What to Ask During Your Medical School Interview

What You Need to Know to Choose the Best School for You

Medical School Interview
Bpsusf/Flickr

Interviews are all about questions — not only for the applicant but for the interviewer as well. Most medical school applicants spend a great deal of time considering what they might be asked and how they will respond. No doubt about it, you will be grilled during your interview for medical school. Although tips for applying to medical school abound, many med school interview candidates don't realize is that the interview is also a time to ask questions.

In fact, you will even be judged on the quality of your questions.

Asking good questions is important because it shows that you are informed and interested in the program. More importantly, it is only by asking relevant questions that you will gather the information needed to determine if a particular medical school is right for you. The med school admissions committee is not just interviewing you — you are interviewing them. Too often candidates take the position that they will attend any school that admits them. Remember that you need to choose a program that is a good match for you. It is only by asking questions that you can accurately determine that.

What Not To Ask

One caveat about asking questions: Remember to do your homework. You should already know a lot about the program. Your questions should never ask about simple information that can be gleaned off of the website. You are expected to be aware of such materials.

Instead, your questions should probe and follow up on what you have already learned.

Never ask any personal questions of the interviewer either — unless they specifically relate to how that person enjoys the environment, classes or professors of that med school. Steer clear of questions whose answers don't help you understand the program better or that delve too deeply into the person sitting in front of you (though polite questions like "how are you?" are completely fine in conversation).

This is your chance to get to know the school, not the interviewer. That said, it is important to tailor your questions to your interviewer. For example, ask quality of life questions that the interviewer, as a resident of the school, would know the answers to. 

Curriculum and Evaluations

One of the primary reasons to choose one medical school over another is the courses offered specifically in that program. Therefore it is important to ask if there are any special programs for which this medical school is notably special. It's even better to ask about specific programs you've researched on the school website or course catalog. 

Since most medical programs are slightly different with how they handle clinical application years, it is also important to ask the interviewer to describe the curriculum during the pre-clinical and clinical years and if there is any flexibility in the coursework (how many electives are offered and the timing of the courses). What makes this program different than another similar program you've discovered at another school? What difference is there in teaching style? Questions like these will help you determine if the medical school you're applying to is the right fit.

Evaluation of students can also be drastically different from one institution to another. If the website or course catalog does not specifically cover the topic, you should ask your interviewer how students are academically evaluated and what the course of action is should a student perform poorly. How does the school assist students who do not pass? Clinical evaluations, similarly, can be carried out differently from school to school, so you should also ask about their process for such. 

The future of students attending this particular med school can also help you determine whether or not you can achieve your goals as a student by attending. Asking how do students from this medical school perform on the National Board Examinations (percentage-wise) and which residency programs the recent graduates were accepted to can shed some light on the likelihood an education at this program will improve your chances of getting into the residence of your choice.

If you have a narrower idea of where you'd like to attend medical school, perhaps asking what clinical sites are available (rural, urban or private) and if students are permitted to do rotations at other institutions will provide more insight into the program's offerings. 

Resources and Faculty-Student Interactions

Speaking of resources, it is important that at the end of the interview you understand exactly what tools the program has to help you along your college career. Ask about the library and electronic journal database access — is it, in the interviewer's opinion, adequate for all the current medical information you will need. Further, what computer and technology resources are available to students? It is critically important, especially in modern times, that the program offers adequate resources, so don't hesitate to ask for clarification on any of their availability. 

Also, finding out what kind of academic, personal, financial and career counseling services are available can help you better understand how well the program cares for the individual needs of its students. If you are a minority or special interest group, you may want to know the diversity of the student body and any support services or organizations for ethnic minorities and women the school may offer. If you are married, asking if there are services available for spouses and dependents will alleviate some of your concerns with family issues. 

In terms of faculty-student interactions, you may want to know how each advisor is assigned and what the working relationship with students is throughout the program. This typically includes work on faculty research, so you may want to ask how that gets assigned and if students are given the opportunity to design, conduct and publish their own research. 

Financial Aid

Medical school can be expensive — very expensive — so asking about what kinds of financial aid are offered could be imperative to the pursuit of your medical school degree. You should ask the interview how common it is for students to have unmet needs in their financial aid package and how these students come up with the extra funds.

Perhaps someone is available to assist students with financial aid, budgeting, and financial planning

In any case, it is important that before you finish the interview you have a bit more comfort in how you will manage to pay for your tuition and degree. Asking a variety of questions surrounding financial aid, including clarifying exactly what the expected cost of tuition will be, can help give you this piece of mind. 

Student Involvement

It's important to remember that you are paying for your education and you alone are responsible for making the most of your education. One of the best ways to ensure this (other than choosing professors and courses suited best to you) is to get involved on campus and in the program itself. Ask your interviewer what medical school committees have student representation and what opportunities exist for students to provide program feedback and participate in curriculum planning. This will allow you more freedom to influence your program to most benefit your curriculum goals. Similarly, the student council or government involvement may be an important question to ask. 

In terms of the valuable on-the-job experiences that will go toward future residence applications, community service also plays a key role in your education. You may consider asking if most students are involved in those activities and which community service opportunities are available to students. It might even be a requirement of completing your degree, so it's best to ask the interviewer exactly how the program regards and encourages student involvement. 

Campus Policies

As a student entering the medical field, you should understand the importance of an institution's response to medical emergencies and virus outbreaks. Consider asking your interviewer what the protocol is for dealing with student exposure to infectious diseases. Are vaccinations provided against Hepatitis B or prophylactic AZT treatment in case of a needle-stick or accident?

There are many more campus policy questions you could ask depending on your lifestyle, career goals, and medical needs as a student. For instance, if you are a student living with a disability, you might consider asking if disability insurance is provided by the school. If you hope to fast-track your degree, you may ask about the possibility of taking on a heavier course load. Inversely, if you are working full-time and hope to only enroll in night classes, you may ask what the campus policy is for attendance and when courses are offered, specifically. If you anticipate a loved one passing or needing critical care and you are forced to leave school, you may ask what the grievance procedure is for the institution.

Location and Quality of Life

If you're relocating to the area for school — especially if the interview happens to coincide with your first visit to its location — you may want to ask specific questions about the city and campus standard of living. Asking what the housing facilities are like and if most students live on or off campus is perfectly acceptable as long as the information has not already been provided on the website (do your research first).

Even personal lifestyle questions like what the neighborhood is like and what kind of stores and restaurants are around are okay to ask in this vein of questioning. Commuting may become an issue if you choose off-campus housing. You should ask your interviewer if a car is necessary and what public and school transit options are available if you choose to do so. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

The answers the interviewer gives to all of the above questions should serve to give you a better understanding of what being a student of the medical school will entail. Once you've completed the interview, it's time to review your notes and ask yourself a few questions that will help you decide if the program is truly right for you. 

Start with the core curriculum and education program offered. Does this school provide training in the type of medicine you want to practice — primary versus specialized care, urban versus rural practice, academic medicine or private practice education? Is the program specific (or broad) enough to meet the needs of your professional goals? Do you like the professors you've researched or heard about in the program? These questions will guide you to the most important facet of choosing a program: is it the right fit for me?

If yes — and you have more than one "yes" program — you should then examine how you feel about the school itself and the neighborhood you'll be living to attend classes. Compare the perks and disadvantages of attending each of the programs that suit your educational needs. Will you be happy at the school? In the neighborhood? If you've answered yes to all of these, you've found the program for you!