Hello Premeds and Medical Students:
Interview Season is here! It’s such an exciting time. It’s the time to show the medical school or residency program of your choice that YOU belong there. You landed the interview, they’ve seen your file, your writing, your motivation for medicine. So now you get the chance to sell it! But how do you do this? First- let me share some of my experiences with you.
When I was a premed student like many of you, I doubted myself and my ability to be a physician, let alone a good one. I didn’t feel I belonged in my undergrad science courses at UC Berkeley, let alone in medical school. So – how did I go about mustering up the courage to stare Dean’s of admissions in the face and tell them – I’m the one you want, I belong here and I can contribute something to your class? The honest answer is I’m not entirely sure, but I know that I wanted it so badly. I came so far, I invested so much and I was not going to let anything stop me from achieving my goal, including fear.
I employed a number of strategies that I found worked for me, and I want to share them with you. These also apply to residency interviews as well, so medical students, don’t check out. 🙂
1. I prepared for my first interview well as a template for the rest of my interviews.
What does this mean? I looked up the Dean of Admission and Assistant Dean, their specialties and major research areas in the medical school. I rehearsed speaking out loud at a mirror stating why I wanted to pursue medicine and what it is about the school in particular that made me want to study there. I took care to wear a black, conservative suit and pearls. I did everything I could think of. I arrived, and I can pretty much say my interview day was anything but successful. I remember being asked why I wanted to attend there, why would I come there, and when I gave answers, I was simply grilled further. I was asked to design a research study on the fly. This threw me for a loop as I hadn’t given thought about this before. I tried my best but I knew I was floundering in both my interviews. Finally, the one of the Deans of Admission used a term that I interpreted as harkening to the Old South and slavery. For me, this was the last straw. I instantly knew this place was not for me, no matter how badly I wanted to attend medical school.
So what was that? A failure? A flop? No. It was practice. Yes, I used this first interview to get the kinks out, to learn how to think on the fly and to answer unanticipated questions to the best of my ability. I realized that if an interviewer was hell bent to seeing me in a negative light, all I can do is present my best self – that is all. So in each subsequent interview, I did just that. I learned from the first one, devised a sample research study based on my prior work, knew my research projects inside out and was able to discuss them in detail and shored up those weak areas so that I shined on subsequent interviews.
2. I want to say that I rested well, took care of myself and all those things. It’s just not true. I was a tragedy mess on my medical school and residency interview trail. I was on flights, in and out of airports and walked in New York once so far in high heels I had a blood blister on my foot the whole interview day. I’m confessing this because I don’t want you to do this. Don’t walk through New York crying because you didn’t bring the right shoes. Wear tennis shoes with your suit and change a block away. Bring a purse big enough to house said shoes. Bring a nice portfolio with you to carry around with you. Bring extra deodorant, mints, pins for your hair etc. Believe it or not, these simple things can help allay the stress and anxiety that comes from preparing for one of the biggest days that determines your admissions status to medical school or residency. If you are rested, calm and collected, that goes a long way. I also must stress to SMILE even if you are not a people person. Smile at the staff, greet the front desk people, shake hands, look them in the eye. DON’T look down at your phone continually. Be a human being and be polite to everyone. This helps believe it or not. The admission staff have very much pull in this process. If you are rude to them over the phone or in person, especially on interview day, this could ruin your chances of admission or matching.
3. I made sure to let my first choice institution know that I would go there above any and all schools. Interestingly I don’t remember my medical school interview at UCLA. I do remember my residency one, and I embarrassingly messed up on a question I knew the answer to with a faculty member I knew. I was scared. It happens. I tried my best to recover. I another interview with the Chair of Anesthesiology, I asked her how she trailblazed as a woman to be Chair and what advice she would give an up and coming student who wants to pursue academic medicine. This changed the tide of our interview and the tone. It was not going in a good direction as she was questioning my involvement in a minority based program and implying I was excluding those who were not of color. I told her, on the contrary, the organization I worked with was national and appealed to all students and those who had a passion for serving underserved populations. Just as I felt that this was not going well, I asked this when she asked – Do you have any questions for me?
This is key. You MUST come prepared with questions.This is paramount. I did this and it saved my residency interview. I also recommend that after you finish the interview, send a thank you letter by email or snail mail or both. In this letter to UCLA during my medical school application process, I stated unequivocally that UCLA was my first choice. Further, after I was waitlisted to the school, I emailed the Dean of Admissions in a last ditch effort plea to let him know that UCLA was where I felt I belonged and could contribute a diverse perspective to their student body as a woman of color that is from Los Angeles and who desires to serve the patient population locally. I didn’t think this would work and I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone try this approach as it is a real gamble. I did however a few weeks later, receive acceptance from UCLA off the waitlist. It was my first choice and I was elated.
I hope these tips help you in your interview season and beyond. Hit me up with questions via email or in the Forums. What questions do you have about the application process to medical school or residency?
Candice Williams, MD, D. ABA