Medical School Interview: what are interviewers looking for?

Michael-Chiu-380x380We sat down with Dr. Michael Chiu, MedSchoolCoach advisor and former Stanford admissions committee member to find out what medical schools are looking for in their applicants during an interview.

As an interviewer, the things I look for are:

  1. Whether the person is actually interested in the medical profession: The medical profession is a long process, its really important to find students who show genuine interest, and have shown this through clinical experience, or through research and activities that demonstrate they have explored the field already.
  2. Genuine interest in the school: I generally will ask questions like, “Why are you interested in X school?” I try to parse through the answer for information about how the candidate looked into the specific strengths of the school, have they looked at our specific programs, can they tell me about specific professors and their research. Also, can they show me that they have a genuine interest from having gone to the website, maybe even talked to some people with the school before their interview? That really helps me decipher whether that person is really interested in the school.
  3. How they can contribute to the class: Whether they have some sort of unique qualities, whether it’s a strong track record of research, a strong track record of participating in community health or in community services, or having some other unique qualities about them that really makes me think that they would contribute value to the class as a whole if they were admitted.

When you say unique qualities, to what extent do they have to be directly related to medicine? Or can they be more varied, like being a professional athlete?

I don’t think it has to be directly related. I think if a person is, for example, a really strong athlete, has exemplified their ability to compete at a national or international level, or has experience running a national organization or has shown significant strength in on campus activities or shown a strong interest in a certain field, it is beneficial.

For example, lets say like they’ve written research articles on government or history, they have volunteered or been involved in a national campaign, worked for a presidential campaign, or basically has shown unique qualities that go above and beyond what normal candidate would participate in.

I think ideally, if its medically related that would be helpful because they are applying to medical school, so any research or community health or international health activities that shows an investment in doing that, would be even better. But if not, if it’s something else, that is equally impressive and adds value to the class as a whole, that is good too.

“I think ideally, if its medically related that would be helpful because they are applying to medical school, so any research or community health or international health activities that shows an investment in doing that, would be even better. But if not, if its something else, that is equally impressive and adds value to the class as a whole, that is good too.”

Is there one tip that you would give to every premed student? 

I think the thing that I would say and maybe I’m a little biased, because in my current situation I’m not a clinician, I work for a company, is regarding the length of the process. The medical training process is very long. It can be at minimum, including undergrad, 11 years (4 years undergrad, 4 years medical school, 3 years residency). I would say on average, now, people spend about 6 years in residency, so it ends up being about a 14-year process. So I think that it’s very important for premed students to try their best to understand what they are getting themselves into early. I think that would be really helpful, and one can do that through shadowing experiences, volunteering at a hospital, talking to family and friends who are doctors, there are many different avenues. Ultimately I think my one piece of advice would be to do that early and really try to get that understanding before applying to medical school because once one is starting in school, there is a lot of debt, there’s 4 years of work and it can be hundreds of thousands of dollar debt, and a lot of people end up realizing its not what they thought it would be, and that’s not a good thing for the student or the school. That would be my advice.

“Understand that the medical training process is very long. Understand what they are getting themselves into early. I think that would be really helpful, and one can do that through shadowing experiences, volunteering at a hospital, talking to family and friends who are doctors, there are many different avenues.”