How to ace your medical school interviews: evidence-based tips

School interviews are considered the most important factor for selecting candidates for medical school. They allow faculty to meet candidates who look good on paper and see how they fare in person. Though thousands apply, only a fraction are offered interviews. Naturally, candidates feel nervous when preparing for these interviews. This is especially true for applicants with multiple interviews since they must prepare for more than one format. Therefore, I’m going to briefly discuss the three main interview types — panel interviews, multiple mini-interviews, and modified personal interviews — and provide evidence-informed tips for each one.

Panel interviews

Panel interviews, the most traditional format, involve multiple interviewers evaluating a single candidate during a single observation; usually, there are three interviewers per one interviewee. This format is dreaded by many because it feels like the interviewers are teaming up on you. Unfortunately, the panel’s ability to select the best candidates for admission is questionable. Since panel interviews only involve seeing the candidate in a single context, the influence of contextual and situational factors (e.g., interviewer personality) can overshadow the candidate’s true ability. Thus, the ability for panel interviews to consistently differentiate between “good” and “bad” interviews — for lack of better words — is low. In other words, it could go either way. While there is a lot of luck involved, I have a couple of tips to help you out:

1. Questions. Many panel interviews will pick your brain with questions about your application, your thoughts on ethical scenarios and personal questions. To prepare for such questions, review your application and how your personal qualities and passions align with the activities you pursued. You can also get a group of friends and discuss ethical scenarios so that you can approach the issue from multiple perspectives.

2. Recreate the interview. As mentioned earlier, the 3-on-1 format of panel interviews can be intimidating. It might be helpful to do practice interviews with people you aren’t close with. This will give you an idea of how it feels to be grilled by people you don’t know well so that this feeling isn’t a surprise during the real interview.

Multiple Mini-Interviews (MMIs)

Unlike the panel interview, the MMI gives you 10 stations — each with a different interviewer — to demonstrate your abilities. This overcomes the contextual and situational influences that the panel suffers from because if something goes wrong in one station, you have nine other stations to make up for it. You are scored based on your average performance across all 10 stations — not your score at a single station. Thus, the MMI is one of the more effective interview methods in terms of being able to consistently discern between “good” and “bad” candidates. Also, the tone of the interview is less intimidating than the panel; many people who have done the MMI even enjoyed it. Contrary to the panel interview, this method is a lot more robust and you can feel reassured that the following tips will help you improve with this format:

1. Questions. The MMI includes some panel-style questions, but there are also scenario-based questions with standardized patients. The tip I gave in the panel section still applies for panel-style questions in the MMI; for the scenario-based questions, look up practice scenarios online and actually act them out with whoever you are practicing with. Make sure your partner gives feedback about the content of your answer and about your roleplay. Themes to focus on are ethical decision-making, critical thinking, communication skills, and knowledge of the health care system.

2. Recreate the Interview. If possible, try to find a few rooms you can use to get the experience of rotating between stations (or walk in and out of a single room). For each station, the prompt will be written on the door; read it, knock on the door, and answer the question or act out the scenario (depending on the question). It is ideal if you are interviewed by a single person since the real MMI will also be done as such.

Modified Personal Interview (MPI)

The MPI is a newer format created by the University of Toronto in Canada. Like the MMI, the MPI offers multiple stations with a single interviewer at each one to overcome contextual and situational influences on the interview outcome. However, the MPI only offers four stations and strictly uses panel-style questions — no scenario-based questions. Each station has an overarching theme that the interviewer pays attention to: self-reflection, ethical decision-making, collaboration and alignment of values with the school. Fortunately, the tone of the MPI is conversational; many interviewees feel comfortable and relaxed while interviewing. Since the MPI has four stations, it has a moderate ability to consistently differentiate between “good” and “bad” candidates — better than the panel, but not quite at the MMI’s level. Nonetheless, I still have a few practice tips for you:

1. Questions. In addition to the overarching themes I mentioned earlier, there are three “sub-themes” present in each station: maturity, communication and interpersonal skills, and caring and conscientiousness. Other than a shift in focus toward the themes mentioned in this section, practice similarly to what I suggested for the MMI.

2. Recreate the interview. Again, you can practice similarly to the MMI except that there will be no roleplay in the MPI — just question and answer. The aforementioned themes are also graded on a 7-point scale, so it might be helpful to have your partner grade you on each theme.

Closing thoughts

Aside from the tips I’ve given, remember to always believe in yourself and try your best. Regardless of which format is “better” than the other, no interview format is perfect. There will always be some people who manage to beat the system, while other deserving candidates fall through the cracks. With respect to the latter, remember that medical school isn’t going anywhere. You can keep applying in subsequent years until you get in — many people do. On that note, I wish you all the best of luck in your interviews.

Dilshan Pieris is a graduate student and can be reached on Twitter @DilshanPieris_.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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