PMY 233 : 5 Common Med School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Session 233

First off, the preorder for the paperback version of my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview is now available. It releases on June 06, 2017. To celebrate that launch, If you preorder it from Barnes and Noble, I'm giving away $100-worth of free gifts including:

Brand new mock interview platform:  Only available right now to those who pre-order the book, this tool will allow you to practice your interview skills anytime you want as well as share these videos and recordings of you interviews with mentors, advisors, friends and family. The regular price for this is $47 a month but you get a free month for pre-ordering the book.

Video series: These are 13 video courses on the medical school interview which are normally sold at $47.

To get access to these free gifts, preorder the book on Barnes and Noble before June 6, 2017. To find out more, text PREORDER to 44222.

Tying this all back into our episode today, I'm sharing with you 5 common medical school interview questions and how you can answer them to help you prepare for the entire interview process.

[03:58] The Interview is So Important

I will soon be interviewing a student who went through the medical school interview process last year and had 5-7 interviews. She is a great students obviously as she got several interviews. She got a great story but she didn't tell her story properly during the interviews. As a result, she didn't get in anywhere.

Then she worked with me and we did four mock interviews together. She reapplied and didn't really change anything else in her application and then she got 5-6 acceptances to great MD schools. She really turned it around because she prepared for the interview.

Being prepared for these five questions today will help you get started in the right direction in terms of preparing for the interview.

5 Common Medical School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

[05:25] Number 1: Tell Me About Yourself

99.9% of the time, I start my interviews with tell me about yourself. When I'm interviewing a student, I almost always start with that. It's actually more of a statement than a question but why is it such an important answer for you to give?

This is basically your opportunity to take charge of the conversation. The whole goal of this interview process is to not have it be an interview. You want it to be a conversation between you and that interviewer. Pretend like you're sitting down in a coffee shop with your future or current colleague and just have a conversation.

The most common mistake students make is they recite their resume and give information the interviewer doesn't really care about or that can be read on your application. This is your time to take the reins and direct the conversation wherever you want to go.

This is essentially your opportunity to discuss some interesting things about you. If you're think you're not interesting then you're wrong. You are unique because you are telling all your experiences through the lens of your own life. You are unique and you just have to talk about yourself.

Answer this statement by diving into fun things about you such as where you grew up, about your family, brothers and sisters and growing up with them and the fun adventures you've been on with them. Dive in a little bit deeper. The goal here is to give enough details and as you're having this conversation, you are being a human. And those are the kinds of people they're going to want for the medical school class – somebody who's going to be able to communicate and be interesting.

Instead of talking about where you graduated, what you majored in, and you want to help people that's why you want to be a doctor, which they've already heard a thousand times, talk about things like your spaghetti recipe or milking cows at four o'clock in the morning. That's fun, interesting, and different.

One of the students I worked with got accepted into ten medical schools. She was a former actress and we prepared her story all around being an actress and the feedback she gave me after 11 interviews (she got ten acceptances) was that all they wanted to do was talk about her acting. Of course because it's different!

Don't underestimate your difference no matter what it is, even if you're a traditional student and you've gone to high school and college, and you've always wanted to be premed. There's something in there, a fun story, a hobby, something you can talk about and take hold of.

[11:54] Number 2: Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor?

This is where a lot of students fall flat on the face. Wanting science and wanting to help people are not good reasons to discuss during the interview as to why you want to be a doctor.

Instead, discuss your initial motivations such as family illnesses, personal illness, child prodigy, etc. Whatever it is, be able to talk about experiences you've had that motivates you to become a doctor. These experiences are typically best shown through direct patient interactions.

For example, talk about working with Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jones and being there by their side as they're going through a procedure. Those stories you can tell along with the connections, emotions, and the impact that you can discuss that you had or they had on you or you had on them, those are the stories that the interviewer wants to hear.

Wanting to help people is not limited to being a doctor. I once took an Uber and asked the driver how he was doing and he said he's having a great time helping people. This is the perfect example of somebody that is loving their job helping people. So don't tell me that you want to be a physician because you want to help people because there are a billion and one things out there, including being an Uber driver, where you can help people.

Obviously, you need to have a combination of helping people and loving science to want to be a doctor because you have to survive prereqs with your science courses and do clinical experiences and be around patients. But it all comes down to those interactions that you've had with patients and the impacts you have seen physicians make on patients to really drive home the point about wanting to be a physician. Usually, this is also the way to write your personal statement too. The most one being what your initial motivations are for entering medicine followed by some experiences.

[15:50] Number 3: What is Your Greatest Strength?

This is one question that a lot of students trip over. My top tip is to answer the question the interviewer gives you. When they ask for the one thing, give them one thing and not three or five or ten things. Trying to squeeze stuff in because you think it's going to make you look better may only do otherwise.

So how do you answer this? Well, you have to be able to honestly answer that. It can be as simple as being highly organized or leadership skills, listening skills, good time management. Whatever it is, be able to tell a story that supports your claim. Unfortunately, a lot of students say what they think the interviewer wants to hear but they don't actually believe in what they're saying.

So make sure you're able to back it up with a story. Tell them what that looks like and the impact your strength has. The same goes for weakness. Talk about what your weakness looks like. The more you can answer questions with stories from your life, the better your interview is going to go. Stories are more memorable. They're conversational and they're impactful.

[19:38] Number 4: Why Should We Accept You?

Hard one, isn't it? So you tell them that you're motivated and determined so you're going to make a doctor and that you really love medicine. Of course, this is what you want to do. Hopefully, 99.9% of the applicants know that this is what they want to do. Knowing that you want to be a doctor is not a reason to accept you. And being self-motivated or determined or passionate in itself is not going to be a good reason either.

Hence, this is your opportunity to sell yourself and sell your skills. Be able to hit home that you're a leader because of xyz. You're passionate as illustrated by xyz. You have great time-management skills based on xyz. You are a a great team player because of your experiences with this organization.

Again, use stories to associate them with your skills and traits that you have that you think are going to make you a great classmate. How are you going to take you skills and traits and experiences and bring them to the class? As much as you can say that you want to bring this skill to the class and help you classmates in this way and be a great team player, then the interviewer would be picturing you as part of the class. Therefore, translate your skills and tell a story. How do you add to the class because they're building a community of students.

[23:03] Number 5: Why This School?

A lot of students talk about they have friends that go to that school and they love it. But this is not the way to answer this. Find out specific details of the school like specific programs you're interested in be it related to diversity or outreach. Whatever that may be, find out the specifics about the school. Look up their mission and vision statements and find out if anything resonates with you. Look for the minute details in each of these things in trying to figure out why you're applying to each of these schools. In fact, you should already know this considering you applied for this school to begin with.

Don't talk about the great ability to help the underserved as most urban academic medical centers are going to help the underserved population and this is not unique. Try not to have anything generic that you can pull out of your statement and put it into any other school. So be very specific such as the curriculum, class size, location and support structure in that area.

[25:35] Final Thoughts

This is just one part of the medical school interview process. To know more, we have a lot more podcast episodes tackling that or better yet, pre-order The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. Text PREORDER to 44222 and get instructions on what to do next so you can get access to my mock interview platform and video course all on the medical school school interview.

Links:

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

MedEd Media Network

OldPreMeds Podcast

The MCAT Podcast

Specialty Stories Podcast

Transcript

Introduction

Dr. Ryan Gray: So before I dive into today's episode, I want to make sure that you know that the pre-order for my paperback version of ‘The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview' is now available. It releases on June 6, 2017, and to celebrate that launch I'm giving away $100 worth of free gifts if you pre-order it from Barnes and Noble.

So what am I giving away? Well I have a brand new amazing mock interview platform which is only available right now to those who pre-order ‘The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.' This is a mock interview platform that will allow you to practice your interview skills anytime that you want, and share these videos, recordings of your interviews with mentors, advisors, friends, and family.

Now I will be charging probably $47 a month for access to this platform, but you get a month for free for pre-ordering the book from Barnes and Noble, the paperback copy. You'll also get access to my video series, I think there's thirteen videos in there of a video course that I did on the medical school interview. Now that sells normally for $47 as well. So almost $100 worth of giveaways there for pre-ordering what is now I think a $14 book on Barnes and Noble.

To get in on this action, pre-order it before June 6th, and use- to find out more, text the word ‘PREORDER' all capital letters to 44222. Again that's ‘PREORDER' all capital letters to 44222. You'll get a notification back immediately, just submit your email address there, and then you'll get an email follow-up with instructions on how to buy the book and how to submit your receipt to get access to these things.

So I hope you support me in this endeavor through pre-ordering this book, and I will support you by giving you access- a one month access to our mock interview platform, and our medical school interview course.

The Premed Years, session number 233.

Hello and welcome to The Premed Years, where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your success. I am your host Dr. Ryan Gray, and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement, and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.

Welcome to The Premed Years. As I said in the opening, my name is Dr. Ryan Gray, and I am your host here as well as The MCAT Podcast, the Old Premeds Podcast, and our newest show which is getting older now, I think it's three weeks old- no more than three weeks, 21 weeks old now as we release this episode. So it's getting a little bit older, but that's Specialty Stories where we interview specialists from every medical field out there as well as we have specific episodes breaking down match data for each of the specialties that data is provided for. So if you're interested in any of those, or all of those, go check out all of our shows at www.MedEdMedia.com.

So today I want to cover a very common thing, very common topic, and that's the medical school interview. I love talking about it, I wrote a book about it, I talked about it in the opening, and it's such a huge struggle for students. I'm going to have somebody on in a couple weeks who went through the medical school interview process last year, had five, six, seven interviews or something like that, obviously a great student, got a lot of interviews, great story, but she didn't tell her story properly during the interviews. And so she didn't get in anywhere. She worked with me and we did four mock interviews together, she re-applied, didn't really change anything else in her application, and then she got I think five acceptances, six acceptances maybe to great schools, MD schools, and really turned it around because she prepared for the interview.

So that's why I want to talk to you today about the interview, because it is so important. And being prepared for these five questions that we'll talk about today will get you started in the right direction for being prepared for the interview.

So five common medical school interview questions, and how to answer them.

“Tell Me About Yourself”

Let's start with the first one here, “Tell me about yourself.” I will 99.9% of the time start all of my interviews with, “Tell me about yourself.” When I am interviewing a student, I almost always start with, “Tell me about yourself.”

Why- well first of all this isn't really a question, it's more of a statement, but why is it such an important question? Why is it such an important answer for you to give?

This is your opportunity to take charge of the discussion, the conversation. Now I didn't call it an interview, right? The whole goal of this interview process is to not have it be an interview. You want it to be a conversation between you and that interviewer. Now if you've listened to me for a while, then you know that I love to call it a coffee shop conversation. You want to pretend like you are sitting down in a coffee shop with your future colleague, or your current colleague, and just have a conversation.

Where most students go wrong is that they recite their resume, and they give me information that I don't really care about, or information that I can read on your application if I really wanted to find out that information; where you went to school, what you majored in college, all of your extracurriculars, everything like that.

That's not the kind of stuff you should be talking about when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself.” Again this is your time to take the reins and direct the conversation wherever you want it to go. So when you are in charge here, “Tell me about yourself,” you have the opportunity to discuss some interesting things about you. But you say, “Dr. Gray, I'm not interesting,” and I call hogwash on that. You are interesting, you are unique because of everything that you've experienced in your life through your eyes, through the lens of all of the other experiences that you've had.

If I gave a book report, if I gave a book- Moby Dick let's say to 100 students, and asked them to give me a book report, each of those students is going to give me something different because they are reading the book, interpreting what they're reading through the lens of their own lives.

So don't tell me that you are not unique. You just need to be able to talk about yourself, which is where a lot of students have a problem. So when you answer the question, or talk about the ‘Tell me about yourself' statement, you need to dive into fun things about you. Where you grew up is fine, talking about family is great, talking about brothers, and sisters, and growing up with them, and fun adventures you've been on with them. One student I'm working with now, she's talked about growing up on a farm. And so I followed up, “What kind of farm? How many animals? And when did you wake up to milk the cows?” And so I kept wanting her to tell me more. And so as she followed up with the next interview, she told me a little bit more. And then I said, “Well tell me a little bit more still.”

The example I love to always give is cooking. So a student I worked with a year or two ago said- he was talking about hobbies. He said, “I really love to cook, and I love to read, and X, Y, Z.” I was like, “Well tell me more about cooking. What do you like to cook?” He goes, “Well actually it's kind of funny. My brother and I have been working on a spaghetti recipe- or a spaghetti sauce recipe for ten years.” I'm like, “Well why didn't you tell me that when you told me you love to cook?”

Dive in a little bit deeper, take that next step with details. You love to read. Great, what kind of books? What have you read recently? What don't you like to read? What's the worst book you've read? Something interesting.

The goal here is to give enough detail so that the interviewer goes, “Oh I love spaghetti sauce! I'm Italian. My mom used to make the best recipe, and she handed it down to me. What do you make your spaghetti sauce with?” Then you get into a whole different conversation outside of medical school, outside of him or her determining whether or not you're going to be a good fit for their class. Because as you are having this conversation, you are being a human, and those are the kinds of people that they are going to want for the medical school class. They want somebody who's going to be able to talk to them, and communicate, and be interesting, and when you say, “Well I went to the University of Florida, and I majored in biochemistry, and I did a lot of extracurricular activities because I really love to help people, and I love science, so that's why I want to be a doctor.” Like they've heard that a thousand times. They don't want to hear that again. But talking about spaghetti recipe, and milking cows at 4:00 in the morning growing up on a cattle farm, that's fun, that's interesting, that's different.

One of the- my golden child student Jessica got into ten medical schools, she was a former actress. We helped her with her interview- or I helped her with her interview, and prepared her story all around being an actress. And the feedback that she gave me after going on- I think she went on eleven interviews, got ten acceptances, was ‘All they wanted to do was talk about my acting.” Of course they did, because it's different. Don't underestimate your difference, no matter what it is. Even if you're a traditional student, and you've gone to high school, and then to college, and you've always wanted to be premed; there's something in there, a fun story, fun hobby, something that you can talk about and take hold of.

Alright that's number one, “Tell me about yourself.”

“Why Do You Want to be a Doctor?”

“Why do you want to be a doctor?” Great follow-up question to “Tell me about yourself.”

This is where a lot of students fall flat on their face because they're like, “Well I really love science, and I really love to help people,” right? I joked about it just a second ago with “Tell me about yourself.”

Loving science and wanting to help people are not good reasons to discuss during your interview as to why you want to be a doctor. You need to discuss what your initial motivations were. Did you have any family illnesses? Illnesses in yourself? Were you just a child prodigy and always wanted to be a physician growing up? One of those kids that always wanted to be a doctor? You can talk about that, but you need to be able to talk about experiences that you've had that motivate you, and these experiences are typically best shown through patient interactions, through direct between you and the patient. These sorts of patient interactions.

When you talk about working with Mrs. Smith, or Mr. Jones and being there by their side as they're going through a procedure, or being there by their side as they're post-op, or being there by their side as they are transitioning out of this life through hospice. Whatever it is, those stories that you can tell, and the connections, and emotions, and impacts that you can discuss that you had, or they had on you, or you had on them; those are the stories that the interviewer wants to hear- that I want to hear when I'm interviewing you as to why you want to be a doctor.

Wanting to help people doesn't mean being a doctor. I took an Uber one time. I was in Florida, took an Uber, got in the car, I asked the driver how is he doing. I sat in the backseat. A lot of people sit in the front seat, I'm a back seater for Uber. And I said, “How are you doing?” He says, “Man, I'm helping people, I'm having a great time.” And I was like, ‘Oh I need to remember this story.' I think this is the first time since that happened that I'm telling the story. Because it was the perfect example of somebody that is loving their job as an Uber driver helping people. So don't tell me that you want to be a physician because you want to help people, because there are a billion and one different things out there, including being an Uber driver, where you can help people.

So helping people is not a good enough reason to be a doctor. Loving science is not a good reason to be a doctor either. Obviously you need to have some sort of combination of those to want to be a doctor because you're going to have to survive the pre-req's which are science courses, and you're going to have to do clinical experiences, and be around patients. So you're going to have to want to help patients and be around patients. But it really comes down to those interactions that you've had with patients. The impacts that you have seen physicians make on patients to really drive home the point about wanting to be a physician.

So think about that. And usually this is how you should write your personal statement too. So if you didn't write your personal statement this way- there are a few different ways to write a personal statement, but the most impactful one is what were your initial motivations for entering medicine, and then tell me some experiences after that.

So this is not a personal statement episode, this is all about the interview and five questions.

“What’s Your Greatest Strength?”

So next up, “What is your greatest strength?” Oh this one, this one trips up so many people. I've heard everything from the most clichéd, “I'm a perfectionist, I care too much,” to somebody saying, “Well I'm a great communicator, and a great people person, and I'm really self-motivated.” I'm like, “Well I said what's your greatest strength, not what are your top three strengths.” So a side tip for you, answer the question that the interviewer gives you. If they say, “What is the one thing,” give me one thing. Not three, not five, not ten. Don't try to squeeze stuff in because you think it's going to make you look better. It might just tick off the interviewer because you're not answering the question that he or she asked. Answer the one question.

“So what is your greatest strength?” I can't answer that for you, you need to be able to honestly answer that. It can be as simple as being highly organized, it can be leadership skills, it could be listening skills, it could be good time management. Whatever it is, you need to tell me a story that supports your side, supports your argument about your greatest strength.

I can say, “Oh my greatest strength is I can leap tall buildings in a single bound.” But if I don't back that up with anything, you're going to scratch your head and be like, ‘Well is that true? I don't know.' I mean I could be Clark Kent and Superman, but likely I'm just saying something because I think that's what you want to hear. And a lot of students do this. They don't believe in what they're saying, they're just saying something that they think the interviewer wants to hear. And when I hear that as an interviewer I just- I laugh to myself and be like, “Yeah good one kid, you can't get that by me.”

So what is your greatest strength? What does it look like? What does your strength look like for you? So if you want to tell me that you're a great leader- so say, “I have a lot of leadership experience, and I consider being a leader as my greatest strength. I once led a team of twenty volunteers, and we went through our city, and fed the homeless, and gave them jackets, and X, Y, Z.” Whatever, whatever your story is, have a story that backs it up. What does that look like? Tell me the impact that you had as a leader, or whatever your strength is. Alright? Have a story that goes with it.

Same thing for weakness. Have a story. What does your weakness look like? The more that you can answer questions with stories from your life, whatever question it is, the more that you can answer with stories, the better your interview is going to go because stories are memorable. Stories are conversational, and stories are impactful. So answer with stories.

Alright the last two here- so we've covered three. “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to be a doctor,” “What is your greatest strength.” The last two here.

“Why Should We Accept You?”

“Why should we accept you?” Now this is a hard one. It's like, ‘Oh no, what do I do?' “I'm motivated, and determined, and I'm going to make a great doctor, and I really love medicine, and I know for a fact that this is what I want to do.”

I've heard all of these, and I joke- I don't joke, I laugh because knowing that this is what you want to do, I'm hoping that 99% of the students applying that this is what they want to do. It might be a little less actually. Some students out there are kind of like, “Well I guess I should be a doctor. My mom wants me to be a doctor, my dad wants me to be a doctor.” There's always that joke among Jewish parents, and Indian parents, and I've seen some Asian parents at a premed conference, one of the speakers was Asian and had a joke about his Asian parents.

There's all these jokes about, “You can be anything in the world you want to be as long as it's a doctor or engineer.” Right? So there are students out there that feel like they're forced down this path, but I'm assuming- let's assume that most students are on this path because they want to be. It's a long path, you understand how hard it is, and so to do it without actually wanting to be there, that wouldn't be very fun.

So knowing that you want to be a doctor is not a reason to accept you. Being self-motivated, and determined, and passionate, in and of itself are not good reasons to accept you. This is the one opportunity where I love to talk about selling yourself, selling your skills, and really hitting home like, “I'm a leader because of X, Y, Z. I'm passionate about medicine as illustrated by X, Y, Z. I have great time management skills based on these experiences. I'm a great organizer, whatever. I'm a great team player because of my experiences with this organization and that organization.”

Again stories associated with these skills that you think- now this is the key part here. Skills and traits that you have that you think are going to make you a great classmate. How are you going to take the skills that you have, the traits that you have, the knowledge that you have, the experience that you've gained; how are you going to bring that to the class?

As much as you can say- as many times as you can say, “I want to bring this skill to the class and help my classmates in this way, and be a great team player,” then the interviewer sitting there is picturing you, ‘Oh part of the class, part of the class, I get that, yeah part of the class.' They're like, ‘Oh yeah, part of the class. Check, accept him. Yeah, why not?' Part of the class. Translate your skills, tell the story, how do you add to the class? That's what they want to know, alright? They're building a community of students, so think about that.

“Why this School?”

Alright last but not least, “Why this school?”

Now a lot of students talk about they have friends that go to school and they love it. Guess what? Their friends are probably just ecstatic to be in medical school so they're going to love anywhere they're at, and they have the experience from one school yet there are many schools to apply to.

So something to think about. Find out specific details of the school, specific programs that you are interested in. Diversity programs, outreach programs, whatever it may be. Find out specifics about the school. Look up the school's mission statement, their vision statement, find out if anything resonates with you. After looking at a few of them they kind of blend in and kind of merge together and all sound alike after awhile, but try to keep an open mind and look for the minute details in each of these things. That will help you as you go down this journey and trying to figure out why you are applying to each of these schools. And you should know this based on the fact that you're applying to the school to begin with. You should have some idea.

So don't talk about the great ability to help the underserved. Most urban academic medical centers are going to help the underserved population, that's just kind of where our patient base comes from to help students learn. That's not unique. Something that's not unique is great faculty, right? “Oh the great faculty.” That's just a generic statement. Try not to have anything generic that I can pull out of your statement and put into any other school. So again, something to think about, very specific things. Is it something about the curriculum? Is it something about their class size? Location is okay if you have strong family ties to the area, then talk about that because having a support structure is important. Something to discuss and talk about, having that support structure in that area while you go through medical school.

Final Thoughts

So with that said, those were five common medical school interview questions, and how to answer them. Now this is just one part of the medical school interview process. If you want to know more, we have a lot more podcast episodes to go listen to. We've done some great episodes about the interview process, or you can go pre-order my Barnes and Noble book. Text the word ‘PREORDER' all one word, all capital letters, ‘PREORDER' to 44222 and you'll get instructions on what to do next, and you'll get access to my mock interview platform, a free month of that, and you'll get access to my video course all on the medical school interview.

So I hope that was helpful, and as always I hope you join us next week here at the Medical School Headquarters and The Premed Years Podcast.

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