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Craft Great Responses to Medical School Interview Questions

The key to formulating great answers to typical medical school interview questions is identifying major points you want to include for particular interview topics, as well as a general framework for answering questions. Don’t compile an exhaustive list of responses and attempt to memorize them, which not only is impractical but also results in your sounding rehearsed rather than natural.

Basic guidelines for responding to medical school interview questions

Keeping your answers focused and organized during a medical interview will display your communication skills and ensure that you convey your ideas effectively. You also need to strike a balance between giving a thorough response and going on for too long. Remember to:

  • Be concise. Ideally, an interview isn’t an interrogation; it’s a conversation between the applicant and interviewer, and nothing kills the flow of the discussion faster than a long-winded monologue by a candidate. In general, keep your responses to no more than two minutes, although a very open-ended question, such as “Tell me about yourself” may merit a (slightly) longer response.

  • Focus on discussing one or two points in depth rather than trying to cram too much into an answer. By picking a few important things to focus on, you don’t lose the listener and are able to more thoroughly develop your most important ideas. Quality over quantity definitely applies here.

  • Organize your answer. A rambling response that jumps from topic to topic, digresses, and is difficult to follow won’t win you points with your interviewer. Verbal communication should be organized much the way written communication is: Start with a thesis sentence, move on to addressing the topics comprising the body of your answer in a logical order, and finish with a brief, forceful conclusion.

    At the same time, don’t get so hung up on structure that you pause for more than a couple of seconds before responding to a question. Practice responding out loud to different types of questions and do a mock interview so that you get the hang of responding right away with a clear, organized answer.

  • Be flexible. Although you may have ideas in mind about items you want to discuss during your interview, such as your undergraduate research or a medical mission you did in Haiti, the interviewer may be more interested in hearing about your fly-fishing hobby or the dog-walking business you operate.

Include details and examples when answering medical school interview questions

Without supporting details and examples, your responses to questions during a medical school interview come across as unconvincing, superficial, or just plain boring.

Details, anecdotes, and examples enrich your answers and engage the interviewer, encouraging them to ask follow-up questions that allow you to discuss an experience in greater depth. To see how details can transform a response, consider the answers of two different applicants to the following question: “How have you explored the medical profession?”

Applicant A:

“I’ve learned about medicine through hospital volunteering, research, and physician shadowing.”

Applicant B:

“I began my exploration of medicine in high school as a volunteer in the oncology and emergency departments in a local hospital. In college, I gained further exposure to the profession by assisting a psychiatrist in a clinical research project and by shadowing both primary care physicians and specialists.

My shadowing experience with Dr. Jackson in his cardiology practice last summer was especially valuable in helping me understand what a physician’s job entails. During that time, I witnessed patient care in both inpatient and outpatient settings, observed several procedures, and had the chance to attend grand rounds.”

Although Applicant A answers the question, the response sounds generic and reveals virtually nothing about him. By contrast, Applicant B’s response gives the interviewer a clear picture of the type of experiences he has had and puts them in context by emphasizing a particularly meaningful one. Although Applicant B’s response contains some detail, it’s not excessively long.

Thinking of details and examples on the spot can be challenging, so before the interview, peruse your application and think back to memorable experiences you’ve had; patients you’ve seen; and challenges and events you’ve learned from. Bringing these stories to the forefront of your mind and jotting them down will prime you to recall them when you need to.

Begin and end a medical school interview with confidence

The initial impression you make on the interviewer can be either a positive one that you build upon throughout your time together or something you spend the rest of the interview overcoming. Many applicants walk into the interview imagining that the person on the other side of the table is looking for a way to trip them up with trick questions.

In reality, interviewers genuinely want to get to know you. By viewing the interviewer as a potential ally rather than as an obstacle to admission, you can enter the interview with composure.

During the interview, the conversation may flow easily, leaving you feeling almost as though you’re chatting with a friend. Other times, however, you may find yourself worrying that you and the interviewer aren’t hitting it off. Keep in mind that just because an interviewer seems stoic doesn’t mean he isn’t engaged in the conversation. Some people simply prefer to maintain a neutral demeanor when interviewing an applicant.

If you find yourself facing someone who you aren’t sure is responding positively to you, don’t become unnerved or rush through your responses. Maintain a friendly attitude and give the same thorough (but not overly verbose) answers you would when talking with a more congenial interviewer. If you keep your composure, an interview you thought was a flop may just be one that yields an acceptance.

After the interview, make sure that the last impression you leave the interviewer with is a positive one. Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, shake hands again, and walk out knowing you did everything you could to ace the interview.

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