How ironic is it that getting invited to a Medical School Interview can be the most exciting yet terrifying experience of your professional life? All your hard work you've put into applying to medical school has finally begun to bare fruit, yet you find yourself more nervous than ever leading up to this momentous moment. Don't worry, it's part of the natural process and everyone who gets to this point will have some degree of anxiety. It makes sense considering your career ambitions are dependent on your performance and you've likely never had an interview of this caliber before. Don't stress though, because The Physician Pharmacist has your back!
In this article we will cover everything you need to know to not only excel during interview season, but build up personal confidence that you will carry throughout your medical career!
Let's kick things off with the basics but don't hesitate to jump to the section you need!
Why did You Even Get an Interview?
To appreciate where you are, you must often understand where you came from. You grinded out the application cycle, perfected your personal statement, battled professors for a few thousands of a percentage point to get that necessary "A," to finally be at this moment. A medical school has deemed you interesting enough to actually meet you face to face and that's no small accomplishment, especially when you are competing against thousands of other applicants.
Your primary application has demonstrated that you are academically ready (GPA/MCAT), personally motivated (Personal Statement), longitudinally committed (Work/Activities), and can superficially appreciate what a program has to offer (Secondary Applications). These are all important components to becoming a physician, yet a few details are still missing.
As you can imagine, the main purpose of interviews is to;
Find out if you are a team player who can socialize well with others. It never hurts to be charismatic and you should always show an interest in others. You are there to learn about a program, it's culture, and your ability to "fit in," and not boast about yourself.
Can you effectively resolve conflict and approach interpersonal challenges in an efficient yet understanding manner. No offense to our fellow sociopaths but individuals lacking empathy can often look good on paper, yet stick out like a sore thumb on interview day. Interviews are needed to select out individuals who may not be well-suited for a career in medicine.
Determine if you are both professional and mature enough to begin the medical journey. You may be surprised by how many students are academic superhero's but lack the judgement or professionalism to effectively handle the challenges of medical school. It's not to say that these individuals will never be ready, but not everyone is at the same level when they finish undergrad. These skills take time and experience to develop and not everyone has had enough exposure to be ready for this undertaking. Being professional is an important virtue for physicians that cannot be overlooked.
Fortunately, as a pharmacy student/pharmacist, you have effectively had your period of time in graduate school to "resolve" said barriers. You have already worked in a professional setting on rotations, worked with sensitive medical patient cases, and learned the "Do's and Don'ts" of medical care. I often find that Pharmacists turned Physicians cherish their medical school interviews because the process finally starts to make sense and the advantage shifts more in their favor. It's the most "natural" part of the application process. If you don't understand what that means, you will when you get there!
When do Medical School Interviews Start?
Now that you understand the purpose of medical school interviews, we can talk about when they are generally offered. Most medical school interviews start as early as late July! Based on the medical school application schedule, medical schools don't receive your primary application (AMCAS) until July 1st and most don't even look at your file until you have completed your secondary application which is sent out shortly after. Even the most aggressive admission boards will need some time to read through all the submitted application materials, putting the earliest interview invitations at late July to early September.
Keep in mind that every medical school program is slightly different and may have set rules specific to their institution that forbids them from offering interviews until a specific date! This may also change if you are apply via the Early Assurance Program (EAP).
On the other side of the spectrum, you may be wondering "what's the latest an individual can receive an interview?" Generally speaking the latest invites go out in early March to schedule for dates in late March or early April. Every school will have a different application schedule deadline with some ending their cycle earlier or later than the timepoint mentioned.
Some additional considerations to keep in mind;
Please remember that Interviews are sent out on a rolling admission status; meaning there are a limited number of seats which are filled on a first come first serve basis. When you are invited to interview you may have the opportunity to choose an interview date. Unless there is something directly conflicting with your schedule, always elect to take the earliest possible date! The sooner you get "face-time" with the program, the more seats are presumably available for the taking.
Don't freak out about the "Thanksgiving Rule." This is the tell-tale myth that circulates the internet every year which suggests that "students without interviews by Thanksgiving are not going to get into medical school." This is far from reality as thousands of students start their cycle with December and January interviews. Heck, 43% of my interviews came after that period and all of them where MD, one of which I currently attend! Just remember, it's not over until its over and crazy things happen every year.
Accepting Your Interviews:
This probably goes without saying, but every single interaction/communication you have with a program can leave an impression. Meaning every phone call, email, or letter you send should emulate the best of your professional attributes. Be kind, show your appreciation, and if you have questions, ask politely. This sounds like common sense but these behaviors have wounded far too many applications over time. Negative associations with an application (even minor infringements) can cost you dearly and may result in tougher interviews/interactions. Once an impression has been made, it's very difficult to reverse the trend. In other words, treat everyone with respect, regardless of title/role and you should be good. There really are benefits to being a nice person!
Once you formally accept the interview, whether this is through a portal or simple email communication, you should begin to make travel plans. The sooner you take care of this the cheaper your flights and hotel will be. Also, always arrive the day before your interview. You don't want to be delayed by some unforeseen travel complications that may cost you your well-earned seat. When I was interviewing, I would always visit the campus the day before to scout out the school and make sure I knew where I was going. Little things like finding parking, getting lost, or being late can send you into an unnecessary panic which can hurt your interview performance. I would also locate the closest McDonalds to make sure I had a healthy breakfast available for the big day!
Pharmacy Rotations (APPE Considerations):
Now that you have your interviews scheduled, you need to ensure that your departure from pharmacy rotations is approved by your current preceptor! If you are a working pharmacist at this point, your availability challenges are far easier to navigate considering your ability to graduate isn't at risk.
Treat your medical school interviews just like pharmacy residency interviews when it comes to asking for excused absences. There is widespread flexibility for rotation absences related to residency interviews so why would medical school interviews be any different. The major distinction is that medical school interviews can appear out of nowhere and you may need to attend one within a short period of time. For example, you may start a 5 week rotation and finish said rotation with 3-4 interviews under your belt. While this is an unlikely scenario as medical schools generally give you some time to make travel accommodations, you want to make sure your preceptor is well-informed of the possibility. Take myself as an example. I had a rotation that required me to attend 2 interviews during the scheduled period. With travel, I had to miss a total of 4 days worth of rotations which was far too many to be excused. Talk to your preceptors early on and come up with a plan to make up the lost time. Doing both will demonstrate professionalism while remaining dedicated to your school responsibilities.
So how do you broach this complicated topic with your preceptor? As I have already alluded, be transparent about your goals and interests. Just like a preceptor may have goals for you on a rotation, you need to communicate your interests too! Keep in mind that making the switch out of pharmacy may not always be well-received. Pharmacists (like myself) are very passionate about the profession and your decision to change may come with some scrutiny. In my experience I was fortunate that my preceptors were very excited that I was looking into medicine and were very accommodating about the endeavor. I don't believe most preceptors will give you trouble be but make sure you handle the situation appropriately.
At the beginning of a rotation, you should;
Mention your goals and your intentions to go to medical school
Explain the possibility of missing a few days for interviews during the rotation even if you don't have any scheduled at the onset. You never know when you will get that glorious email notification!
If you intent to miss specific days, make sure you provide said dates as early as possible to help you preceptor plan around your absence and formulate a plan for you to make up the work. It's best practice to forwardly offer a solution while simultaneously acknowledging the rotation is just as important. Make their job easier and let them know that you "will stay late or come in earlier" for the week leading up to the big day. For example, you could say; "Although I won't be able to come into rotation on Thursday and Friday next week, I fully plan to make up the missed hours by staying late (1-2 hours) to work on research projects or see more patients. If you need, I can do an additional journal club or presentation to fulfill the rotations expectations for students."
In-person vs. Online Interviews:
As you are likely aware, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on medical school application procedures, as well as students. There has been major concern for limited shadowing opportunities, research availability, and hands-on volunteering. All vital components for student applicants to successfully apply to medical school! We have also seen changes in how medical schools conduct their interviews. Originating from a zero-contact approach to candidate selection, interviews have primarily been conducted online. While some students enjoy the convenience of interviewing with slippers on, I think most would argue that the process limits their ability to showcase who they really are.
Interviewing is an art with critical components such as body language, posture, energy, composition, and comfort which can be lost in translation when conducted online. Of course the interview questions are still the same and the medical school curriculum presentations are just as boring as they are in person, however I think there are plenty of students who would have preferred an in-person experience.
Fortunately, as the pandemic has started to cool down, we are seeing programs reactivate in-person interviews, although most are still offering a hybrid approach. Students are given the curtesy of choosing whether they want an in-person versus an online interview to meet the needs of both cohort preferences. I generally recommend that if given the option, you should always take the in-person interview unless scheduling or finances prevents such. Don't forget you are interviewing the program, the location, and the feel of the school just as much as they are interviewing you. Don't short change this dynamic for convenience alone!
What's an Asynchronous Interview? Some medical schools have begun to use a tertiary option for interviewing where applicants use special software that records your reactions and answers to pre-written questions. In my experience, I have found that most students despise this process because they aren't able to talk with an interviewer directly. Students are essentially making a short video that can be reviewed later by administrators. While you may disagree with me, I believe these should be avoided because they lack the human connection that students/interviewees experience when meeting someone new. It's extremely hard to get a feel for the particular people you may be working with in the future through prompted text based questions, not to mention the awkwardness of seeing/hearing yourself speak!
The only time that participating in an Asynchronous Interviews may be beneficial to an applicant is with regards to timing/travel. While you miss out on the classical interview banter required to truly get to know someone, these interviews can be carried out on your own terms/schedule.
If interviewing virtually, it goes without saying that you should pick out a quiet location free of potential distractions, and your recording equipment/laptop is charged. While I anticipate they will provide you with specific details on how to set up your interface, make sure you have a solid wifi connection, functional video camera, and adequate sound equipment. There's nothing worse than missing an interview slot due to technical errors especially when you have been preparing for weeks for this big moment. Nobody needs that extra stress!
In summary, there are three main styles of interview (not referring to the interview subtypes discussed below).
Live Virtual Interview
Asynchronous Virtual Interview (On-demand interviewing)
Medical School Interview Subtypes:
On-top of your standard "traditional" interview, some medical schools choose to employ different interviewing practices such as the "group-interview" or the "Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)." Research your specific medical school or follow the interview invite instructions provided to get a better idea of what type you should expect on your big day. There are different steps needed to succeed with each type which we will discuss below!
1. The Traditional Interview: You should be familiar with this style of interviewing. It consists of a one-on-one or a panel of interviewers asking you standardized questions. The allotted time ranges anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Your interviewer is typically a member of the admissions committee but could also be a faculty member, community leader, current student, or affiliate clinician. The style of your discussion is usually casual, starting with a few standard questions that will slowly transition into a general conversation. The interviewer wants to get a sense of who you are as a person and see if you are sociable. Keep in mind that each interviewer will be different and have their own methods for interviewing a student. Therefore, it is difficult to predict how your interview will play out.
Your interview can either be an open or closed book format. Meaning that your interviewer may or may not have access to your submitted material. A closed interview is utilized to eliminate bias based on your medical school statistics. Your entire conversation and everything you choose to reveal will be new to your interviewer. If that is the case, you should do your best to highlight some of the key facets about your application, including your unique educational background. I have had interviewers who were fascinated with my pharmacy background, and we talked about medicine, medications, and patient care for the entire interview! I felt more like a colleague instead of a poor applicant begging for a seat at the medical school table. I anticipate you will have similar experiences, especially during your longer interviews.
2. The Group-Interview: This is exactly as it sounds. You will be packed into a room with several other applicants sometimes as many as 10 others. These interviews are designed to see how well applicants can work in a group setting and highlight interpersonal shortcomings. These shortcomings include controlling attitudes, arrogant or dismissive behavior, and major social awkwardness. These qualities are not conducive to becoming a good physician and medical schools want to pick-up on this before they offer you one of the coveted seats in their program. During the group interview you should expect to work alongside your fellow students. You may be given a variety of different questions including some of the ones discussed below, or various ethical scenarios. When the session begins make sure you don’t talk over your fellow peers or hijack the entire room when making your points. You should aim to talk several times and contribute different perspectives but acknowledge the previous speakers’ points.
Introduce yourself when the session starts. Don’t jump the gun too soon as the session instructor will likely ask everyone to share a little about themselves. During this part, make sure you pay attention to everyone’s name. Also try to keep your introduction short. No one likes that applicant who shares their entire life story instead of sticking to the “fun fact question.” If you don’t understand this quite yet, you will on interview day because some students just can't help themselves!
Listen carefully when others speak. Avoid repeating content that has already been discussed unless you feel as though it was left incomplete. Paying attention can also allow you to add to a previous applicant’s comment, strengthening an argument. Do not let your mind wander, especially because other applicants may directly ask you a question. This is absolutely critical.
Be aware of your body language. You may have no interest at all in the topic discussed or your fellow applicant is holding everyone hostage with their 5-minute introduction. Be patient and act as if whoever is talking is the most important person in the room. Poor body language although subtle can make you look disinterested or dismissive. These are qualities that can lead to a quick rejection.
Take charge or become the group discussion leader. Although this is not always necessary or may not be appropriate for the task at hand, it can be a great way to demonstrate your leadership skills. Survey the room and pay attention to see if your fellow applicants are gravitating to you or are agreeing with your points. Informally become the group leader. This isn’t about outshining your peers, but rather a necessary step in creating a strong functioning team to accomplish the task at hand. This would be a great opportunity to show that you can handle groupwork and can read the room. If another individual is slowly taking on the role, acknowledge their efforts and you could appoint them yourself. Recognizing other talents in the room can demonstrate humility and awareness for what may be best for the group. Moderators will pick up on these tiny details, which can contribute to a successful interview.
Make sure everyone’s voice is heard. You don’t want to be the student who over-dominates the discussion and shuts out others. This is a pathologic strategy that many applicants fall victim to. You need to encourage healthy discussion amongst your peers and get others involved. Some students may feel overwhelmed or shy and won’t speak unless spoken to. Ask them what they think about the current point of discussion or to share their thoughts with the group.
Don’t be afraid to disagree. Alternatively, it would be unwise to challenge another group member’s ideas with a hostile tone. You are entitled to your opinion, but make sure your approach is constructive. At points during your group interview, some applicants may suggest ideas that are not the best for the group. It’s okay to provide a little push back and you may notice that other students will come to support you. You could easily suggest an improvement of the idea rather than completely reshaping the concept at hand. The Admissions Board wants to see if you can effectively resolve conflict while making sure you maintain your composure.
3. Multiple Mini-Interviews (MMIs): The name says it all! The format consists of 5-10 interview stations. At each station you will have a prompt/short paragraph to read outside each office door. You are given approximately 2 minutes to read the prompt and collect your thoughts. After the reading period ends, you will enter the room and talk about the prompt and/or answer any questions from an interviewer sitting in the room. These individual stations are short, and students only have 5-8 minutes for discussion. These interviews are typically closed file, and the interviewer will have no access to any of your records. Their primary purpose is to assess your critical thinking skills and ethical decision making. While these same principles are investigated during a traditional and group interview, the MMIs provide more reliable data. This is particularly true due to the higher number of evaluators who can grade you compared to 1-2 people in a traditional interview setting.
Preparing for MMIs can be challenging because it is very hard to predict what questions you may come across. You could theoretically review hundreds of potential questions and practice your responses with others, but your best bet will be to check out Student Doctor Network’s university specific questions (more on this below). I have listed some potential scenarios you could come across below!
An interaction with an actor or the medical school’s standardized patient.
A traditional interview station.
A teamwork station where you are paired with another student and must solve a problem at hand.
An ethical station asking you to discuss social or policy-based problems.
A personal essay station (sometimes given double the time).
Preparing for Medical School Interviews:
Now that you are familiar with the potential interview types you may encounter, it's time to start doing personalized school research in preparation for your interview date. To keep things organized, I would always create a Google Document for each specific interview. My sections would be broken down as follows;
Interview Details - Address, Directions, Links to Campus Map
Mandatories - Specifications from the program that I needed to bring on interview day (valid ID, personal photo, etc.)
Interview Schedule - Not always available but if provided list here
Personal AMCAS Work/Activities Summary - each activity that they may ask about or want clarification on
My Secondary Responses - I always wanted to know exactly what I said to a program incase they ask about it on interview day. It also helps to review the questions as they may repeat them.
School Specifics - Mission Statement, Vision, Curriculum, Student Programs, Current Dean (who you may meet)
Interview Questions - Pulled from Student Doctor Network (SDN) and online searching
Feel free to download and use the template at your discretion!
Medical School Interview Questions:
Every medical school is going to ask slightly different questions and it's your job to roughly figure out what they are going to be. I generally recommend that students utilize Student Doctor Networks Interview Feedback Section which offers past-student submitted interview questions for almost every medical school. Keep in mind that some of these responses/questions may be outdated but I have found that there is almost always some consistency on interview day. While no outside resource is going to be perfect, you can get a general sense of what to expect so that you aren't blindsided by a popular/bizarre question. Questions are usually broken down into specific types so you can look at the range of possibilities.
What is one of the specific questions they asked you (question 1)?
What is one of the specific questions they asked you (question 2)?
What is one of the specific questions they asked you (question 3)?
What was the most interesting question?
What was the most difficult question?
Student Doctor Network also allows past-interviewees to reflect on their overall experience at the medical school which can be very helpful for future interviewers to gauge the environment or understand what your peers did to prepare. These responses are classified under the following subgroups.
How did you prepare for the interview?
What impressed you positively?
What impressed you negatively?
What did you wish you had known ahead of time?
What are your general comments?
For each of my interviews I spend several hours combing through this forum to find out as much information as possible. Also note the more frequently you see a recurring response the more likely this practice/recommendation can be trusted!
Don't transform into a Rehearsal Robot. In other words, please don't rehearse your anticipated questions to the point where you begin to recite an internal script. As a former member my Medical School's Admissions Board, I have actually seen this in practice! While I personally don't fault students for being overly prepared, it can certainly come off as a negative quality. Not to hyperbolize, but I've actually seen students digest a question, allow for 3 seconds of processing like a computer, then immediately recite a prewritten monolog from memory. The emotion drains from their face, their enthusiasm exsanguinates, and personality fades away in an overtly subconscious manner. The worst part is that these applicants don't even realize what they are doing! Of course they answer the question elegantly, even poetically, but the production is poor. Life is not rehearsed and physicians need to be able to react to different situations on the fly. It's ok to be familiar with potential questions but please don't take this to the extreme as it may actually hurt your interview scores!
Don't forget to practice! Following my "don't practice too much speak," it's still in your best interest to have practiced interviewing, especially if you know from experience that you struggle in these situations. Give your filled out Interview Organizer to a friend/family member and have them ask you some of the questions on your list. The more you practice the more natural your responses will sound which gives you confidence for the real deal. If you have access to a formal pre-health advisor or your schools career services office, I'd also recommend you reach out and set up a short "mock-interview." While this may be a little extreme, it never hurts to get a professional opinion, especially for more subtle things like body language which can be overlooked in a casual setting.
Critical Components to Medical School Interviewing:
Don't forget to smile and be personable, handshake as appropriate
Regular rhythm/tone of speech (avoid pressured speech)
Organized thoughts (don't get side tracked or forget about the initial question)
Don't be a Rehearsal Robot
Read the room (especially during group interviews)
Avoid nervous ticks (cracking fingers, biting nails, fidgeting, etc.)
Prioritize patient care above all else when answering questions. The patient comes first!
Be consistent with what you submitted in your application, and update the interviewer with any new experiences you've had since you formally submitted your application (New APPE rotation or new publication).
Don't forget to ask a few questions at the end. It helps solidify that fact that you are truly interested in the program and/or the interviewer which can go a long way.
Medical School Interview Thank You Letter:
To send one or not to send one, that is the question. There has been extensive debate on the internet over thank you letters and their impact on a medical school applicants outcomes. Some swear by the practice and attribute their acceptance to a genuine thank you letter while others insist it makes no difference. Generally speaking, if you enjoyed talking with your interviewer(s) and want to attend said school of medicine, I recommend that you should send a letter.
Some medical schools will address the impact of thank you letters on interview day and objectively state that "sending one will not influence the final decision." On the other hand, some schools expect you to send letters and will provide you with interviewer contact information. If that's the case you better get writing!
The reason it's difficult to understand the impact of interview thank you letters is because we generally don't know when schools will evaluate your application file. I have heard of some programs who interview several groups of students over weeks worth of time before sitting down with the committee to discuss who to accept. If this is the case for one of your programs, it is promising that your thank you letters will have been added to your application file. Perhaps doing one, when others don't, can influence your final outcome at said school. Alternatively, some programs meet and discuss immediately after an interview while the experience is still fresh for the interviewers. In this scenario, your fate is sealed within a few hours (sometimes even before you've left the campus). I still recommend you send a letter because; 1. You don't know when schools decide, 2. You might be added to a post-interview waitlist. If you are added to a waitlist, your thank you letter may be added to your file and help with future movement up the list or even to an acceptance. I'll admit this is highly speculative, but why not give yourself the best possible chances?
Writing thank you letters is also very easy and reproducible. After you finish your first thank you letter, you can recycle a similar template for future use. Please please please don't forget to change the details/names on the letter before sending it. It has happened before! When it comes to writing the letter itself, always add a memorable moment/discussion to help your interviewer recall the interaction. They may have chatted with several students on interview day so it's in your best interest to jog their memory!
Always send thank you notes
Send a note to every person who interviewed you (including students)
Send your note within 48 hrs. If you know who is interviewing you ahead of time you could even "pre-write" the thank you and make small adjustments afterwards.
For style points, send a formal document as your letter attached in an email. I personally think this extra effort demonstrates professionalism and may even impress readers who are used to getting "3-sentence thank you emails."
Thanks for reading and always feel free to comment with questions or concerns! If you found this article helpful please share it!
If you are interested in starting your journey into Medicine, check out our Blog Articles.
For more questions, review our article "6 Most Common Questions About Transitioning From Pharmacy to Medicine."
For more information consider signing up for a Membership with The Physician Pharmacist for complete access to our comprehensive guide. Additionally, check out "Pharm.D. to M.D." on Amazon for physical copies of our featured book!
Check out our the "Physician Pharmacist Podcast" to hear about the experiences of other Physician Pharmacists and their transition into medicine!
Thank you for the support!