Interview with a Medical School Interview and Admissions Expert

Session 19

Session 19

In today’s episode, Ryan talks with Dr. Norma Wagoner. With almost 30 years of experience in the admissions process, she has served as the Dean of Admissions for multiple medical schools such as Rush University, University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Today, she shares a ton of valuable information about with the interview process, what medical schools are looking for on an application to get an interview, and what the admissions committee is looking for during the interview process.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Dr. Wagoner:

Norma’s path to medicine:

  • Graduating with a PhD from WashU in Anatomy
  • Taking her first job at Rush Medical College in Chicago teaching anatomy
  • Becoming Dean of Admissions after one year out of graduate school
  • Recruited to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine serving for 10 years
  • Becoming the National Chair of Student Affairs
  • Being on the National Board of Medical Examiners
  • She wrote the electronic residency application process
  • Becoming Dean of Students at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine for 14 years (also doing admissions)
  • Becoming Dean of Admissions at University of Colorado School of Medicine

What the admissions committees are looking for in the application:

  • Meeting the criteria and competencies the school is looking for
  • Understanding the mission of the institution
  • Good critical thinking skills
  • Excellence in quantitative reasoning
  • Strong scientific inquiry (especially if the school has a big research component)
  • Communication skills
  • Residency competencies
  • Knowledge of themselves and others
  • Cultural competence
  • Teamwork and reliability
  • Ethical responsibilities
  • Ability to cope well and adapt

“Demystifying the process” at the University of Colorado School of Medicine:

  • Posting all the criteria they used online for applicants to see
  • Handing out the interview form to applicants as she seeks to “demystify” the process.
  • Making students as comfortable as they can be to allow them to do their best
  • The more information given out, the more comfortable students feel

Predictors of Success:

  • Undergrad GPA and MCAT – Gives an indication of how well a student might do in the first two years of medical school and on your Step 1 score
  • Knowledge and professionalism in the third year

The applicant pool:

  • In 2012, there were 45, 266 applicants
  • A student submits an average of 14 applications
  • This means medicals schools wade through well over half a million applications
  • Under 20,000 people are matriculating to medical school
  • Roughly only half will be interviewed
  • Ratio of 2.3 applications to each position
  • About 54 medical schools get between 5,000 and 15,000 applications

Narrowing the group of applications:

  • Initial weight goes to grades and MCAT being the only standard measure across the board for all applicants
  • Inviting the top students first and working the way down the process
  • Tremendous grade inflation as an issue (for GPA)

How to prepare for the interview process:

Standard interview

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) – 15 school in the US are now participating

  • Ask yourself why you applied to the school
  • What are your strongest attributes that you would do well as a student there?
  • Go the school’s website and read all materials
  • Make up questions you want to ask to the interviewer
  • Look at the time of the interview, where to go, where to park, etc.
  • Build a little portfolio on each of the schools you’re applying to
  • Identify whether it’s an open or closed interview (blind or partially blind)
  • Review your application, goals, and experiences

Note: Be careful when you wrote in your application that you speak fluent Spanish (when you don’t), they might conduct the entire interview in Spanish

*The University of Colorado uses partially blind interview to focus on their criteria, looking at the student’s passions and goals, and avoid bias by grades and MCAT scores that pre-directs them to certain questions confirming why they should take the students

More on the MMI:

  • Not about connecting with the interviewer but how the applicant responds to a series of standardized situations
  • Looking for communication, social interaction, compassion, problem-solving and teamwork
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and some issues around it
  • Students need to practice flexibility in facing new situations with confidence

Discussing poor grades in a personal statement:

  • Don’t mention poor grades in a personal statement (unless there are circumstances that enabled growth or change)

What the interviewer looks for:

  • Consistency of response
  • Depth of knowledge
  • How reality has tested them
  • Passion for medicine
  • Criteria of the school
  • Eye contact
  • Genuineness and honesty

More great topics covered:

  • Questions you can ask during the interview
  • What you should wear (no hot pink!)
  • Should you wear a beard?
  • The most common mistakes interviewees do wrong
  • The value of mock interviews

Links and Other Resources:

Join Ryan on Skype and learn the skills to ace your interview day! Check out for more info.

Multiple Mini-interview (MMI)

Stanford Article about the MMI

McGill Fact Sheet about the MMI

If you need any help with the medical school interview, go to Sign up and you will receive parts of the book so you can help shape the future of the book. This book will include over 500 questions that may be asked during interview day as well as real-life questions, answers, and feedback from all of the mock interviews Ryan has been doing with students.

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