By Michelle Finkel, MD
Insider Medical Admissions
The following piece was written by Dr. Michelle Finkel. Michelle has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former Harvard Medical School faculty member. She is the founder of Insider Medical Admissions.
You never get a chance to ruin a first impression, and, unfortunately, the stakes are particularly high getting into medical school. It’s important to make sure the fine points of your interview day are smooth and in check. Please take a look at my July Varsity Tutors blog entry on medical interviews for advice on how to let your story show your glory and how to fake it until you make it. Also, check out my August entry reminding you that you can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape. Let’s start by reviewing some subtleties of the interview day.
You can check out anytime. But you can never leave.
One day, years ago as a Harvard faculty member, I was again spending the morning interviewing applicants for our emergency medicine residency program. Over lunch, we discussed each candidate, and one in particular stood out. He was impressive in every way – academics, extracurriculars, commitment to the field. He seemed like the total package. Each of my colleagues who had interviewed him (I had not) spoke very highly of him until we had gone around the room to the last faculty member. This physician paused and then – rather unexpectedly and emphatically – said that he would not recommend ranking the applicant favorably on our Match list.
This statement seemed quite odd, considering the previous rave reviews, and there was a bit of a rumble in the room. The physician continued, explaining that the applicant was from California and had said that he loved California and wished he could stay there. “Why should we rank him highly if he isn’t interested in us?” the faculty member asked his colleagues.
Little did the applicant know that with that one stray remarked, he had completely ruined his chances of a Harvard slot.
So, when interviewing for medical school, watch for the “Hotel California” problem. You do not want an institution to overlook you because you have not convinced them of your willingness to move and be in their city. Show enthusiasm for where you might be for the next few years. It’s a good idea to even spend a few minutes practicing how you would answer questions like, “What do you know about the city we’re in?” or “What will you do during your free time here in Houston?” If you have a social support network in the area, it’s worth mentioning because if the interviewer has qualms about whether you’ll move, she might be reassured. “My brother lives here in St. Louis, and he has loved being here,” might help.
Definitely don’t let on to hesitations you might have about a move. It’s not that geography is not important. On the contrary, I think it is sometimes more important than the reputation of the school. However, there is no reason to harm your candidacy by showcasing your worries about an institution’s location. You can make a pros and cons list about the school’s location once you’re accepted.
There is a psychological principle worth knowing: If someone thinks you like him, he will, in turn, like you more. When I was interviewing applicants, those candidates who had done their research always impressed me. They seemed to be organized, thoughtful, and enthused about our institution. Their enthusiasm often translated into mine.
Before you arrive at your interview, you should know the institution backwards and forwards. Study the website, talk to students who attend, read about the associated hospitals. Be familiar with the school’s curriculum, extracurricular activities, and research opportunities. Have some very specific questions to ask your interviewer that demonstrate your intimate knowledge of the school and your belief that you could be a contributing member of the class. Doing your due diligence will not only demonstrate your keen interest, but it will also help you in making future decisions about where to attend.
In the next entry, I’ll cover more fine points that can make or break your interview day.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.