Interviewing for Medical and Dental School: Empathy for your Interviewer

The prospect of interviewing for medical or dental school may be throwing you into a manic fit.  We know it’s tough, but think about the position of your interviewer.  He or she has only a short time to get to know you and determine if you have what it takes to care for patients.  Do you seem honest?  Mature?  Prone to fits of anger or crippling anxiety?  Are you applying to make your parents happy?  Will you stick with a career in health care?  Do you know yourself and what you are getting into?  Thinking about the interview from the other person’s point of view can strengthen your interview skills.  Instead of “performing” or “passing a test,” think of yourself as helping the interviewer learn what is interesting about you.

For example, many applicants worry about answering questions about their research because they fear not knowing or forgetting the scientific details of their work.  To alleviate their anxiety, they prepare a long monologue detailing the basic science of the investigation and launch into it without any comment about the general scope of the study or their personal connection to the work.  Having conceived of the interviewer as an all-knowing persecutor, they haven’t considered that the other person may not share their understanding of their research.  Or, perhaps your interviewer would like to hear if you can explain your work to someone outside of the laboratory, demonstrating your ability to teach.

Alternatively, you could answer at a more general level and go into detail if asked to do so.  What is the research about?  What is interesting about it for you?  What have you learned?  What has been challenging about it?  What was your role on the research team?  Answers to these questions will tell the interviewer more about you personally and convey things that cannot be found in your written application.

Recognizing that your interviewer is a human being who would like to learn more about you will bring out your ability to empathize and communicate with other people.  Really listen.  If she asks about something that is on your AMCAS, you might not say, “That’s on my AMCAS.”  If he interrupts you, think before saying, “Hold on, let me finish.”  Be professional, but consider the advantages of being flexible and communicative in the interview.  Imagine what you would want to learn about an applicant and think about how you can do your part to convey that information and those qualities. 



Author: Carol Hagan

Carol Hagan is a pre-health and pre-grad advisor in Career Services. She has a Ph.D. in art history from Penn and did her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University.