First aid for your medical school interviews

Sitting in the library a few weeks ago, I saw the first small herd of the year. Dressed in freshly pressed suits, the anxious young men and women were guided through the Medical School by their fourth-year tour guides. Seeing those potential medical school students reminded me of one of my first medical school interviews.

Everything had gone smoothly. I even had the interviewing doctor laughing with me at several points. I was in -- I was sure of it.

But as the interview ended, the interviewing doctor told me, "You're a good applicant, but we have plenty of great applicants, so I guess we'll see." Despite my obvious confusion from Dr. Dementia's words, I did end up getting into that school, but I turned it down for U.Va.

My medical school interviews ran the gambit from the oddly confusing to the completely expected. From what I garnered from my interview experience, it is important to be prepared to answer the obvious questions: "Why do you want to be a physician?" and "Why are you interested in this school?" Practicing these answers takes some of the stress away from the interview, and using appropriate anecdotes to answer them will make the interview more interesting and memorable for the interviewer.

An intelligent way to show the interviewer some personality is to express your genuine interests, which you often can't do on paper. It also helps you gauge how well the school will meet your individual needs.

Since it has been a while since my last interview, I decided to ask some of my classmates for their advice. "Not to fart" jokes aside, their advice was solid. First, keep in mind that a school extending an interview means that they have enough interest in a candidate to take a closer look, which should boost a candidate's confidence in and of itself. Second, it is important for an interviewee to know his application well because oftentimes that will be the focus of the interview.

Additionally, enthusiasm about the field of medicine and knowledge about current events in medicine are always advantageous. When difficult questions dealing with scenarios arise, creativity is key. Oftentimes, interviewers want to see a coherent thought process rather than a researched answer. Mostly, being confident without being arrogant is essential in developing a rapport with the interviewer, who ultimately will be representing the interviewee to the admissions committee. Also, Web sites such as are helpful in preparing for interviews.

Needless to say, the admissions committee is the group of people who stand between an interviewer and medical school. Thus, I decided to seek the advice of Beth Bailey, director of admissions at the University's School of Medicine. Bailey pointed to professionalism as one of the most important aspects of an interview. Specifically, she said interviewees should dress conservatively and should not wear excessive jewelry, cologne or perfume. She added that eating and drinking during an interview indicate a lack of professionalism. She also said that treating the interviewer with respect, not cutting him or her off, having good posture and maintaining eye contact are key. Although these may seem obvious, Bailey said applicants make these mistakes often and it costs them every time.

In terms of interview questions, the University uses an unstructured format. Some interviewers ask difficult or abstract questions that are designed to make an applicant think quickly. When it comes to such questions, don't be afraid of silence. Rather, take your time and organize your thoughts, and think of supporting arguments for your answer.

When evaluating an application, Bailey said the admissions committee asks itself one important question: "Will we want this person as our physician or to take care of a loved one?"

While it may seem as if there is a great deal to remember and a lot of pressure during an interview, they can be fun if you have a personality and a sense of professionalism. It's not all style and no substance, though, because a person's grades, scores and activities are what get an applicant an interview to begin with.

With that said, the cost of airfare (to get you to your interviews), not to mention the cost of tuition, is ridiculously expensive. So my advice is to marry rich. Now.

Omid Fatemi is a bi-weekly Science columnist. He can be reached at

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