Tips from an admissions officer on interviewing for medical school

How do you be the best you can be on interview day? Sunny Nakae, assistant dean for admissions at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, discusses four tips to help you interview with confidence.
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Most medical schools interview only a small percentage of their applicants each year. If you receive an invitation to interview, the school is very interested in you. So what next? First of all: RELAX! I know it’s easier said than done, but you are not going to do yourself any favors worrying and stressing. Be yourself. Remember that you were selected “as is.” If you fear that you have some fatal flaw or deficit in your application, there is nothing you can do about it now and nothing in the interview that will make up for it. So relax and be the best version of your genuine self on interview day.  

Keep in mind that you are also interviewing the school. The exploration of fit is a two-way street. What are you looking for in a medical education? Does this school fit all or most of your specifications? These personal evaluations can help you make a decision down the road.

So, how do you shine on interview day? I assume you already know to wear something professional and conduct yourself with decorum throughout the day. Here some other tips for interviewing like a pro. 

1) Be the expert on you. Know what experiences you included in your application and your supplemental answers, because everything you chose to include in your application is fair game for the interviewer. Not being able to robustly answer a question about your own application is a major flaw. If you included research, know the hypothesis. If you worked for a nonprofit, know the mission. If you volunteered to help people enroll for health care under the Affordable Care Act, know the basics of the Affordable Care Act. If the interviewer asks about a specific experience, do not repeat what you already wrote in your application. Add depth to your written application and reflect on the experience during the interview with greater detail and insight.

2) Convey your motivation for medicine and your interest in the school. At the end of an interview, I evaluate a candidate across several domains. One of those is motivation and passion for medicine. If I cannot recall why the applicant is interested in a medical career, I usually score them lower. I also give lower scores for very bland answers like, “I like people and I like science.” Please personalize that answer! You are there to testify as to why medicine is right for you and why you are right for medicine. Your motivation and passion must leave an impression. Convey your interest in the school by stating why you feel it is a good fit for you and what programs it has that you are interested in, and ask questions to further explore fit. Research the school’s programs and opportunities in advance so you can have a productive conversation.

3) Prepare, don’t rehearse. I see several interview reports a year where a committee member writes that an applicant was “too rehearsed” or “too scripted.” The compulsion to memorize and practice answers sometimes leads to too much pivoting in the interview where an applicant doesn’t answer the question asked but gives the answer they prepared instead. This is not only frustrating, but shows a lack of communication skills, which is something I am assessing in the interview. The best interviews are conversational and allow me to explore your experiences, motivations, and reflections, but also your personality. I have had great interviews where the conversation evolved to all sorts of topics not listed in the application that enabled me to see an applicant’s critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and personality.

4) Be a storyteller. Stories are powerful and memorable ways to convey your ideas. Consider your areas of growth, your accomplishments, your past failures, and your motivation for medicine. Think about instances of teamwork, failure, disappointment, goal setting, or resilience. Catalog stories in your mind that relate to these areas so you can easily recall an example with a story if asked a related question. Reflect on growth and meaning as much as possible. How did you change? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?

You can explore more AAMC resources on interviewing here and see how medical students approached their interviews in the Anatomy of an Applicant resource.

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Sunny Nakae, MSW, PhD, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine

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