October 14, 2014

Medical School Interview Tips and Tricks

Hello my excited interviewees! Medical school interview season is off to a great start and as you well know, a successful interview is the last step between you and acceptance to the med school of your choice.  I have written past blog posts about my own interview experiences and the best advice I've been given, but today I'd like to share with you medical school interview tips from an insider's perspective! One of the best experiences that I've had this year is getting to be a student interviewer for the University of Colorado. I think it's great that most medical schools integrate current medical students into the interview process, since we've jumped through the same hoops recently and have a different perspective than admissions people or doctors who have been practicing for years. We're basically invested in selecting our future colleagues. It's a lot of power and responsibility. Fortunately for you, this means I can give you some tips and tricks to make your interview as great as possible! Disclaimer: In this article, I am speaking on behalf of myself and not my university. While I can't share specific questions that we ask or the criteria on which you're judged (beyond what's available on the admissions website), I can give you insight from fellow student interviewers and myself.  

Medical School Interview Tips

Tip #1- Practice makes perfect, but don't overdo it

It's a smart idea to practice your answers to common interview questions beforehand. You can be pretty sure that most interviewers will ask you why you want to be a doctor, and you don't want to be stuck saying, "uuhhh, ummm, because my dad was a doctor?" You want to have an answer ready that's well thought out and sounds intelligent. Practicing in front of a mirror, videotaping yourself, and getting feedback from friends, family, and your pre-med advisor will help ensure that you are ready to give your optimal answer on interview day. The flip-side to this problem is that you don't want to sound too canned. This is actually trickier than preparing your answer in the first place! Especially after a few interviews, it's hard to keep your answer sounding fresh. Again, I suggest running your answers by the people who know you best to make sure that you're not sounding bored while you answer.  

Tip #2- Pick three things you want your interviewer to remember

I have given this advice before and I'll give it again. Most pre-meds have the same set of essential information. You've all done volunteer work, research, shadowing; you all have great GPA's and MCAT scores. Your interview is a chance to set yourself apart from the crowd. Pick three characteristics, experiences or assets that you want the interviewer to remember about you. So, what makes you stand out as an applicant? Why are you uniquely qualified to go to medical school and become a doctor? Personally, I emphasized my background in public health and how I work to tie it to medicine, my quality of perseverance and my work with diverse populations. Be careful to make sure that you're not just rehashing your personal statement, since most interviewers will have access to it before your interview.  

Tip #3- Conversations are more fun than listening to someone talk about how fantastic they are

Remember that your interviewer is another human, much like your future patients will be. Most interviewers are looking, on some level, at your communication skills. The communication skills that will make you an effective, empathetic doctor will also make you a strong interviewee. Make sure to listen to the questions, pause and respond accordingly. Don't be afraid to smile or use expressive body language as long as it's appropriate. It's not fun for anyone to listen to someone list off all the reasons that they're soooo wonderful. So, make sure that you're not just bragging and that you're connecting with your interviewer.  

Medical School Interview Tricks

Trick #1- Leave early for your interview.

Most schools are helpful and provide you with maps and room numbers for your interview, but to reduce stress, you should leave extra early. Being calm and unstressed will help you perform better during the interview itself.  

Trick #2- Stay with a current student. 

Traveling to interviews can be wildly expensive. Make sure to ask if the school has a way for you to stay with a student host. Most schools will offer a student host as an option. In addition to being cheaper than a hotel, staying with a student host is a good way to find out more about the student body and how students really live.  

Trick #3- Bring something to write on/with.

You should come prepared with your own list of questions for the interviewer to help you evaluate the schools you visit.  A week or a month after an interview, especially if you've had several, it can be hard to remember specific details about each school. Taking notes will help you to remember important impressions from your day at the school.  

Trick #4- Send thank you notes. 

This is actually just good manners, but you should send thank you notes to your interviewers and the admissions staff with whom you interact. It won't guarantee your entrance by any means, but it will reinforce the impression that you have solid communication skills.   There you have it! I'd love to hear any interview questions that you have. Go ahead and post them in the comments! I'd also love to read the best interview advice that you've gotten! Happy interviewing! ...read more
October 6, 2014

Fantasy Med School Draft: Finding Your Perfect Medical School

Hello my friendly fall readers! The leaves are changing and we can now expect a weekly dose of fantasy football related Facebook updates. For medical school applicants, however, fall means that you're drafting your perfect list of medical school qualities instead of a great wide receiver. So, today let's talk about which characteristics you should consider when drafting and finding your perfect medical school!  

Size

Size is an important factor to examine when you're picking a medical school. You want to examine not only the size of each class, but also the size of the entire school. Class size is important for access to professors and the camaraderie of your class group. However, there's a big difference between having a medical school in the middle of a bustling, 30,000 strong undergraduate crowd and having a medical school that stands unattached or distantly attached from an undergrad base. Overall university size is a factor that I didn't really consider when I was looking at medical schools, but I've really grown to love the fact the University of Colorado medical school is separated from the undergraduate campus. The advantage to the separation is that I'm not constantly fighting for research spots, shadowing spots or opportunities with any undergraduate students. That means that every lab and physician is more than happy to have a medical student. That said, it also means that overall there are fewer researchers with slightly more limited areas of study because there are fewer students overall. You want to make sure your ideal medical school has the right size-balance for you!  

Location

I cannot stress this piece enough. Every medical school will give you, more or less, the same amount of information in your first two years of medical school. Yes, there are variations on format and other opportunities which we'll cover, but the content is that same. What that means is, one of the major variable factors to your experience is the location of the school. Do you want to live in a major city? Do you want a smaller location in a more rural situation? There are medical schools in a variety of city sizes. What kinds of activities will help you feel satisfied and happy with your med school choice? How close are these activities? For example if you're into skiing, Iowa might not be the right state for you to move to.  Is it important for you to get away from home or be a short flight or car-ride away from your support system? I'm always a little bummed out that I'm out-of-state and away from my family and friends. Fortunately, the flight from Denver to Minneapolis is usually relatively cheap and is less than two hours long. Location is vitally important to your happiness and overall medical school experience, so take time to examine the locations of your potential medical schools.  

Student Body

Again, I'd like to emphasize that the classwork is pretty standard, but the people with whom you share your experience can vary greatly and overall impact your success. Do you want a more collaborative student body? Make sure you ask about whether students study together when you go for your interview day. Are you driven by competition to study hard? Great! Then make sure that competition is highly valued among your potential future classmates. You should also check out the average statistical values for incoming classes. If you’re applying to US allopathic (MD) medical schools, visit the AMCAS website and check out the latest Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) guide. If you’re applying to osteopathic (DO) medical programs, you should visit the AACOM website and check out the Osteopathic Medical College Information Book. Things to look out for would be average class age, different measurements of diversity, whether people commonly took time off, do most students have graduate degrees and whether the majority of students are married. You want to get a feel for the student body and whether it meshes well with your medical school needs.  

Opportunities

Yes, you'll spend a lot of time during medical school in class, but don't forget about other opportunities! If working abroad is important to you, make sure that you ask about established study abroad programs at your school. Can you do any rotations or projects abroad? If you're into volunteering or extracurriculars, make sure to ask how easy it is to get involved and talk to current students about their lives outside of school. Opportunities also include topics like scholarships, foci or areas of emphasis for students, potential for getting a dual degree like an MD/MPH or MD/MBA, and where students from the school are commonly matched for residency. It may seem right now that getting into any medical school that will take you is your priority and trust me, I get that. You do want to spend some time thinking about how a particular medical school will suit you. Choosing the right medical school goes far beyond the rankings. You're going to spend a fair amount of money investing into your education and working in pursuit of your “good life,” so make sure to think about how you're drafting your fantasy medical school (at least for as long as you think about your fantasy football team each week)! Happy studying!   Want to browse through different careers in your area of interest, see what test scores will get you into the top schools, and read interviews from people like you who have succeeded in pursuing their dreams? All this and more is available at kaptest.com/unlock. Just by visiting and filling out your info, you’ll be entered to win $10,000. The good life is closer than you think. ...read more
August 20, 2014

The 3 Phases of Applying to Medical School

[caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignright" width="300"] Most students will prep between October and April of their junior year. Click image to download.[/caption]

Intimidated by applying to medical school?

We get it; the medical school admissions process can be daunting. After all, the end result of becoming a doctor is something you’ve wanted for a long time—something that’s going to help you pursue your vision of the “good life.” So it’s only natural to want everything to be perfect when you submit your application. Today, we will break down and simplify the application process to take the edge off.  

3-phase process

Applying to medical school is both a three-phase process and a rolling one, meaning decisions at each stage are made on an ongoing basis—not at any one or two predetermined points in the year. In fact, while schools have a final submission deadline, it is often ill-advised to wait for that date to roll around, as classes are sometimes full by that point. Let's look at the phases of the medical school application process.  

1) The primary application

The primary application—as its name suggests—is the first portion you will submit, and generally the earliest it can be sent is the first week of June of the application year—the year immediately before your first year of attendance. So, if you wanted to start medical school in the fall of 2016, you would submit your primary application in June of 2015. Most U.S. medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service® (AMCAS®), which is the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC) centralized medical school application processing service. The great thing about AMCAS participating schools is that, no matter how many med schools you apply to, you submit just one online application to AMCAS. If you apply to non-AMCAS schools, however, you will have to fill out primary applications specific for each one. Prior to submitting, start gathering all the materials that will go into your primary application. It’s best to begin this process in April and May. You will need to: For the month of May, you can input responses, grades, and a personal statement into the system so that it’s ready to send in early June when submissions open. Try to submit your primary application as soon as possible in June. However, don’t rush it, because once you submit the primary application, you can't go back and change anything!  

2) The secondary application

There are two possible outcomes at this phase in the application process:
  • the medical school will reject your application, and the process ends there for that school, or
  • the medical school will send you its secondary application
The secondary application is specific to each school you are applying to—this is where schools ask the specific questions they want answered. Many schools will just want an application fee and no additional info to continue the process, but some will want to know a great deal. The key here is a fast turnaround. In an ideal world, you will spend much of July and August submitting secondary applications. Once schools have your secondary application, they will review it along with the primary application and start dividing students into three groups: those they will invite for an interview at the school, those they will not, and the “unsures.”  

3) The medical school interview

If you do not get an interview from a particular medical school, they will notify you right away, and the process will end for that school. If a school wants an interview, they will also notify you, and you should schedule your interview at the earliest convenient time. Candidates in the third category, however, will not hear anything until that school moves them into one of the other two categories. As schools are interviewing applicants, they are making decisions. Usually, you will hear one way or another within a month of interviewing, but sometimes this phase takes longer: it all depends on the school’s individual process. Some candidates will not be rejected, but placed on a waiting list that will be reviewed as candidates accept and decline offers. It’s long process, but completely manageable with the right planning. In future posts, we will take a look at how to achieve the best outcome at different points in the application process. Stay tuned!   We want to hear from you! Tell us what the good life means to you and how you plan to get there in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter using #kaplangoodlife. We may share your story in an upcoming post. Then stay tuned for more articles to get you inspired!. Visit kaptest.com/unlock to unlock the good life.   ...read more
October 25, 2013

Med School Interviews (The Nightmare Interview)

Hello my med school-hopefuls! I hope that you have gotten your secondary applications sent in and and receiving some invitations to interview. To those of you who are interviewing soon, good luck! Today, I would like to share with you the story of one of my med school interviews that didn't go as well as I had wanted it to. Hopefully you can take away some valuable lessons from my experience, and remember that no matter how dicey this interview was, my story has a happy ending. (For privacy's sake, I've changed the name of the school to MedU) My first interview at MedU started with the interviewer quoting something. I was at a loss for the reference and he got oddly mad. It turns out that the quote was from the movie Braveheart, but the way he reacted made me feel like the movie was required pre-interview viewing and that I had forgotten to complete the assignment. It was not an excellent first exchange As the interview continued, it became apparent that his interview style was to pick a word from my application and ask me about it. He asked me about dancing, Cretin (part of the name of my high school), and Spanish. Then he began to conduct part of the interview in Spanish. That went fine for awhile until I began to describe my host family and used my hand to indicate the height of my younger host brother. My interviewer immediately chastised me for using a gesture that is apparently very insulting in Mexico. As I studied Spanish in Spain, I had no knowledge of said gesture and explained that fact. I was getting increasingly frustrated. He wasn't asking me questions about medicine or why I wanted to be a doctor and I was at a loss about how to work that information into his seemingly random line of questioning. Then he asked me if I was Native. I sat and thought for a minute about what he was asking. He knew I wasn't from the state, so that wasn't what he was asking. Oh. He was asking if I was Native American. I'm not Native American in any measurable way, so I responded no. We wrapped up the rest of the interview in awkward fashion and I left feeling very disheartened. So, what can you take away from my negative interview experience? 1. Keep your cool. I never got overly flustered even when I thought he was getting mad for no good reason. 2. Don't worry about the content of your interview. Some of the best interviews I had involved talking about things that weren't even remotely related to medicine. Yes, you want to be able to talk about why you want to be a doctor, but don't stress if your interview veers off-topic. 3. Certain questions are illegal. Your interviewer can't actually ask you your race/ethnicity/marital status/sexual orientation. If they do, you need to inform one of the people in charge. After my interview, I approached the Dean of Admissions who was at one of the presentations. He apologized for my negative interview experience and assured me that my second interview would be weighted more heavily in my admissions consideration. So, even though during the interview I thought that there was no way I would be accepted to MedU, my solid performance during the second interview allowed me to get my acceptance letter approximately a month later. I would love to hear about any of your med school interview experiences, positive or negative! Feel free to share them in the comments. Happy studying and interviewing! ...read more
January 17, 2013

Application Essentials VII: Interviews

We've all heard horror stories:  bizarre ethical dilemmas, not clicking with your interviewer, the old "window-being-nailed-shut" story.  But medical school interviews really aren't that bad.  Perhaps the most misunderstood part of the application, these brief conversations hold the key in that final step of getting you from interviewee to medical student. Why do pre-health schools do interviews?  What are they looking for? The interview is all about your ability to communicate clearly and effectively with others.  Medicine is, at its core, a humanistic practice of care for one's community.  To be a successful clinician, you will have to be able to bond with patients whose belief patterns differ from your own, debate with colleagues whose practice of medicine differs from your own, and work in teams whose members' roles differ from you own.  Medical schools want to know that you can be the one who can both deliver the grave news of an aggressive cancer and rejoice in assisting a woman's to give birth to a healthy child. How long are they?  Who are these interviewers? Most schools will have two interviews, one of which is with a faculty member and another with a student.  Interviews generally last about 30 to 45 minutes.  A shorter interview doesn't mean you didn't do well, by the way.  Some schools have variations:  a panel of interviewers with a panel of students (the point of which is to see your ability to support yourself while sharing the floor fairly, and often your ability to work together), an interview with both a faculty member and student simultaneously, or the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI). What do they ask? Questions vary school-to-school, of course, but you'll start sensing a theme as you work the interview trail.  You'll have a handful of questions that the interviewer asks every candidate:
  • Why our school?
  • How did you become interested in medicine?
  • What's something unique you could add to our class?
  • What's a challenge or obstacle you've had to overcome?
  • What are you most excited about in medicine?  What are you most concerned about?
You'll also have a handful of questions that are unique to you, but every school chooses to ask.  This could include an unusual extracurricular activity, impressive awards or scholarships, and outcomes of your research projects. What about ethical questions? Yes, ethical questions do come up on interviews -- especially at MMI schools.  There usually is no one correct answer to these questions; your ability to decide on a conclusion and support it, while acknowledging other viewpoints, is the goal of these questions. What is this MMI? The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) is a relatively new practice in medical admissions.  It is modeled after the Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) exam that you'll take as a medical student, and includes 5-10 stations, which are each 5-15 minutes long.  Each station has a very specific task, which can include answering typical interview questions, consoling a standardized patient who just received bad news, working with another student to make a proposal or decision, constructing a brief writing sample, and others.  At each station, you are being evaluated on a very succinct list of criteria.  These are designed to give a more holistic and quantifiable characterization of the applicant. How do I do "well"? A great interview is nothing more than a great conversation.  While the interviewer comes into the interview with a task to accomplish, he or she is really looking for an opportunity to bond with you as a physician-to-be.  Permit this to happen.  In training for interviews, many students focus way too much on the semiotics of their body language, perfect phrasing, and the proper cadence of their voice.  Do you think about these things during a conversation with a best friend?  Even though the nature of the interview is such that you should act professional, this does not mean you should feel uptight or rigid.  Let your personality flow.  Leave the interviewer thinking "I just had an awesome conversation." How should I prepare for interviews? Dress professionally:  suit and tie for both men and women is appropriate.  A bit of "flair" can be okay if it bears significance to you as an applicant (for example, wearing a Pink Ribbon after having done research in breast cancer).  It is critical to walk in knowing who you're talking to.  Prior to visiting the school, check out the school's website, AAMC's Medical School Admission Requirements, and online Kaplan resources to learn more about what matters to that institution.  An often-overlooked, but very good resource is the associated health system's quarterly (or yearly) report.  Find out what's new in the health system, what matters to their physicians, and what their investing their time and money in over the next few years.  These will be the individuals shaping your education, so you should know what type of education you're going to receive.  During the interview, frequently guide the conversation in the direction of aspects you like about the school, and why they matter to you.  Schools want to know that -- when they accept you -- you're going to come! What's interview day like? Most schools will start the day by telling you a bit about their school.  Listen carefully!  This is a chance for you to gather some additional intel about the school to use in your interview.  Financial aid will tell you about the disarmingly large amount of debt you'll have at graduation, but that feeling will be buoyed by going to class with 1st- and 2nd-year students.  You'll tour the school (usually including the anatomy labs) and have lunch with students.  Interviews may be before or after lunch.  If they're after, make sure not to eat anything that will leave you with halitosis! We hope we've given you some good pointers to succeed on interview day.  Have you had any interviews yet?  How did they go? This article is Part VII in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more
Pre-Med Life
March 19, 2012

The Medical School Gap Year Part III: How to talk about it

In Part I of this series we explored the most common reasons for taking a gap year. While everyone has their own reasons for the choice, one of your biggest concerns is likely going to be how to explain such a decision to admissions committees. However, your time away from school can actually be a great conversation point during your medical school interviews, and can help distinguish you from other candidates. While in college, students do many of the same things (research, leadership, volunteering), and while it’s necessary to fulfill your premed requirements it can often result in cookie-cutter students that seem to lack personality on-paper and sometimes in person. Whatever you chose to do with your gap year, use it to differentiate yourself by speaking with about it with passion! Most importantly, you should consider what your experiences in this gap year say about a) who you are, b) what your motivations are for being a physician, and c) who you see yourself becoming. All interviewees should contemplate these three questions before heading into any interview, but the questions are especially important for students that have taken some time away from the traditional path to medical school. Naturally, interviewers are curious about what you did in your gap year and why you did it. First and foremost, be honest and be sincere. Do not make things up about your gap year or talk extensively about what you plan to do or hope to do. Discuss what you have done already, and what your reasons were for doing those things, as well as your motivation for taking a gap year in general. It’s perfectly acceptable to declare that you wanted to take an opportunity to relax, travel, and pursue some personal goals; admissions representatives appreciate students that display maturity and experience, as well as readiness for the rigors of medical school. To that end, it can be a breath of fresh air for an interviewer to hear that you wanted to gain some life experience, grow up a bit, and prepare yourself for medical school because you valued your personal development. Here is one quick example of how you might discuss your gap year experiences: when asked why you took a gap year, explain that you were worried about how you would live on your own as a responsible adult, and that in that a year off you’ve learned to cook and maintain your vehicle. While this might seem boring at first, this is an opportunity to demonstrate your personality – are you an adventurous eater? Why do you love restoring old cars? Follow up by expressing how these experiences relate to, fuel, or shape your passion for medicine. You might go from a discussion on how you love to try new foods (which says you are adventurous and open-minded) to your experiences volunteering with medically underserved members of your community, and from there to how you want to serve such communities as a physician. It may seem hard to identify such connections, but you should be actively thinking about what you’ve done or plan to do throughout your gap year and anticipating such interview questions. Take the time to explore yourself, and you will find the answers you seek. To summarize, it’s perfectly acceptable to take a gap year – as long as you make sure to discuss your gap year experiences in the context of who you are and why you want to become a physician. Good luck and enjoy the time off! ...read more
Pre-Med Life
February 6, 2012

Getting into Medical School: Having well-rounded hobbies

Most medical school applicants tend to normalize towards a typical set of extracurricular activities; research, clinical experience, and volunteering activities are the standard and show up in abundance on applications. Applicants believe that a vital part of getting accepted is having these experiences, and that is largely true. Would it surprise you, though, to know that it was comic book collecting that was the one activity my medical school noticed most on my medical school application? I had a strong background in research, significant clinical experiences, great community service, and lengthy periods of paid employment, but so did most of the other pre-meds submitting applications. It was crucial, then, for me to differentiate myself from the rest of the pack by including things about me that some might not think of putting on a medical school application. What matters most is that throughout the process of being a pre-med, I made sure to include time for other hobbies and activities that made me a well-rounded applicant. Doing so requires that you do not sacrifice interests in your life that are important to you. Speaking a foreign language, playing an instrument or a sport, traveling, or being certified in a unique field (skydiving or scuba diving are great options among many), are all examples of distinct hobbies that are great ways to show a medical school that you are not just a typical applicant, but rather a well-rounded individual who will add value to their incoming class. Medical schools strive for a heterogeneous mix of students in order to ensure that the general atmosphere will be fun and collaborative. While it might be surprising, it would be wrong to characterize medical school as a place where research-oriented automatons attend classes, study in the library, and then complete community service activities during the weekends. Instead, many medical schools support musical bands, sports teams, movie clubs, and cultural events all composed of and conducted by students. Certainly there is plenty of time and opportunity for clinical research, hospital experience, and test prep, but medical school admissions committee members feel comfortable when they know that the medical students are maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout their four years of medical school. Whether you plan on parading through Mardi Gras at Tulane University School of Medicine or skiing through weekends at University of Vermont College of Medicine, having a life outside of medical school is an important part of the process. Conveying your outside activities from the very beginning is the best practice. In the primary application under “Hobbies/Activities” you’ll have the opportunity to write about the things that make you who you are (like that giant collection of Batman comics you have in your closet); this includes activities in which you’re involved or even formative trips you’ve taken (backpacking through Europe anyone?). Describing the merits of your activity – like how Batman’s analytical skills and resourcefulness motivate you to do the same as a physician, or how you immersed yourself in different cultures and practiced your foreign language skills while coasting through Spain – will make your application stand out amongst other applicants. You can continue to build on this by further describing these activities in your secondary application. This will give you an inside-edge during the interview since you’ll have mostly likely piqued your interviewers’ interest and given them something to ask you about that will make the medical school interview more memorable. Just put yourself in the interviewer’s place and think about how much more you would rather ask, “Tell me more about this one-of-a-kind coin collection you have” versus “I see you did some research, please tell me more about that”. Remember, the primary goal of the Extracurriculars section is to show your personality; this is the part of the application that reflects your life outside of the classroom, laboratory, and hospital, so make it count! ...read more
Applying to Med School
November 7, 2011

The Hardest Med School Interview Question

“So tell me about yourself.”

It’s not even a question.  It’s a request, and in the opening moments of your medical school interview, it may sound more like a hostile command.   But it is perhaps one of the most common ways in which your med school interviewers may invite you to join in conversation with them.  How would you respond to this non-question question?  It doesn’t seem easy, as I’m sure you’re well aware.  Because it’s so open-ended, we tend to hem-and-haw and sputter out the first thing that comes to mind, and our response usually starts with, “Well, I was born in…”  Ugh!  No!  You’re missing the point of the interviewers’ request.  They don’t care where, when, or how you were born; or where you lived until you were seven; or that you currently own a hamster.   (On the other hand, if you and your hamster have achieved world fame as a banjo duo, then you might want to mention that.)

What is the point, then, of this non-question question that so often gets us out of sorts? Well, that’s actually sort of the point:  they want to see how you respond to an unstructured situation.  Rambling on, creating one big messy non sequitur, or – worst of all – asking of your interviewers, “What do you want to know?” all point to the same problem:  a lack of both forethought and reflection.  Both are essential for being prepared to effectively manage unstructured or ambiguous situations.   You mistake their intention if you believe that they really only want to get to know you personally.  Sure, this is an opportunity to share personal information (more in a moment on what that means); but what you opt to share in response to the invitation reveals as much – if not more – about you as the actual details of your response.  Let me provide an example, but one that is so extreme, I’m guaranteeing you’ll get my point.  Saying, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” reveals something about you.  And actually deciding that it would be appropriate to say, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” as your opening line in a med school interview also says something – far worse – about you.

Med school interviewers rely on “So tell me about yourself.” because it is unstructured and open ended, and they know that how you respond will reveal not just some of your life details (no matter how banal or interesting) but also some of your character and values.   So give some forethought to your response by reflecting on the personal qualities you possess that are most appropriate to share with your med school interviewers.  Keep the following in mind:

1.  Your med school interview is a job interview; it’s not a first date.  Make sure the information you share is relevant to the primary goal of the interview:  to determine whether you and that medical school are a good fit.

2.  This is only the opening moment of the interview.  Keep your response short and to the point.  It should only take a minute or so to answer this question.  Like a good movie preview or a well written prologue, your response should capture your interviewers’ attention, draw them in, and get them excited to hear more from you.

3.  You can take control of the interview conversation by sharing information relevant to topics that your interviewers will be compelled to return to later (because you’ve given them a hint of something interesting about you that they just can’t wait to know more about).

4.  Remember that the interview is a continuation of a conversation that began months earlier with the AMCAS primary application, the personal statement, the secondary application essays, and the letters of recommendation.  Of course depending on whether your interview is based on an “open” or “closed” file, your interviewers will already know a lot , very little, or nothing at all about you.  Regardless, highlight a few accomplishments or qualities and illustrate them with a couple of short memorable stories.  People love stories, but only if they’re told well, so practice telling your stories before your interviews.

You’re going to be faced with this question.  Don’t fear it!  Look forward to it, and be prepared.

So, now that you know more about this question, tell me about yourself.

...read more
Your Future
September 8, 2011

Topics in Medicine: Mental Illness

by Lauren Poindexter, Kaplan Elite MCAT Instructor

As a future physician, it’s a sure thing that at some point in your career you will encounter patients with some form of mental illness. Psychological health is every bit as important as physiological health, and in many instances the two are hopelessly intertwined. Amid reports of celebrities dealing with mental afflictions - from NFL athlete Brandon Marshall’s recent declaration of his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, to actor Charlie Sheen's suspicious descent into madness – you might have missed the announcement of a new challenge proposed to the global health community, the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health Initiative.

The movement, led jointly by the National Institutes of Health and the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases, draws from all fields within the greater medical community in hopes of addressing the “top 40 barriers to better mental health around the world." Those 40 barriers were ranked by a panel of experts and narrowed from an initial list of 1,565, a process which resulted in the following top 5 challenges:

  • Integrate screening and core packages of services into routine primary health care
  • Reduce the cost and improve the supply of effective medications
  • Improve children's access to evidence-based care by trained health providers in low- and middle-income countries
  • Provide effective and affordable community-based care and rehabilitation
  • Strengthen the mental health component in the training of all health care personnel.

News like this should rock your world! Why? Because these initiatives affect every single one of us. As the offspring of aging baby boomers, as college students and college graduates, as soon-to-be-medical students and physicians, and as future standard bearers for the most advanced medical community in the world, we have been/are/will be affected intimately by mental illness of varying severities and types (according to NIMH statistics). Does that sound scary? Why? What do you know about mental illness, or better yet, what do you think you know about mental illness and its many forms?

Like other illnesses, diseases, and injuries, mental illness has verifiable biochemical “roots,” and our (future) patients, friends, family-members, and selves should be treated with sincere compassion, respect, and evidence-based therapies, whether pharmaceutical, psychological, or a combination of the two. The more educated, respectful, and vocal we are about these diagnoses, the easier it will be for patients to find and receive the assistance they need and deserve.

Today I challenge you to review the NIH’s press release and make a point to learn one new fact about mental illness. Every day we make a purposeful action to overcome our own small barriers to “better mental health,” is yet another avenue for affecting positive change in our community!

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