Being invited to interview—whether virtual or in-person—is an indication that a medical school is interested in understanding more about the person behind the application. An interview is a chance for medical schools to look at the intangible qualities not captured on paper. Professionalism is one of those important qualities and can easily make or break an otherwise outstanding interview. To help you put your most professional foot forward and avoid any missteps, we asked admissions officers to reveal their best tips for before, during, and after an interview.
Ngozi Anachebe, MD, PharmD, associate dean of admissions and student affairs at Morehouse School of Medicine, says she uses the interview to determine if an applicant has the attributes, viewpoints, behaviors, and attitudes that will help them become a caring and competent physician (i.e. a professional). Professionalism is that intangible quality on which medical school applicants are evaluated throughout the entire interview process.
Dr. Anachebe noted that “at Morehouse, applicants are assessed on three broad areas—interpersonal and communication skills, disposition, and fit for the program. Professionalism should be reflected in each of these key areas.” At every stage of the interview process, from receipt of the initial invitation to the post-interview waiting period, a lack of professionalism can negatively impact an admissions decision.
So how do you avoid the faux pas that could undermine an otherwise stellar interview? A few admissions officers offered the following suggestions to help you maintain professionalism before, during, and after your interview.
Before the Interview
Dimple Patel, MS, Associate Dean, Office of Admissions, University of Minnesota Medical School:
“When you have been offered an interview, it's important to first connect with the program immediately and thank them for the offer, regardless of whether you will accept or not. If you accept the offer, begin working with the school's interview coordinator to schedule your visit and keep in close contact until all details are finalized. If you do not accept the interview offer, let the school know immediately so they can move forward and invite other applicants. In the event that you commit to interview at a school and later decide to withdraw, do this in a respectful and professional manner by emailing the school as soon as you know of your new plans. Do not wait until the last minute or simply neglect to show up on the day you were scheduled to interview.”
On Interview Day
Ngozi Anachebe, PharmD, MD, FACOG, Vice Dean for Educational Affairs, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine:
“First impressions matter. Select your outfit carefully, as your attire can influence how you are perceived by others. This is not the time to be the fashionista. Be understated and conservative, opting whenever possible for a suit in navy blue, dark grey, or black and wear comfortable dress shoes. Keep cologne and perfume to a minimum and avoid excessive, dangling, noisy or clunky jewelry.
"Arrive early and turn off your cell phone. During the interview, sit up straight and smile when appropriate. Be sure to make eye contact, but don’t stare. Apply a firm handshake. Watch your language and avoid overt familiarity, addressing people you meet as Dr./Ms./Mr. unless invited to do otherwise. Avoid impolite mannerisms such as chewing gum. Don’t fidget and be careful not to repeatedly look at your watch, which can make you appear as if you are disinterested or preoccupied.”
Lina Mehta, MD, Associate Dean for Admissions, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine:
“It is very important for an applicant to be present and fully engaged throughout interview day. We occasionally see candidates who spend much of the day on their phones, including during presentations, which is perceived as unprofessional and signals a lack of interest. In addition, it is bad form to fall asleep or nod off during the day, so try to get enough sleep the night before. Further, make sure you know where you are going for your interview. Keep important contact information with you, such as the phone number of the admissions office, in case something unexpected happens. If you are going to be late, call the office and let them know. Also, if you need to cancel an interview, do so as soon as possible and don't wait until the last minute.
"And remember, ask questions. Not only is a school interviewing you, but you are also assessing the school’s fit for you, so ask questions and soak in as much information as possible.”
After the Interview
Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, MD Senior Associate Dean for Admissions, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine:
“Please follow directions for each school regarding how and when to contact them after the interview. This may be different for each school so be sure to ask at the interview. Emails are likely preferable to phone calls, due to limited staffing. Make sure that any communication shares significant information or change. Remember medical schools are receiving thousands of applications from prospective medical school students.
"Address anyone you speak to, by phone or email, with respect. Patience is sometimes difficult in situations where you finally get to talk with someone by phone or you are frustrated with unanswered emails, but be slow to show your frustration. Negative comments will not achieve the goal you are wishing for.
"All communications with medical school admissions offices are subject to critique. If you call, write, email, text, or stop by for a visit, your neatness, communication style, professional demeanor, sincerity, and humility are all being scrutinized. Remember, medical schools are choosing the next group of new physicians to serve the citizens of the world. The ideal applicant will be mature and understanding in their communications, sincere in any exchange, and able to exhibit excellence in the bedside manner of a future doctor.”
Always remain courteous, patient, mindful, and gracious throughout your interactions with medical schools. Familiarizing yourself with the application and acceptance protocols will help to clarify expectations of both medical schools and applicants. Any breach in these protocols may be perceived as unprofessional and could reflect poorly on your potential as a medical professional.
Professionalism is that essential quality that every future doctor should embody. And as you can see, it is not overlooked by medical schools. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting your best self forward.