Med School Interviews: When Too Much Practice Hurts


Many of you are thinking about medical school interviews this fall and are thoughtfully considering potential questions and how you might answer them.  Great idea!  However, it’s important to keep in mind that one of the pitfalls of medical school interviewing is sounding “too rehearsed.”  This can be a tough one because you want to be prepared.  Also, you may be feeling a great deal of pressure to make a good impression during your short amount of time with the interviewer.  Here are five ways being overly prepared can keep you from connecting during your interview:

  • You plan to tell the whole story.  In your mind, the story of how you became interested in medicine in high school, how you chose your major, how your shadowing experience affected your plans may seem vital to convey.  In an interview, a chronological tale of your journey to medical school is likely to become a monologue that takes a long time to relate and doesn’t invite your interviewer into a discussion.  Try to think more in terms of significant points or most pivotal experiences.  Offer interest and insight instead of complete autobiography.
  • You may sound canned.  The interview is the med school’s single opportunity to check you out in person and evaluate whether you will be good colleague and effective physician.  Many of the qualities they are looking for will be communicated non-verbally.  You can say all the right words and still leave an interviewer thinking you might not connect with other people well.  If you sound practiced, your interviewer may be left wondering about the “real you” and how you will function in uncertain situations.
  • You might not listen to your interviewer.  Sometimes an applicant will bring a mental agenda of talking points, determined to convey them during the short interview.  The interviewer’s questions might not be heard or unintentionally brushed aside, which can make you look like a poor listener.  It’s important to respond to the interviewer’s questions and interests in a flexible and spontaneous way.  Be prepared, but don’t be controlling.
  • You could react negatively or fall apart in the face of unanticipated questions.  Why is the interviewer asking all about my AMCAS essay?  Why isn’t she asking me about my research?  Be open to the questions and expect the unexpected.  Otherwise, you may end up making faces or flinching when you are asked something you didn’t think about in advance.  Of course, if you are asked inappropriate questions, report them to the admissions office or contact your pre-health advisor for guidance.
  • Lastly, you may lecture and pontificate.  It seems that the two areas that concern applicants the most are questions about their research and health care reform.  They imagine the interviewer grilling them about the science or expecting a thorough and detailed understanding of legislation.  In response, as soon as the topic is introduced, they are out the gate, rattling off information and facts in a way that is not conversational.  Sometimes it can come across as condescending or more often as if you are struggling to remember the answers to an exam.  Interviewers hope you know about your research and health care reform issues, but you are not expected to be an expert in the field.  You should sound like an informed future professional, but not necessarily like a professor, and be able to talk about your personal interests or concerns in these areas.

If you have more concerns about your interviews, you can attend a pre-health interviewing workshop or schedule a mock interview with a pre-health advisor (once you have scheduled a medical school interview).  Know that most applicants find their interviews very positive experiences and return to campus feeling good about their application and enthused about the process!

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.