR the current state of health insurance in the nation. These are three very different subjects.
Before delving into the differences, know this can be a touchy subject for some people (including interviewers). Some of your interviewers will have strong opinions one way or another with some of these subjects. While you should answer honestly, as always I recommend diplomacy and avoiding controversy if possible
National Healthcare (Public Option, Expanded Medicare, Single Payer, Socialized Medicine) refers to a healthcare system where the government, via tax payers, pays for healthcare. I implore you to research the Pro’s and Con’s of this system and be able to fluently discuss both sides.
Health insurance that transcends state borders is just that. In the present system, health insurance premiums and coverage is based largely upon the state. This has to do with subsidies each state contributes and numerous other factors. That means that insurance for someone in Virginia could be hundreds of dollars cheaper than for someone in Tennessee, despite only living a few hundred feet apart at the border of each state. This concept would look at more of a national rate for health insurance versus the present state by state model. This is fairly rarely discussed or advocated for, so it likely isn’t the topic the interviewer is looking for.
If the interviewer is looking for the current state of health insurance in the nation, they are looking for the gestalt of the system. It would benefit you to understand the differences between premiums, co-pays, deductibles, out of network, max out of pocket expenses and potentially ballpark health insurance costs for context. The general purpose of this query is to see if you understand that health insurance is complex, very expensive and can sometimes limit access.
I’ll focus on the current state of health insurance in the US and how it applies to patients, physicians and society.
It is important to know there are public healthcare options currently in place and implemented for various strata of society. These systems are Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and the VA. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide free or low-cost health coverage to millions of Americans, including some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Some states have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover all people below certain income levels. Additionally, Emergency Departments (ED or commonly called the ER) are obligated to treat a patient regardless of their ability to pay.
An entire book can be written about this subject, but the basic dynamic with the current public healthcare system is as follows. Physicians are permitted to “opt in” or “opt out” of Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP patients. If they “opt in”, the government supplies them with a census of patients or they receive referrals from other “opted in” physicians. The public health insurance system pays facilities and providers approximately 50% of prevailing rates. Additionally the complexity of filing for reimbursement requires robust office staff to manage billing. Thus, increased costs for lower compensation can drive facilities and physicians to see only private insurance patients. Additionally, should Medicare/Medicaid deem a procedure unnecessary, they will refuse payment (this behavior is shared sometimes by some private health insurance policies). Thus, for patients, this might mean they can’t see their family doctor once they are in the public healthcare system.
Example Answer: I’m sorry, can you clarify the question? Are you speaking of a public option? Or are you asking about the current state of affairs with respect to health insurance in the country?
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I was asking about the current state of our healthcare system and how it affects our physicians, patients and society.
Thank you for clarifying. This is certainly a complex subject. I’ll be frank, I have a working knowledge of the system, but not nearly enough to even begin to propose fixes or identify specific areas to change. I think that will actually take working in clinics and hospitals to better understand the friction points.
That said, I think there is a balance of several forces in play. First is quality of care, second is quantity of care and third is cost of care. These are all interdependent as they follow basic supply and demand curves.
In order for a physician to pay for facilities and payroll they must modify either the number of patients they’ve seen or how much the procedure costs all while maintaining the same quality of care.
Patients, of course, seek high quality care at a low cost. However the low cost might mean their physician needs to see more patients, which risks quality. No patient wants to spend just 1 minute with their physician.
Societally, we want high quality care, at a low cost for everyone, ideally.
I think the combination of state sponsored healthcare and private insurance help address some of those issues, but I don’t think we are even close to the right solution. I don’t know what direction we need to move in as a society, but I know those three forces will have to be balanced in one way shape or form.
Strategy: This question requires significant research on the behalf of the applicant. Each medical school has a mission, so to speak. Additionally, each medical school has an assessment/rating in U.S. News and World Report with respect to various fields. For instance, my school is in the top 5 rated schools for Rural Healthcare and Family Medicine. This information allows an informed decision as to whether the school is clinical or research oriented. You should absolutely be honest in your interview, but framing your answer in a fashion that supports the mission and strengths of the school will make your answer more relevant to the interviewer.
Additionally, it might be useful to bring your “motivation/inspiration to be an MD/DO” as supporting evidence within this answer. That not only adds a personal element, but it reinforces your story to the interviewer.
The second part of the prompt is gauging your flexibility and critical understanding of the two concentrations. Saying unequivocally “I won’t lose anything” communicates a lack of understanding of the nuances of both fields. Admitting to a ‘loss’ by being forced to choose demonstrates you are educated on the benefits of both fields and that some sacrifice is made by committing to one over another.
Ultimately you want to demonstrate your goals and interests support the mission of the school.
Example Answer: “Just to clarify, do you mean academic medicine as in doing research or working in a teaching hospital? Oh, research, alright. Thank you for clarifying. As we talked about before, I applied to ____ due to your mission to train clinicians for rural medicine in keeping with my calling to serve. So, I must admit I would choose clinical medicine if given that ultimatum. However, I would be somewhat distressed if the ability to conduct research was completely unavailable.
Ultimately I see medical research as supporting the clinical/hospital vanguard where providers meet the patients. As a clinician, I believe I would bring a common sense check and realistic perspective to research projects at the very least, not to mention access to patients. I want the research to provide new tools, techniques and procedures that I can use, and being forced to forego participation would have long term negative consequences for the field. In summary, I would choose clinical medicine, but I would hope the environment allowed for a healthy exchange between academic and clinical medicine. Did this answer your question?”
Strategy: I was asked this question during my interview and for my school, it was somewhat of a trick question (as later explained by my interviewer). There are two main considerations one should have when approaching this question.
First and foremost is: What is the mission of the school? This has been expounded upon in other questions, but it merits a revisit here. Each school has a mission and specialization within the medical community. My school specializes in Rural Medicine and Family Practice Physicians. Therefore an answer should acknowledge that school specialization in one form or another. Be honest, but don’t be close-minded to what the school values as an end product. The primary goal of this question is to make sure you are open to continuing the school’s mission.
Second: Approximately 80% of students enter Medical School with one specialty in mind and then end up selecting a completely different specialty (data collected from my school). The secondary purpose is to test an important character trait you need as a Medical Student: understanding when you lack enough information to make an informed decision.
With extremely few exceptions entering Medical Students do not understand the dynamics of the healthcare system, the workloads, the social environment and the stress levels of the different specialties. The interviewers know this and are probing to see if you know your experiential knowledge limitations.
There are no “wrong” answers, but certainly answers that are better than others. Those answers should incorporate the school mission, your preference and then acknowledgment of your lack of knowledge to make an informed decision.
Example Answer: “To be straightforward with you, I don’t know. My dad is an Anesthesiologist and I shadowed him extensively through High School and I really enjoyed it. But every time I thought I understood how things actually worked, something would just shake up that entire dynamic. I really think I lack the knowledge and experience to make an informed decision right now. As you know, I’m very intrigued by _____’s record of producing Family Medicine physicians and that dedication to Rural Medicine is a significant component of why I’m interested in attending ________. I would love to say right now: Anesthesiologist or Family Practice, but I honestly don’t know. Shadowing my father really demonstrated how little I know about the profession and I just can’t make a decision without some more details. What I can say is: I’m entering with an open mind and want to see what each specialty has to offer.”
Strategy: In these personality questions, it is important to convey the fact that you are a human and not a study robot. Schools want to make sure that you won’t burn out and won’t treat patients poorly if you are incredibly stressed.
Additionally, schools want to see if you can manage a schedule, prioritize things and can “goal seek”. Medical school is all about making the most of all of your free time and building functional study schedules and adhering to them.
Stories are one of the best ways to communicate. Thus demonstrating your time management skills and stress relief strategies via an anecdote is an excellent way to illustrate them. This is also a way to demonstrate how you overcame a difficulty and succeeded.
It is perfectly acceptable to be humorous during the interview process, though be sure to read your interviewer carefully. Self-deprecating humor is generally safe, but be tasteful. This guidance will vary from student to student, but light humor has served me well.
Be cautious about trying to “humble-brag” in this prompt. For instance, if your answer is something like: “To deal with stress, I started a community outreach program and volunteer at the hospital every night for three hours while studying MCAT flashcards”, you have not answered the question at all. In fact, you have made the interviewer question your membership of the species.
Also be cautious of communicating coping mechanisms that might be considered unhealthy/illegal: “To deal with stress, I party with my friends every Friday and get trashed”.
Example Answer: “Stress as a pre-med? Never! I think the MCAT was the most relaxing thing I’ve ever experienced! Just kidding. That was a beast of a test. I think that was actually a great example of how I dealt with time and stress management. Senior year, my family was moving into a new apartment and I was trying to juggle studying for the MCAT with my school work all at the same time. I took two practice tests and my scores actually started dropping and I was getting pretty grumpy with my parents.
I wish I could say I magically flipped a switch and fixed everything, but it was actually my Biology teacher who noticed I wasn’t on my A-game and helped me fix things. He invited me to join him after school for a run and quizzed me on the Krebs cycle. I laugh at it now in retrospect…sounds like some form of torture! But ultimately I learned that physical activity was critical to keeping my sanity. I slept so much better after implementing an evening run schedule. I also realized that I could actually leverage my “wasted time” spent waiting for the bus to go through flash cards or listen to YouTube MCAT prep videos on my phone while running. I didn’t realize how much time I wasted each day and how inefficiently I studied.
And just like every happy story, my scores improved and I felt healthier and less stressed despite actually studying more. Most importantly my family noticed I seemed happier and less stressed. Actually, I did lose my favorite pair of shoes in the move, so in fairness it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows!”
Advice: I would really use this as your time to loosen up and show the interviewer your lighter, more personable side! I remember being asked these types of questions, and I really tried to be a little less formal here and let my passion for my hobbies show in my answer.
Example Answer: “I have a lot of hobbies that I care about, so I’ll just start with the first one I can think of off the top of my mind! I really love weightlifting as it’s been a part of my life since high school football. I continued it as I played college football and got more serious about powerlifting after my football career ended. These days, I use it more to stay strong and healthy with less emphasis on the competitive nature of it. In my free time, I really love playing a variety of video games with my friends. I’ve been attracted to the fast-paced action and decision making that goes hand-in-hand with video games since I was a kid, and being able to share these moments with my closest friends has also been a blast. Playing with them allows us to converse and catch up while sharing memories over a common interest. I’ll try to just include one more! Another hobby of mine is photography, at least at the amateur level. In high school, I was heavily considering film school for a while, and I spent much of my childhood making short films and skits here and there. This eventually transitioned into photography after getting my first DSLR camera. I now just use it as a creative outlet whenever I’m in an interesting place!”
Strategy: Yikes! This is one of those tricky questions, and I’ll explain why. The interviewers are not strictly academic professors looking for a scientific achievement or altruistic answer, some are highly successful physicians in the community who might have different (slightly more materialistic) measures of success.
An answer which exists 100% in one domain only will be seen as disingenuous: “Success for me will be 20 years of working for free overseas at a children’s clinic”. While this is a noble pursuit, you will be rapidly asked about how this plan factors in student loan repayment, the ability to start a family and other practical concerns. As one can imagine, answering the question strictly in the financial compensation domain might demonstrate a misallocation of goals.
Thus, one must look at universal measures of success and incorporate those into this answer. Generally speaking, taking care of family is extremely universal and recognized as a noble pursuit. Thus, couching an answer that incorporates altruism, material benefit and/or academic achievement with context to family provides a genuine and respectable answer.
Remember, a good interview is not unidirectional. Your goal is to communicate who you are to the interviewer. Some interviewers will be overly passive and not seek clarification. Others absolutely will look for clarification. If the interviewer looks confused/unconvinced, it is fine to follow up your answer with “Did that answer your question?” type of check. Don’t do it often, but just when your answer appears to have caused confusion.
Example Answer: What is success? Easy! Matriculating in your rising freshman class of course! All kidding aside, this is a pretty tough question to answer. Being straight out of college I know my experience in the real world is lacking and with that I’m lacking context as well. I would love to say success is intrinsic, but I know in reality success has an extrinsic social component. Is it success if I develop a life saving technique that no one adopts in the medical community? I don’t know. Sorry, I don’t mean to wax philosophical, but this is a tough question. Looking at this from a wider perspective, I have to respect my dad. He really put family first and made significant sacrifices for my sister and I. Watching us succeed was what he worked so hard for. I think success must incorporate family, happiness and a sense of contribution to the community. I would hope to have a career that allows me to provide for my future family, but also scratch that intellectual itch and also help my community be healthy and strong. Does that make sense?
Example Answer: During the summer between Junior and Senior year, I enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course at my local community college. Completing this hands-on course and working as an EMT has been one of my life’s most enriching experiences. Not only was I exposed to and involved in medicine for the first time, but I was able to directly help sick patients with often emergent medical concerns. I’ve even heard that some medical schools require their first-year medical students to complete an EMT course as part of their curriculum, and I can personally say that there are benefits to this education.
Coming from a life with no previous medical experience to one where I was an integral part of the medical team was a bit overwhelming at first, but nonetheless, incredibly rewarding. I was able to work with EMTs, paramedics, and ER staff at many locations, and these were also my first experiences working alongside physicians. The high-stress situations I was involved in allowed me to experience medicine first-hand and begin to understand the vast knowledge and abilities required of physicians in real time. This perspective I have gained has been invaluable to me and will continue to ground me as I take the next steps as a medical student and future physician.
Example Answer: I began my undergraduate studies with a declared major in Political Science (Pre-Law), loosely considering the idea of a career in criminal justice. After some positive experiences with my school’s Sports Medicine team, my interests turned towards the direction of medicine, and I changed my major to Sport and Exercise Science. While I did take the traditional and necessary prerequisites for medical school, most of my core classes were focused on health, fitness, and nutrition. With years of experience in both high school and college athletics, I found the detailed information on strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and nutritional concepts fascinating. We are always told to “eat right and exercise” to prevent health concerns and disease, and these classes finally explained to me the mechanisms behind these generalities.
Looking back on my decision to pursue Sport and Exercise Science, I feel as though this “non-traditional” major has best prepared me to enter medical school with a mindset geared towards preventative medicine. I am truly passionate about taking the exercise physiology and nutritional knowledge I have learned and translating it into palatable, applicable tenants to share with my patients.
Emergency Medicine Physician
Medical School: University of Virginia School of Medicine
Family Medicine Physician
Medical School: NSU-COM
MS2 at NYU
MS3 at Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine
MS2 at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine
MS1 at Wake Forest School of Medicine
MS1 at Drexel University College of Medicine
MS1 at the Miller School of Medicine – University of Miami
MS1 at Rush Medical College in Chicago
MS2 at Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine
MS2 at the University of Minnesota Medical School – Twin Cities
MS3 at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine
MS2 at Nova Southeastern University’s Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine