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Interviewing

 


 

5 Interviewing Tips

by Michael Davies 
Stanford graduate; currently a medical student at UCSF 

With few exceptions, medical school interviews are not stressful.  Nevertheless, you should definitely prepare.  The best way to actually prepare is to read over your primary and secondary applications and make sure that you are comfortable answering questions about even the finer points of your activities.

Most common questions in a traditional medical school interview—these are the questions that I've been asked repeatedly thus far:

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  1. Tell me a little bit about yourself: This question is key.  If you are asked this question, you should mentally breathe a small sigh of relief because with this question, the rest of the interview is pretty much in your hands.  Your answer to this question allows you to highlight key points about yourself which you will be able to go into more detail about later.  It is a perfect opportunity to mention the aspects of yourself as an applicant that you want your interview to ask you about.
  2. Why medicine?: Believe it or not, this question comes up a lot, and your answer is very important.  Anecdotes are good when answering this question.  If there was any particular experience, realization, or person who influenced you to go into medicine, now is the time to bring them up.
  3. Tell me more about X activity/research experience/clinical experience: Again, know your application and you will be fine with this one.
  4. What points would you like me to make to the admissions committee about you: This question is essentially asking you to state why you are a good match for a particular medical school.  It is good to have 3-5 reasons that link your activities, goals, personality, etc. to a particular medical school.
  5. If you are interviewing at a school on the other end of the country from where you are originally from, be ready to explain why you want to leave home/your family and attend a school that is far away.
  6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years (in the future)?: Although this question doesn't require that you know which specialty you want to enter, it doesn't hurt to brainstorm a few potential ones and your reasons for considering them.  More importantly, it is good to have a general idea of whether you want to go into private practice, academic medicine, public health, etc.  If you are considering going into any primary care specialty, you should definitely mention this; given the shortage of primary care physicians, some medical schools are specifically looking for applicants who want to go into this area of medicine.
  7. Most medical schools place a lot of value on the input that they receive from current students.  For this reason, every school that I have interviewed at so far has some medical students who are members of the admissions committee.  If you are interviewed by a medical student, remember that the primary thing that the student is asking himself/herself is: Would I want this person (you) as my classmate?

 

Don't forget to send thank you notes, especially to faculty interviewers.  Send them promptly and keep it brief but genuine.

Enjoy interviews!  They really aren't meant to be stressful and are a great time to meet potential future classmates.  Take detailed notes about your experience at each school, because, come Spring, you want to remember which schools you really enjoyed and which ones aren't worth the trip back out to for revisit weekend.

The Multi-Mini Interview

Background:

The multi-mini interview is a format of medical school interview that was pioneered at McMaster University in Canada, and recently adopted by a small number of medical schools in the United States, including Stanford, UCLA, UC Davis, and Duke.  The interview consists of 8-10 stations in which applicants are presented with a scenario, which they are given two minutes to read, followed by an eight minute period in which they can discuss the scenario with their interviewer.  Because most schools draw their MMI questions from a standardized bank, the nature of specific scenarios is kept strictly confidential.  However, the scenarios are generally written to identify the following characteristics among applicants1:

  1. critical thinking skills
  2. ethical decision making
  3. communication skills (this is most often addressed in a station requiring two or more applicants to work together to complete a task)
  4. knowledge of the healthcare system
  5. compassion (this is not explicitly stated in the McMaster study referenced above, but it is certainly an important principle to remember throughout the MMI)

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Tips for Success in the MMI:

Prior to my interview at Stanford School of Medicine, several current medical students told me that there was no good way to prepare for the multi-mini interview; that even if I studied a variety of ethical dilemmas that might arise in the medical field, I would inevitably run across strange, unexpected scenarios on my interview day.  While the latter part of this statement might be true, I do believe that it is possible to prepare for the MMI.

Because questions concerning medical ethics were not something that I had come across in my traditional interviews, I decided to brush up on the subject by reading the book Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, by Tony Hope.  After my interview at Stanford, I was very glad that I had.  This book was brief, as its title suggests, but it provided me with an ethical "tool-kit" with which I could address a broad variety of scenarios within the medical field and beyond.  In addition to discussing several pressing issues within the field in depth, Hope outlines four key principles that, among others, lie at the root of many ethical dilemmas within medicine2:

  1. Respect for patient autonomy: Helping patients come to their own decisions about their treatment based upon complete and accurate information and respecting those decisions.
  2. Beneficence: Doing what is best for the patient based upon an objective assessment.
  3. Non-maleficence: Doing no harm to patients.
  4. Justice: Hope subdivides this principle into distributive justice (for example, fair resource allocation); respect for the law (which he states carries its own moral authority); patient rights; and retributive justice (for example, determining how a patient's mental status might affect the legal ramifications of a crime that they have committed).


I was surprised by how many scenarios relevant to the MMI could be framed in terms of the principles above.  Consider how often a patient's freedom to accept or decline a specific treatment might come into conflict with what you as a physician consider to be the best course of action for him or her.  Similarly, consider how the allocation of medical research funding might favor one patient population at the expense of another.   I found these ethical principles to be very useful in terms of identifying the conflicts presented in certain scenarios, and that is more than half the battle!  Once you are able to thoughtfully address what is at stake in a given scenario, you have made a large step towards proposing an ethical, rational solution.  Oftentimes, there is no right answer to a given MMI scenario; the interviewer is merely evaluating you based upon your reasoning.  This means that how you frame your initial argument is perhaps more important than the conclusion that you ultimately reach, provided that you show critical thinking as well as compassion in reaching that conclusion.


A note of caution: by no means should you strictly adhere to the principles above to frame your answers to all scenarios.  There are certain scenarios that can be easily framed as a conflict of the values above (for example, patient autonomy vs. beneficence), and there are others that require a more intuitive, compassionate approach.  For the latter set of scenarios, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the patient, or individual at risk, and considered what I would actually do in such a situation and why. In addition, MMIs have follow up questions, so you do NOT have to use all the time given to respond to the question given. Stretching your answers out to use up the time can harm your success.

Further reading:

In addition to Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, I highly recommend that you read the McMaster University analysis of the multi-mini interview (pay attention to the sample questions that they include at the end of the study), which can be found below.  Additionally, I found this article, describing the implementation of the MMI system at Stanford, to be informative.  Finally, there is an article4, as well as several threads, within the Student Doctor Network forum that provide links to previously used MMI questions (mostly from Canada), which can be potentially helpful.

References:

  1. McMaster University study:
  2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2923.2004.01776.x/full
  3. Hope, R.A. Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2004. eBook
  4. Stanford Medical School article: http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2011/january/interview-0110.html
  5. SDN article: http://studentdoctor.net/2011/01/the-multiple-mini-interview-for-medical-school-admissions/
 

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