Medical School Interviews: an Introduction

The medical school interview is one of the most frequently discussed topics among students as it is a key stressor. This section will cover:

  • What interviewers are looking for
  • What questions they ask
  • How to prepare
  • Background information to boost knowledge of commonly tested topics

Why is the medical school interview important?

Almost all medical students who are currently studying have gone through an interview. Interviews are essential for these reasons:

  • Selecting the best applicants
    Medical schools use interviews, alongside admissions tests and personal statements, as a way of discriminating between good applicants who they want to make an offer to and ones who they want to reject. Good applicants will be able to thrive in a medical school environment and succeed in exams.
  • Assessing communication
    A written form has limited potential for assessing a person’s communication skills. A doctor has to communicate well with peers, colleagues, seniors and patients. It is easiest to assess this face-to-face.
  • Assessing the stress response
    Interviews are useful for seeing how applicants respond to novel questions in a stressful environment, for seeing how an applicant copes and for seeing the reality behind a ‘coached’ application.
  • Selecting future doctors
    The role of a medical school is not only to select great exam takers, but also to select a successful future doctor who will not burn out.
  • Meeting the applicant
    Admissions tutors and interviewers want to meet the person who is written about on your application. They will want to see whether the person they meet in the flesh matches the person who was written about.

Who are medical schools looking for?

Interviewers do not deliberately select for personality traits and nor do they show bias on the grounds of gender, race or religion. There is no ‘stereotypical’ medical student: they come in all shapes, sizes and demeanours! Indeed, some schools actively seek to include mixed and diverse backgrounds in their cohort of students.

Researchers analysed hundreds of successful American medical students to see what made them successful in the interview process. Their research showed that being extroverted (as a personality trait) was the key differentiator of those students who scored highly at interview compared to those who scored badly and did not receive an offer. It may be that more outgoing applicants make a much better impression on interviewers compared to shy, silent types (rather than interviewers thinking that an outgoing medical student will make a good doctor).

In general, different schools (i.e. PBL versus traditional) might ask different types of questions to gauge the different skillsets that they seek in their students. A traditional school might ask about your academic achievements (including EPQs) whereas more modern schools might ask questions to reveal your motivation, organisational skills and evidence of self-directed learning. They may wish to find out more about your empathy and communication skillset rather than your academic history.

How do medical school interviews work?

Medical schools have different ways of interviewing applicants.

  • Panel interview: small panel of interviewers; one will pose questions while others take notes, and they will rotate questions around the panel. Questions can be focused on science, extra-curricular activities or any other aspect of the student’s application.
  • Multiple-mini interviews (MMIs): applicants move through multiple stations consisting of scenarios or questions, with each station designed to test a specific aspect of the individual. For example, problem solving, competence, teamwork and communication skills may be covered.

Where do I find out more information about medical school interviews?

Since each medical school has their unique style of interviews you do not want to discover any nasty surprises on the day.

  • Read your interview invitation letter for instructions and any details of interview structure (for instance, the letter may tell you how many interviews to expect, where they are held and who will interview you).
  • The medical school website and admissions office will have useful information regarding the format of a school’s interview process, including length of interview and what type of questions they may ask.
  • Use open days to ask current students about what interviewers have asked previously.
  • Online forums are a useful source of information as well.
  • Use all information with caution, as questions do change. Also, it is worth noting that students at certain universities may not be allowed to disclose what they got asked and you may face consequences if you are found to be seeking these questions.

Phoebe – Swansea University
‘I had one awful interview during my first application, then four really enjoyable interviews on my re-application which were followed by four offers. If the interview goes badly, don’t give up: sometimes it just doesn’t go as planned for whatever reason. It may seem tricky because they are trying to challenge you, or it maybe because that medical school isn’t really suited to your and your personality or learning style. Generally, the interviewers want to get the very best out of you and aren’t there to trip you up or make you feel uncomfortable.’

Justin – University of Leicester
‘Be prepared by knowing your personal statement inside out. This can be done by brainstorming possible questions which could be asked and how best to answer. It is worth reading up about current medical issues and being aware about any specific information pertaining to that medical school. Above all, know why you want to be a doctor and show the interviewers your enthusiasm, maturity and understanding of what is involved. Any statements you mention about yourself should be justified with evidence (like any good scientist would!). Take your interviews seriously and remember that is your 10–20 minutes to shine! Providing stories and anecdotes along with solid evidence will provide a good balance and help make you memorable.’

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