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Medical School Interview: Questions and Answers

Sample Questions Ambiguous Questions Medical Questions 
Academic Questions Social/Interest Questions Stress-Type Questions Personality Questions Miscellaneous Questions Concluding Questions Autobiographical Material Questions Problem Situation Questions 
Answering the Questions Sample Answers

Sample Questions

There are an infinite number of questions and many different categories of questions. Different medical schools will emphasize different categories of questions. Arbitrarily, ten categories of questions can be defined: ambiguous, medically related, academic, social, stress-type, problem situations, personality oriented, based on autobiographical material, miscellaneous, and ending questions. We will examine each category in terms of sample questions and general comments. Some of the questions below are hyperlinked so that you can discuss them in our new Medical School Interview Forum.

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Ambiguous Questions:

COMMENTS: These questions present nightmares for the unprepared student who walks into the interview room and is immediately asked: "Tell me about yourself." Where do you start? If you are prepared as previously discussed, you will be able to take control of the interview by highlighting your qualities or objectives in an informative and interesting manner.

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Medical School Interview Questions Clips on YouTube

Medically Related Questions:

COMMENTS: The health-care system, euthanasia, abortion, human cloning and other ethical issues are very popular topics in this era of technological advances, skyrocketing health-care costs, and ethical uncertainty. You should be up-to-date regarding changes in the province where you are being interviewed. All too often the general public is better informed regarding health-care than the medical school applicant! A well-informed opinion can set you apart from most of the other interviewees.

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Questions Related to Academics:

COMMENTS: Medical schools like to see applicants who are well-disciplined, committed to medicine as a career, and who exhibit self-directed learning (i.e. such a level of desire for knowledge that the student may seek to study information independent of any organized infrastructure). Beware of any glitches in your academic record. You may be asked to give reasons for any grades they may deem substandard. On the other hand, you should volunteer any information regarding academic achievement (i.e. prizes, awards, scholarships, particularly high grades in one subject or the other, etc.).

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Questions Related to Social Skills or Interests:

COMMENTS: Questions concerning social skills should be simple for the prepared student. If you are asked a question that you cannot answer, say so. If you pretend to know something about a topic in which you are completely uninformed, you will make a bad situation worse.

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Stress-Type Questions:

COMMENTS: The ideal physician has positive coping methods to deal with the inevitable stressors of a medical practice. Stress-type questions are a legitimate means of determining if you possess the raw material necessary to cope with medical school and medicine as a career. Some interviewers go one step further. They may decide to introduce stress into the interview and see how you handle it. For example, they may decide to ask you a confrontational question or try to back you into a corner (i.e. You do not know anything about medicine, do you?). Alternatively, the interviewer might use silence to introduce stress into the interview. If you have completely and confidently answered a question and silence falls in the room, do not retract previous statements, mutter, or fidget. Simply wait for the next question. If the silence becomes unbearable, you may consider asking an intelligent question (i.e. a specific question regarding their curriculum).

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Questions on Problem Situations:

COMMENTS: As for the other questions, listen carefully and take your time to consider the best possible response. Keep in mind that the ideal physician is not only knowledgeable, but is also compassionate, empathetic, and is objective enough to understand both sides of a dilemma. Be sure such qualities are clearly demonstrated.

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Personality-Oriented Questions:

COMMENTS: Of course, most questions will assess your personality to one degree or the other. However, these questions are quite direct in their approach. Forewarned is forearmed!

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Questions Based on Autobiographical Materials:

COMMENTS: Any autobiographical materials you may have provided to the medical schools is fair game for questioning. You may be asked to discuss or elaborate on any point the interviewer may feel is interesting or questionable.

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Miscellaneous Questions:

COMMENTS: You will do fine in this grab-bag category as long as you stick to the strategies previously iterated.

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Concluding Questions:

COMMENTS: The only thing more important than a good first impression is a good finish in order to leave a positive lasting impression. They are looking for students who are so committed to medicine that they will not only re-apply to medical school if not accepted, but they would also strive to improve on those aspects of their application which prevented them from being accepted in the first attempt. All these questions should be answered with a quiet confidence. If you are given an opportunity to ask questions, though you should not flaunt your knowledge, you should establish that you are well-informed. For example: "I have read that you have changed your curriculum to a more patient-oriented and self-directed learning approach. I was wondering how the medical students are getting along with these new changes." Be sure, however, not to ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the answer.

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Answering the Questions

The questions may be seemingly simple. The answers, however, can be a fantastic exercise in clearly demonstrating your commitment to medicine or they could be vague responses drowning in ambiguity. Within seconds of your first response an impression begins to form. At the end of the interview, usually 20 to 45 minutes long, an evaluation will be written that will have a critical impact on your future. For this reason, a couple of points need to be re-emphasized.

There are always two ways that a question is answered in an interview: one is your manner, the other is your words. Consider your manner. Compare one person who speaks in a continuous monotone with few facial expressions while others have multiple inflections when the words leave their lips and begin to smile spontaneously as they describe some aspect of medicine that fascinates them. One student may be viewed as unmotivated while others may seem enthusiastic about medicine.

Manner is also displayed in many other ways including eye contact. Adequate eye contact (not staring!) is often viewed in two important ways for a future doctor: confidence and sincerity. Conversely, shifting one's eyes or looking away from the interviewer while answering a critical question may be seen as unsureness or worse _ insincerity. Imagine, all this information that can be derived about your manner alone!

Now let us focus on the content of the answer. Your answer should be clear, to the point and preferably interesting! Begin by listing in your mind the reasons, experiences, anecdotes or analogies that clearly illustrate your interest in medicine. You must be organized and concise. Remember: this is not an interview for McDonald's! The entire medical school interview centers upon one question: what kind of doctor would you be?

Some students hold back what they want to say for fear that their answer will sound too sappy! This is supremely ridiculous! If you are being honest, your manner will confirm the sincerity with which you speak.

It is also important to remember that an interviewer will more likely recall a specific example rather than some generalized or ambiguous statement that any student might make.

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Sample Answers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

For the proper context it is important to have fully read the two interview chapters. Since there are an infinite number of good, bad and ugly ways to answer a question, do not take the details too seriously. Instead see what you can learn from these specific sample answers which are labelled good (I), bad (II), or ugly (III).

Q: Tell me about yourself. {Interviewer blinded to grades}

I: {pause; total answer less than 4 minutes}

My friends call me Jimmy the Greek. The odd thing is that I'm not Greek! They've been calling me that since high-school when we were taught about the Greek scientist Archimedes. After he had discovered buoyancy for his king, he ran through the streets of Syracuse butt-naked screaming "Eureka, eureka!", which means "I found it". Certainly my friends do not think of me as the type to run around naked (!), but rather being enthraled by what you do - that's who I am.

. . . academic, creative, social . . .

From an academic standpoint, I have always worked hard at school primarily because I love to learn. I won an entrance scholarship to Simon Fraser University and after a period of adjustment to university life, I was able to give my energies to my craft, and be honored by receiving two more academic awards over the last two years and being placed on the Dean's list. I am in my last year of an honors program in Life Sciences.

I definitely have a creative side. I think it's partly due to the years of classical piano lessons. I learned jazz piano on my own, and I recently had the honour to play with Oscar Peterson at a benefit for cystic fibrosis. I have also developed creative skills while tutoring, which I thoroughly enjoy, and during research. I was fortunate to be awarded 2 summer research scholarships during my undergraduate studies to investigate something called apoptosis, which is a programmed cell death important in most forms of cancer. Since this is a relatively new concept, we have had to design new techniques - one of which I had written up and was accepted by the journal Science for publication. The potential for a treatment for cancer is very exciting.

My social side I express in many ways including with my family, friends and the French and Spanish clubs I've joined at school. I also play many team sports such as basketball, volleyball and hockey. My greatest experiences from a social perspective have come from my volunteer activities. Having volunteered at St. Paul's and the Children's hospital, I have opened a whole new world of possibilities in my personal growth. I learned to listen to the sick, to hold hands with the elderly, and even to cry with children who saw no hope. I always did my best to comfort.

It has been said that a doctor may cure sometimes, diagnose often, but comfort always. I am excited about entering a profession where you can learn, research, teach, and above all, interact in a most human way with those in need. That is why I am convinced that medicine is the right career choice for me.

II: {no pause}

Dr. Robinson is the main reason I want to be a doctor. When I was 10 I broke my leg and he was my doctor. He was really kind and he always had time to listen to my silly complaints. He went to practice in the States though, but I still remember him as . . .

[Interviewer: "This is not an interview for Dr. Robinson. Could you please spend some time talking about yourself?]

Sorry, it's just that . . . OK . . . I've done a lot of volunteer work, like in the PACU of the VGH and the ER of CHEO, I also have good self-directed learning skills, I'm a good listener, I have leadership skills, I'm good at problem solving, I know these are important to be a good doctor . . . and that's it.

III: {no pause}

Umm, exactly what do you want to know?

[Interviewer: "Just tell me about yourself."]

Umm, I, I wouldn't know where to start, maybe if you can ask a more specific question.

Q: An eighteen year-old female arrives in the emergency room with a profound nose bleed. You are the physician and you have stopped the bleeding. She is now in a coma from blood loss and will die without a transfusion. A nurse finds a recent signed card from the Jehovah's Witness in the patient's purse refusing blood transfusions under any circumstance. What would you do?

I: {pause}

The courts have recently ruled on this issue saying that a patient has the legal right to refuse treatment, even a life-saving transfusion. As a physician, I would have entered medicine with a purpose - to preserve life. As difficult a decision as it would be for me, I would elect not to transfuse. The legal aspect would not influence my decision as much as the reason for the law. We live in a multicultural society based on mutual respect. I may not agree with the Sikh who wears a turban into battle, but an adult knows the risks and then balances these with their culture, experiences, and so on. That is their right. I entirely disagree with the idea of refusing a life-saving blood transfusion, all the more painful my decision would be; but on some other day, I will again celebrate the many fascinating differences we have as Americans.

II: There's no way I would transfuse. She's an adult, it's against the law.

III: I'd give the blood. She's gotta be crazy to believe in that stuff anyways.

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