By Michelle Finkel, MD
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.
Success at your medical school interview can hinge on subtle components of the day that you might not even consider to be influential until it's too late for damage control. Several of those points were covered in my last Varsity Tutors’ blog entry, which included two important topics that I called You can check out anytime; but you can never leave and That’s amore. Please also 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, and my August entry emphasizing that You can run; you can hide; but you can’t escape. Now, let’s review some more nuances of the interview day.
Shiny Happy People Holding Hands
In an effort to attract desirable applicants, some medical schools invite candidates to social events immediately before or during the interview day. These events may include dinner, lunch, or an optional hospital tour with students. Some institutions will even offer an optional happy hour the night before to meet the schools’ current medical students.
It's in your interest to attend these events; they show schools that you are serious about their programs, afford you the opportunity to score social points, and allow you to gain valuable information about students' satisfaction. These events are also an opportunity to get to know other applicants whom you might end up seeing next year as fellow class members. Finally, the social events allow you to relax a bit and perhaps even get to know the city surrounding the school. However, there is a caveat you’ll want to know before you attend these events: Ensure you act professionally, and disregard promises that what you say will not affect your candidacy or get back to Admissions. Even if everyone has good intentions, information garnered from these events can make its way to decision-makers. If you had a bad experience at the interview day, hate the city the school is in, or know your first choice is a different school, these social events are not the time to reveal that information to current medical students. Don't unwittingly provide the torpedo that sinks your candidacy. Importantly, this rule is especially pertinent for those applicants who choose to stay at students’ houses or dorms. Be friendly, but don’t blab. Keep your ears open to hear what students think are the pros and cons of their institutions, but don’t feel obligated to share your negative opinions. Remember that once you are accepted, you can always be more explicit about your concerns and ask frank questions to current students.
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Speaking of being frank, applicants have valid personal reasons for considering an institution less desirable than another. These may include family or health concerns, or a significant other’s opinion or career. Certain personal details are not the business of the interviewer and are considered off limits. However, if you are sitting in a small room with a faculty member whose opinion will largely affect your professional future and you are asked a personal question, it may be hard to maintain your privacy.
When I was interviewing for residency, an interviewer asked me if I had a boyfriend. As it turned out, he asked all of the women who interviewed that day that exact same question. (We spoke to each other confidentially after the interview day had ended.)
Why would the interviewer pose an illegal question like this, and what should you do if you are asked? Likely, the interviewer is trying to get a sense for whether you are serious about an institution. If you have a significant other or children, their concerns may affect your decision-making. Again, this line of questioning is illegal and distasteful, but, sadly, there are still interviewers who might pose these questions to assess your interest in their institutions.
If you are asked these types of questions, you can simply answer if it's not objectionable to you, or respond by addressing the intent of the question without revealing personal information. For example, you could say, “I think what you’re asking me is whether I am serious about this medical school, and I can assure you I would be thrilled to receive an acceptance and matriculate here.” Alternately, you can also decline to answer the question; of course, this tactic might cost you the position you are seeking – as unfair as that is.
(In my case, I answered the question, but then mentioned the incident to a faculty member at my school who had trained at the residency where I had been interviewed. The faculty at my school later told me the interviewer had been dismissed from his admissions responsibilities.)
Next month, I’ll offer more tips on the medical interview process.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.