Monday, June 4, 2012

MiM Mailbag: Medical school interview advice

Hi Mothers in Medicine,

I have been reading this blog for a year now, and all of your stories and triumphs (heartache too!) have inspired me to fulfill my dream of being a doctor. I was told when I was 18 that, "if you really want to be a good mother dear you shouldn't be a doctor, I've just never seen anyone be able to pull if off." So I went and did nursing school. A fabulous career, but after three years I am pretty bored and ready for something more challenging. After reading almost every single post on this blog, I've realized I can be a mother and a doctor. I also married a wonderful man who is encouraging me to pursue medicine.

The point of this post is to ask for some help to prepare for my interview. I have one in three weeks with my top medical school pick (an overseas institution, hence the summer interview).
Seeing as many of you (maybe many years ago) all went through the interview process I am asking for any tips, do's/dont's and general advice.
How did you answer that favorite question - "Why do you want to be a doctor?" other than saying, "well I want to help people"... I mean, that's why I want to do it, but doesn't everyone say that?

Warm Regards,



  1. I don't have the mother part of this ensemble down, but I'll still offer my two cents :)

    Most of all, be yourself. An interviewer can pick up on ingenuity quickly. Be prepared to talk about why you applied to/want to be a student at that school, why you want to be in that city/location and what you know about the local area, and what else sets you apart, whether it be research, job experience, etc (in your case, a nursing career that left you wanting more).
    I'd also be professional and conservative in dress (something Grandma would give the thumbs-up), avoid topics of religion and politics, and relax. They want to see that you can carry a conversation, which means not only answering questions but asking some yourself. Do NOT let the end of the interview go like this 'Any questions for us?' 'Nope.' 'Uhh, okay...'
    Good luck!

  2. Well, how about avoiding the 'I want to help people' answer altogether and stand out of the crowd? I mean, we all do want that, but surely there are other reasons? I skipped that one completely and told the guy I was interested in the workings of the human body, and the conversation veered of to physiology (slightly above my then level. that was a challenging interview).

    Other than that, don't stay quiet and embarrassed and just tell them what you think. I think in all those copy/paste answers, they appreciate a little honesty and freshness.

  3. Remember at all times throughout the interview day -- including the tour, waiting in the office, etc. -- that you are auditioning to be a physician. I was very laid-back with a lot of my interviews, and even though I was very professional in the actual interview, I was joking around a lot the rest of the time, and I think it really hurt my chances at a lot of schools.

    Probably won't be a problem for a seasoned, professional nurse such as yourself, but that's my two cents :)

  4. One typical follow-up to wanting to help people question is "Why not be a nurse?" We all know nurses, in many settings, get to have more patient-interaction time and do more of the helping. Talk in terms of your own personal experience in health care. 1) Interviewers like to know you know what you are getting into, so it is good to bring them back to your experiences 2) Your experience/perspective is unique, "wanting to help people," as you say, isn't.

    Maybe your answer is that you've gotten a lot out of being a nurse (insert moving person-helping experience here.) BUT, you don't feel like the field takes advantage of all your skills or challenges you sufficiently to still be engaging years from now. Therefore, from the work you've seen doctors doing, you can see their role would be more fulfilling. You would have the ultimate say on a patient's care instead of trying to advocate for patients in a system where nurses aren't always heard. You know you will miss some of that one-on-one time, but feel like you can do more for your patients higher up the chain of command. And you feel like the challenge of that role will keep you engaged and therefore you will be a better caregiver down the road. ...

    1. Ellen, your advice was GREAT! one person gave me the advice not to bash nursing (which ofcourse I wouldn't do, because we work our butts off!!) but do you think its ok to talk about not being heard? I'm afraid that might show me in a poor light, like I am unable to advocate for my patients. Hopefully they would get my drift that I want to be able to direct the care in a way that I can't as a nurse. How do you think this sounds?

      I feel like I have several factors driving me towards being a doctor. First of all, as a nurse I have discovered that I genuinely love working with people, helping them feel better and see their health improved. However, I am ready for a fulfilling career that uses my skills and abilities on a daily basis, where I can advocate for my patients and have the ultimate responsibility to direct care for my patients. I think I will miss aspects of the bedside role, but I feel like I can do more for my patients as a doctor, than working in a system where nurses are not always heard.

      I have also seen what a difference an effective doctor can make in improving not only the physical health of a patient, but their spiritual, mental and emotional health too. When you improve the entire wellbeing of somebody, you make a difference in the lives of their family too, and there is a ripple effect into the wider community. The success to improving the wellbeing of a patient lies in the joint effort between the patient and the doctor. That relationship involves a strong interpersonal skills and trustworthiness, which I believe I have and is a role I am excited to take on.

      Finally, medicine is appealing to me because it allows you to work in the much broader scheme of healthcare. Beyond the 1:1 patient contact and interpersonal relationships of your own practice, there is a place for health care policy development, academic involvement and facilitating medical research. Integrating all of these spheres into a working life would allow me to operate in a much larger scope than I ever could currently as a nurse. This would allow for a fulfilling career, one that would never be short of challenges and opportunities to keep me engaged – which in end, will cause be to be a better caregiver down the road.

    2. You can do research as a nurse too. I have an NP on my dissertation committee.

  5. I interviewed while pregnant (a story in itself) , and one of the main things I think led to my success was my focus and sense of determination. Spend time researching the school and the program. Mention specific values or research the school prides itself on, and intertwine those details in your "why a doctor" answer. For example, if the school has a student-run clinic that you are interested in that services an underserved population, you could answer (if it is true, of course) " I really enjoy looking at the entire picture and giving someone a diagnosis and plan on how to live a healthier life. As a doctor, I would have the ability to really impact their future..."

    Since you already have that experience, as was previously mentioned, USE IT! Explain why you are choosing to spend more time in school and change careers- they probably will ask it, anyway, so don't shy away from bringing it up if they have not.

    Fun tip- bring flats! You have to walk around a TON in most interviews. I brought heels in my purse for the actual sit-down interview part, and a pair of flats to walk around the campus in. In more than one interview experience, administrators at the schools noticed and applauded my practicality- (i got into both :) )

    1. Hey Liz, thanks for the advice! regarding the flats - I talked to a doctor who recommended I wear flats in the interview. I bought a pair with a little bit of heel, so they aren't typical ballet flats. She thought that would be better than 3 inch heels, as I'm interviewing in a fairly conservative area. they are patent black leather, with a little button on the side. sound ok???

    2. The shoes sound great, definitely better than 3inch heels. Make sure to wear them a bit before so you don't get a blister day of. Also, make sure your suit, shirt is ironed!

  6. This is all fantastic advice that I will also be using as I enter the application process this year! I'm so grateful that this blog exists!

  7. I just finished up my first year, so the interview season is still fairly fresh. All the above comments are wonderful. I would also suggest retreading your application right before your interview, so you know everything you wrote inside and out. Also read the mission statement of the school and review the big programs that make the school unique. It looks good if you can say something specific about an interest or how that program aligns with your goals. Be prepared to discuss some current issues like healthcare reform, ethics etc. you don't have to have a polarizing discussion, but be able to explain the issues on both sides of the debate. I had one interview that grilled ethics and current events, another that barely touched those topics. Definitely have a couple questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Definitely act professionally throughout the day. Not to sounds creepy, but you never know who is watching and how much influence they may have. Look up online for lists of practice questions. Practice answering these until you feel comfortable, but you don't want to give overly canned answers, just be polished. Also, if you get a tough question, take a moment to think about it. It is far better than rambling or saying something dumb that you didn't mean. Lastly, take advantage of the chances to ask questions to get to know the school better. During your tour or lunch, there are usually students who can offer their perspectives. We have several former nurses in my class. They will definitely ask you about it, but it sounds like you have received great advice on answering those questions. Just stay positive and focus on your unique perspective. Good luck! Let me know if you have more specific questions.

  8. I'm not a doctor, but I do work in a field where someone might say they want to do this job because they want to help people. And lemme tell you, if it's just a vague notion that you want to help people that got you into this particular field, you're not gonna last long. Sometimes it feels like you aren't helping anyone! And sometimes you really do realize that you are helping someone. But that's certainly not all there is to it. And it doesn't sound like that's all there is to your desire to be a doctor either! It sounds like you have a strong grounding in other reasons that the field will be good for you. Now, I don't know much about interviewing...I'm just at the beginning of my career...but I imagine you could say something like "well, I want to help people. The reasons I decided to pursue that goal in this particular way are...." Because you could help people by being a doctor or a therapist or a teacher or a managing a non-profit, etc. etc. etc. Tell them why you chose this particular way of helping...what you get out of it/what you enjoy about it beyond the feel-good from helping, why you are well suited to it, what is most engaging about it, etc.

  9. I am a 4th year medical student at SGU and I also applied and interviewed at Ross so in my experience the interviews were not at all stressful. (If this is what you meant by overseas. If not, you may chose to disregard this.)

    The interviews were simply a way to confirm that I knew what I signed up for and that I was the same person that I was on paper. They were trying to sell my the school just as much as they were interviewing me and most of the questions I was asked were in regards to how much I knew about the school and island where I would be living for two years.

    And let them know that you tried nursing and got bored. My best friend at medical school was in the same position and I'm pretty sure she used that as her selling point. But most of all, good luck!

  10. Hey Amy,
    I was a nurse before I went to med school. I second all the other comments--don't *ever* bash nursing (who would?), and have something more than just "I want to help people" in your response. If you want to read my personal statement, you can email me at mamascrub gmail.

  11. I only interviewed at one medical school, but both interviews were very informal, and both interviewers fairly quickly turned to the "so what can we tell you about *institution X"?" It was frustrating, because I wanted to talk about myself more to convince them to let me in!

    BUT, although I did have a few prepared questions about the school (curriculum, research, etc), what was more productive and engaging than anything was to ask the interviewers questions like, "What do you love about it here? Why did you choose *specialty X*? What do you enjoy about teaching medical students and residents?" And I don't mean grill them or make them sell the school to you, but ask because you're genuinely interested in talking to your potential future teachers/colleagues about the profession you're applying to train for.

    Other interviews might be more formal and this may be less appropriate, especially in those MMI format more places are adopting these days, but I found it helped the interview to feel more like a conversation, and flow easily into the next question, and you can share more about yourself in the process and demonstrate your interest.

  12. I would think your previous nursing experience would be a HUGE boon when interviewing for medical school. Most pre-meds (myself included) had no idea what the practice of medicine looked like in the real world. I think if you are asked the "Why do you want to be a doctor" question, consider drawing on your experiences of being a nurse (and yes, keep it positive), maybe acknowledge the overlap between medicine and certain aspects of nursing (i.e. autonomy, procedure, etc), and then answer the question directly.

    I don't know what the answer would be exactly, but there has to be some reason that you've decided to make such a drastic career decision. "Boredom" isn't probably the best way to describe your decision making (not that you would), but explore that idea more. What is it exactly you couldn't do as a nurse that you think you will be able to do as a doctor? Smart doctors have a tremendous respect for nurses, I think the answer you come up with will be far more intriguing than the canned answers provided by the other pre-meds.

  13. Hi Amy,
    Exciting! Have a good one-liner (or few sentences) about yourself, who you are, and what you are proud of, and why they want you in their med school.

    Though this is for applying to residencies, you might find it of some moderate help:


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