Types of Medical School Interviews and What to Expect

Doctors shake hands in interview

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After you’ve applied, the wait for medical school interviews can be excruciating. When it does happen, take heart in the fact that the admissions committee has thoroughly vetted your application and determined that you have the ability to handle the rigorous curriculum. But it takes more than that to be a good doctor, so schools interview potential students to assess their interpersonal skills

Medical schools differ in their approach to the interview process. You will be interviewed by at least one medical school faculty member. Other members of the admissions committee, including upper level medical students, may also conduct interviews. Schools also vary with respect to the interview format. The traditional, one-on-one interview is the most common approach. However, novel formats such as the multiple mini interview (MMI) are gaining popularity. Below are some of the most commonly used formats by U.S. and Canadian medical schools.

Closed File Traditional Interview

A “closed-file” interview is a one-on-one interview in which the interviewer does not have access to your application materials. It is your job to introduce yourself. Interviews may be partially closed, where the interviewer may have access to your essays or other questions, but know nothing about your GPA or MCAT score. 

There is no way to predict what you will be asked, but you should be prepared to answer common questions. You will likely be asked about your motivations to be a doctor. “Tell me about yourself,” is another common question. Know why you are interested in this specific medical school. Stories are more powerful than vague generalities, so think about specific experiences, accomplishments, or failures that may have led to your decision to pursue medicine.

“Relax and be yourself,” is a platitude, but the advice can be useful nonetheless. Rehearse your answers without memorizing them. The interviews are meant to assess your communications skills, and answers that sound scripted are a turnoff for most interviewers. Don’t fake interests or tell interviewers what you think they want to hear. An experienced interviewer can expose this kind of fakery with a few follow-up questions.

Remember that your interviewer may ask you about anything you have described in your application, so be ready to talk about any research, community service, or other activities that you have included.

Open File Traditional Interview

In the “open file” format, the interviewer has access to all your application materials, and may choose to review them at his or her discretion. Preparation for this type of interview is similar to that for the closed file interview, except that you should be prepared to answer questions about poor performance on any courses or other irregularities on your academic record. Be honest. Don’t be evasive or make excuses. Talk about circumstances which may have led to your poor performance. Importantly, explain why those circumstances are no longer an obstacle. 

Remember that your interviewer may ask you about anything you have described in your application, so be ready to talk about any research, community service, or other activities that you have included.

Panel Interview

In this format, the candidate meets with a “panel” or group of interviewers at the same time. The panel will likely consist of faculty from different clinical or basic science departments. Medical students often make up part of interview panels. 

Be prepared for the same types of common questions that you may be asked in a one-on-one interview. Be sure to address each interviewer, not just the one who is the most senior or who is asking the most questions. Keep in mind that each member of the panel brings a slightly different perspective to the process. A good strategy is to answer each question directly, but to build on your answer with examples which address the perspectives of other interviewers. 

Students may feel anxious over the prospect of being asked questions simultaneously by multiple people. You can control the pace of the interview by remaining calm and answering questions slowly and deliberately. Don’t get flustered if interrupted. Simply pivot to the next question, or politely ask to finish your thought before addressing the follow up question. 

Group Interview

In a group interview, one or more admissions officers interview a group of candidates simultaneously. The admissions committee wants to determine how well you work with others, assess your leadership qualities, and evaluate your communication skills. Though the questions may be similar to a traditional one-on-one interview, the group setting alters the dynamics of the interaction. Interviewees are each given a chance to answer successive questions. Candidates may also be asked to work together to solve a problem collaboratively. 

A successful group interview requires you to be a good listener. Do not “space out” while others are talking. Try instead to refer to information or ideas presented by other candidates. Be confident, but not cocky. It is possible to be a leader without dominating the interview. You can demonstrate your leadership qualities by simple things such as listening well, treating others with respect, and including all group members when you formulate your answers.

Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)

The multiple mini interview (MMI) format consists of six to ten stations which are built around a specific question or scenario. These stations, or “mini interviews” usually consist of a two-minute prep period during which you are given a prompt and are allowed to reflect on your response. Then you are given five to eight minutes to discuss your answer or play out the scenario with your interviewer. Interview stations may consist of the following:

  • An interaction with a standardized patient.
  • An essay writing station
  • A traditional interview station
  • A station where candidates must work together to complete a task
  • An ethical scenario

The MMI is meant to test your interpersonal skills, communication abilities, and your capacity to think critically about ethical problems. It does not test for specific medical or legal knowledge.

Many students find the MMI format stressful. But when compared to the traditional one-on-one interview format, it does offer several advantages for candidates. The MMI format offers the student a chance to interact with many different interviewers, and is not so dependent on a single conversation with one specific person. Also, each MMI question or scenario is preceded by a short reflection period, which would not be available in a traditional interview.

The time constraint distinguishes the MMI format from the traditional interview. Sample questions are widely available online, and rehearsal with friends is the best way to learn how to articulate a cogent answer in the time allotted. Although the admissions committee is not trying to test for specific knowledge, it may be helpful to read beforehand about hot topics in health care. Also, familiarize yourself with bioethics principles. Many students are not used to approaching ethical questions in a systematic, rather than an emotional, way.