I'm a little bit up the totem pole now I guess?
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Jul 5, 2017
  1. Medical Student
Hi guys!

I wanted to pose the question: what are some of the best ways to prepare for interviews? What kind of outside information should we know walking in the door (Affordable Care Act, general ethics, etc.)?

With the first interviews quickly approaching, I think this could be a big help both to me and many others.
Feb 8, 2017
Pull up a chair and grad a cold one.

Interview season is here! Finally, here’s your chance to strut your stuff and show people why they should let you into their medical school. We take admissions interviews very seriously. Getting an invite means that we think you are academically prepared for medical school, and you meet the minimum demands of the profession's humanistic side by your numerous ECs.

The good news is that by getting an interview, you’ve survived a huge cut. Most interviewees represent 10-20% of the total applicant pool. And, at many places, just by setting foot on campus, you’re going to be accepted. But do NOT be complacent! People can and do bomb the interview.

Here’s some advice from experience gained over a decade of interviewing.

First, know the format. Some are 1 on 1, some are 2 on 1 or more. The interviewers may have your file, parts of your file, or be completely ignorant of what’s in your file. You may be also interviewed in a group of fellow potential students (which is how it’s done at my school). Your interviewers will most likely be faculty, with or without medical students on the panel, perhaps a layperson from the community, or a clinician not on the faculty.

You can get an idea of what the format is like, and the types of questions you’ll be asked by reading the Interview Questions section for the schools in SDN's Interview Feedback section: (School Rankings List | Student Doctor Network).

For starters, here’s what you need to carry into the interview room:
-People skills.

-Being able to speak understandable English.

-Demonstrate that you know what you're getting into.

-Be familiar with the school. You’ll have to come up with a better answer to “why here?” than just “you invited me” or “I couldn’t get into (#1 choice school here).”

-Be yourself!

Be confident. Be poised.

-Know what's in your file.

-Listen carefully. I will ding interviewees severely if I ask them X and they answer Y. Here’s one example: sometimes I ask people what their hometown is. They interpret this as an opportunity to tell me their life story, when the question really was "so, Jack/Jill, where are you from?"

Be prepared to get stressed. Some people are sweetie pies, and some are hard-asses (like me). We deliberately rattle you to see how you handle stress. But there’s a difference between being probing, and being unprofessional.

Now, I'm sure someone is going to chime in that "yeah, but interviews are stressful", as if that’s going to excuse a poor performance. No doubt they are, but so is tying off a spurting artery on a MVA victim, or dealing with an acting-out psychotic patient. Thus, with all the people we interview for our limited number of seats, the seats go to those who display grace under pressure. Panic is not an option for a doctor; clear-headed thinking is.

Do not lie. We have your app in front of you (most of the time). We’re pretty good at catching liars. For example, Medicine can be a small community sometimes, and so your interviewer may actually know the person you shadowed.

If you’ve done research, you can very well expect to be asked about it. You should have an understanding of what you did, how you did it, what you found (if anything) and why you did it. If you were merely a tech following orders, and never engaged in any independent thinking, don’t pretend that you did.

Gravitas counts. Faculty and students don’t merely look at you as a potential student, but as a potential colleague. I try to image the interviewee wearing the white coat. I want to be comfortable with the idea of this person touching patients. I have a clinical colleague with a more earthy criteria: “would you want this person to do a prostate exam on your dad?”

Do NOT be arrogant. People who think that they're God's gift to Medicine do not go into Medicine.

We know the interview tricks, so please don’t try to digress the question from X into what great team player you are or how prepared you are. You’re more likely to get smacked back to the center.

If you’re in a group interview, pay attention when other people are speaking.

After the interview is over, don’t get your hopes up just because the interviewer is being polite. We're specifically told not to give any tip-offs that might give false hope. Any one interviewer’s comments could also be worthless, because the AdCom as a whole, or the Dean might overrule that interviewer.

Here are some things that get people rejected immediately:
Being unprofessional for any reason. This would include addressing a faculty member by their first name, or being rude to staff. The Admissions Office staff aren't there to hang up your coat or run to Starbucks for you. Another is chewing gum during the interview. If you have a dry mouth, suck on a lozenge instead. Even worse: Not taking the interview seriously, like showing up poorly dressed. This is suit and tie time (and nice dress/outfit/suit for the ladies). You're going into character. Yes, if the airline loses your luggage, we understand that.

Not making eye contact is also a no-no (yes I'm aware that in some cultures, one does not look elders in the eye, but this is the USA and you need to look people in the eye here).

Any hints of immaturity will be lethal for your chances. We expect you to be thoughtful and self-aware.

Would you admit the gal who, when asked a hypothetical, "What would you do in this situation?" answers, "Oh, that wouldn't happen."

Showing that you're greedy.

Showing any hint of entitlement. This includes the “I was accepted to XSOM, so what are you going to do for me?” The answer will be “Good luck and have fun at X.

Being clueless as to why you're choosing Medicine as a career.

Doing this because your mom/dad wants you to be a doctor (or don't think you can be doctor). Completely lacking people skills (4.0 automatons are a dime a dozen, really).

Showing that you're more interested in research than Medicine. This might be OK at Stanford, but it won’t fly at most other schools.

Still being the hyper-gunner...I rejected a 4.0 gal who wanted to answer the questions I asked of another person in the interview panel. I don't want to admit someone who will be in my office whining about how they got a 95 on an exam and deserved a 96.

Having a flat affect. This might be due to medication, or a mental or personality disorder. You ever meet someone who could never crack a smile? I don't want someone like that touching patients.

Copping an attitude. I asked a woman why she didn't have any volunteer experience. She replied that she was too busy working. Fair enough, some people have lives, but she copped an attitude while delivering this, and I just wrote down "reject".

Coming in with scripted answers and being unable to deviate from said script.

Being ill-prepared for fairly common interview questions (e.g. Why this school? Why Medicine?)

Thinking that always circling back to your accomplishments and how great you are impresses us.

Making excuses for misdeeds. We had rejected someone once who had some fairly benign misdemeanors, but chose to blame it on the policemen who gave him the tickets.

Being too shy or nervous.

Don’t do show and tell. I don’t want you pulling out a binder with your resume or portfolio. Let your application speak for you.

Being a babbling idiot. These are those people who can't answer a question concisely. I've sure you've met people like this...why bother using one word when ten will do? I suspect that these people are thinking for an answer while they're speaking, so the mouth is going while the brain tries to come up with something.

It’s OK to gather your thoughts, but it’s not OK to blank out. This group includes the people who do something like this (and I am NOT making this up!): goro: So tell me about this thing you did in Honduras? Interviewee: Well, we went there for a mission trip and...what was the question? goro: (thinking: reject!)
Or the guy who, when asked "How does your hobby relate to the practice of Medicine?", and can't even say "It doesn't", and definitely can't even BS an answer, but sits there in a coma?

During the interview day:
You’re interviewing the school as much as they’re interviewing you. You’re potentially going to give $250K+ and four years of your life to this place, so be sure to ask them questions especially to the students there, such as “why did you come here? Why didn't you go to the other schools you interviewed at? What are the best things? What are the worst things?” Ask this of Faculty too!

AFTER the interview:
This is where we, the Adcom comes in. We meet and go over the candidates. For >75% of you, you're in. The other 25% we talk about. Many of you will have passionate advocates. We look over and discuss anything problematic, like a low sGPA, or how you were a tad shy or nervous. If you're a borderline candidate, this is where a great set of LORs or essay may save you.

Unless the school specifically welcomes LOI or updates, your work is done. If you're waitlisted, don't pester them, lest you be seen as someone who can't follow simple directions, or feel so entitled that the rules don't apply to you. People do get off wait lists, but one more LOR, or having just gotten new job at the hospital isn't likely to convince the Dean of Admissions to move you up.

EDIT: And please, don't think you're God's gift to Medicine, and start wondering one month into the cycle as to why the schools haven't fallen all over themselves sending you secondaries or IIs. You're competing with 7000-15000 other applicants. Give the Admissions staff time to wade through the pile to get to your app. Start worrying if you haven't heard anything by Thanksgiving.

And always have a Plan B.

And good luck! I hope to meet some of you.
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