Getting to Know You: The Purpose of Medical School Interviews

by Caroline Wilky, Associate Director

Congratulations on your medical school interview! To secure an interview, you have likely devoted countless hours to study and preparation. With the goal you have been working towards for so long so close, you might be tempted to over-prepare.

Over-preparing, however, is more often than not counterproductive because medical school interviewers truly want to get to know you as a person. If you have been invited to interview, the admissions committee is confident in your academic ability. Consequently, the majority of interviewers are not interested in poking holes in your research or grilling you about the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act. They want to know whether you have the personal qualities, such as maturity, sensitivity, empathy, and self-knowledge, as well as the communication skills needed to be a successful (and happy) medical student and future physician.

If you over-rehearse or prepare a script or sales pitch for your interview, you risk turning what should be a conversation into an awkward, and ultimately self-defeating, performance. In an effort to stick to your prepared script, you may fail to listen to your interviewer’s questions or read his or her body language. Your interviewer might be left wondering how you will be able to communicate with patients if you cannot communicate effectively in an interview setting. This is not the impression you want to make.

That said, you do not what your interview to be the first time you talk about yourself and what has led you to pursue a career in medicine. There are things you can and should do to prepare.

First and foremost, practice discussing out loud personal anecdotes and experiences that influenced your thinking about science, medicine, patient care, or life in general. Talk about your academics, research, clinical experience, and extracurricular activities (medically related and not), but in a way that emphasizes their impact on you as a person. Do not just describe your research. Talk about what you liked about it (such as working as team, for example, or adapting to surprising results). Interviewers are less interested in hearing you describe what you did (that information is on your application), than how what you did shaped you as person.

Finally, schedule a mock with a member of our staff. We will help you prepare enough to feel confident and come across as the well-rounded and personable person you are.

Medical School: A Major Opportunity

by Peter Stokes

Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Humanities and Medicine Early Acceptance Program received a lot of media attention this year—for example from the New York Times and, more recently, the Daily Pennsylvanian.  The program allows admitted sophomores, who have shown promise in science and math and as compassionate future physicians, to take physics and organic chemistry at Mt. Sinai during the summers before entering the medical school.  This frees up some space during the regular year for students to pursue, extensively, disciplines in the humanities or social sciences.  It’s an interesting program, so long as you know that medical school, and Mt. Sinai in particular, is for you, and you have a plan for what to do with that extra room in your academic schedule.

But don’t let the fact that the program is called “Humanities and Medicine” fool you into believing that it provides the only way you can combine an interest in both those areas.  Admissions officers at medical schools everywhere repeatedly tell us that they look for students with any major, and the numbers back up what they say.  Over the last several years, statistics show that around half of medical school matriculants have majored in the biological sciences; roughly 30% have majored in humanities or social science disciplines.  The remainder majored in such areas as engineering, nursing, physical sciences, mathematics, and business.  That’s the case nationally, and we see the same pattern for those who are admitted to medical school from Penn.  You have a pretty good chance of getting in if you major in, say, Biology or in Biological Basis of Behavior; you also have a pretty good chance of getting in if you major in Anthropology, Classical Studies, Economics, English, Fine Arts, or International Relations, to name just a few among the impressively diverse list of majors of recent successful applicants.

Of course, whatever you major in, you do have to complete the required science and math courses, and do quite well in them.  But your choice of major should be independent of your decision to go to medical school.  Any major is fine—and since you’re most likely to do well in what you are most enthusiastic about, it’s usually best to pick what you’re genuinely most interested in.  It is in fact quite feasible to combine any major with the pre-med requirements, and we and your academic advisors can help you figure that out.

Note also that you don’t have to rush through medical school requirements.  Two thirds of Penn applicants apply after their senior year, taking some time between undergrad and medical school, and thereby giving themselves the chance to spread the required courses over four years—or even, in some cases, complete some or all of them after graduation.

There are many ways to get to medical school.  Medical schools look for people with all kinds of interests, so don’t make all your decisions based on what you think they might want!