05 March 2007

Interviewing for medical school

You have filled out that AMCAS or ACCOMAS application and you receive an invitation to interview from one of the medical schools that you have chosen to apply to. It has been a long wait but now you have moved closer to your goal by one step. Your next goal is to maximize your chances of acceptance now that you have received an interview.

First of all, you need to schedule your interview. Logistics should play a huge part in this process. Don't schedule a medical school interview during exam week at your undergraduate institution. You will be under stress to do well on your exam and you don't need the added stress of an important interveiw to add to this mix. Don't schedule a medical school interview if you have planned any major dental or medical work either. You do not want to show up for an interveiw with cheeks that look like a chipmunk or not being able to speak clearly. Try to keep your major dental/medical procedures away from interview season.

You need to look at your means of travel to the interview site. My rule-of-thumb is that you should not drive unless the distance one-way is less than 100 miles. If the distance is between 100 and 200 miles, you should plan on taking a bus or train. If the distance is more than 300 miles, you should fly. If you have a driving trip of more than 100 miles, you will have more than 2 and 1/2 hours in the car with this trip. Even under the best of traffic circumstances, you may experience delays due to construction, motor vehicle collisions etc, that greatly add to the stress that you are already under. If you have the option, drive to the interview site the evening before and stay overnight.

If you are taking the bus, train or plane, you should definitely plan on an overnight stay. While the expense of a hotel room adds to the costs of application, this is money well spent. If you arrive the evening before, make sure that you KNOW the route to the interview location. Do a MapQuest, MSN Maps or Google Map search (satellite photos too) and know the route from your hotel to the site. You also need to know how long the trip will take so that you can allow extra time for increased traffic (especially a problem in urban areas) and your cabbie getting lost. Pack your maps in your carry-on baggage so they will be with you.

If you make plane, bus or train reservations, be sure that you do not schedule your return trip so tight that you are rushed during the interview day. Walking into the interview site with the demands that you have to be done in time to catch a flight creates a very negative impression. If you end up having to stay an extra day, then you won't risk your career over an airline, train or bus schedule. Beware of discount air fares and scheduling. Put more laxity into your schedule not less. Again, know how long it takes to get to the airport, train station or bus station from your hotel or from where ever you are leaving and allow for things like "rush" hour or construction. (Boston & DC are notorious for these hang-ups).

If you did not drive and you have an extra day, you can use that extra day to unwind and relax. Even if you drove, it's not a bad idea to stay overnight, rest from the stress, take some extra time to look around the city and then drive home in the morning when you are rested, informed and refreshed. There is no substitute for keeping your mental health in order throughout this process.

Once you have decided on your transportation, decide on your attire. Your attire should be business attire. This means suit and tie for men and professional (suit, business dress or pantsuit) for women. Women should wear no heel higher than 1 and 1/2 inches and shoes should be well "broken-in". Most interviews involve a walking tour which becomes downright hazardous if you are teetering around on 3-inch heels. Use a check-off list as you pack and don't forget things like small stud earrings (for women), nice conservative cufflinks for men, clean hankerchief and conservative tie. (Men-take the diamond stud out of your ear; women-no dangly earrings and take the stud/ring out of your nose) For both, get rid of the tongue ring.

If you travel by air, curb/runway check your interview suit. This means that your garment bag will go in the plane just before you get on and will be waiting at the entrance of the jetway as you get off. DO NOT "counter-check" your interview attire and do not crush your suit in a small carry-on bag. You may find that you cannot remove wrinkles if you stuff your suit into anything. Carefully pack your entire outfit (use a check list), toiletries in doubly-wrapped small containers placed in a toiletries bag and an extra shirt, underwear and socks into your garment bag. You can pack a separate bag with fitness clothing, travel clothing etc. Also, check the airline regulations in terms of what you can pack and carry on.

You should travel in the most comfortable clothing possible. For me, that is jeans or scrubs, running shoes and a T-shirt. Your interview clothing should NOT be your traveling attire even if you are making the drive to the site in the morning. You should arrive, change into your suit and then attend your interview. Nothing can ruin your day like spilling coffee or dripping something onto your interview clothing. You can also scuff your shoes if you drive in them. Again, if you can arrive the night before the interview, you will have plenty of time to make sure that your suit is pressed, clean and ready to go.

Men should be well groomed with beard or moustache neatly trimmed. You should invest in a professional haircut or style (if you wear dreds, pull them back neatly). You should NOT wear any cologne as your interviewer may be allergic. Use rubbing alcohol or ice-water if you can't live without aftershave. Make sure that you have no dandruff flakes or lint on that nice conservative suit.

Women should have a conservative hair style. If you have hair that reaches your collar, put your hair up. While three feet of hair may be your signature, fussing with it on an interview makes you look instantly unprofessional. If you have braids or dreds, pull them back and get them off of your collar. If you wear a head dress (for religous reasons), then make sure that it is neat. As I said above, no dangly earrings, nose rings or tongue rings. Try to make sure that your tatoos are covered. Keep your hair out of your face (get a good cut or style) and don't fuss with your hair. Nail polish should be a conservative color (not black) or clear. Keep rings to a minimum along with other jewelry. Watch, conservative earrings and wedding/engagement rings are enough. Keep the cologne to a minimum (none is best), keep make-up to small amount of foundation, powder and lipstick with NO eyeshadow or mascara). Check your make-up in front of a window in daylight. If you can see make-up, you are wearing too much. Also, put on your makeup before you put on your blouse. Makeup is difficult to remove from a white blouse or shirt. Don't wear a short, short skirt that shows too much when you sit.

Things to bring with you: A COPY of all correspondence that you have sent this school. If anything is missing, you can provide your return receipt and your copy. A copy of your personal statement and secondary - often interview questions will come from these documents. Bring these items in a folder along with an index card where you can write the names of anyone (office staff, dean of admissions, interviewer etc) that was especially helpful to you for thank-you notes. You should write your thank-you note to the Dean of Admissions with courtesy copies to everyone who helped you out on interview day especially current medical students and office staff.

Also, as I mentioned above, place your Driving Directions from hotel, your index card, your documents, your tickets, your hotel reservation confirmation numbers and any other vital information in your folder which you will carry in a portfolio or case. Include any important phone numbers on this folder such as Number to the Office of Admissions (you can call if there is an emergency delay), number to the hotel etc. I also liked to place a schedule of the day, if you have received this information. For most schools, you can download a campus map (great for getting around) which should be in your interview day folder.

When I arrived at the medical school, I went to the ladies (mens) room, checked my shoes, checked my hose and popped in a breath mint (no gum please). I also checked back and front of my suit, checked my make-up (just a bit of powder and lipstick). Do a last minute check of the hair and head into your interview confident and energetic.

Be early, I repeat, be early. This is not an interview to be late. If the school is late, be early. Rushing into an interview looks unprepared and very unprofessional. Be cordial to your fellow interviewees and to all staff (especially the cleaning personnel). Hold doors for people who come in behind you. Guys do not need to hold chairs for women but holding a door for anyone is just common politeness. Don't forget to speak to everyone but don't be "overly" friendly or formal. Your fellow interviewees are not your buddies nor are they your competition.

Nerves are very much a part of this process. Another good reason for arriving at the interview the night before, is that you can go down to the hotel's fitness center and "work off" some of your nerves. Don't let your nerves cause you to: chatter too much, bite your fingernails, fuss with your hair, chew gum, constantly clear your throat (get a sip of water if all of your saliva is drying up) or get depressed. A small amount of stress can make you appear energetic but too much can make you appear frantic. Before you leave home, look at yourself sitting, standing and walking. Observe how you hold your head, hands and shoulders. Guys, do the old "anchorman's trick" and pull your suit jacket down so that it doesn't ride up at the shoulders when you sit down. Practice calming yourself in front of the mirror.

Don't eat or drink anything that has the potential to spill. If you are ravenous, have breakfast before you leave the hotel so that you are not covered with powdered sugar from the donuts when you enter the interviewers office. Avoid coffee or if you must have coffee, fill the cup half-full and be very, very careful. Avoid spaghetti or foods like fried chicken, that must be eaten with your hands. Avoid anything with spill potential. Check your teeth after lunch. You can always nibble at lunch and have a good meal on your own later after the interview. Avoid sugary sodas and energy drinks too. These can cause a caffeine/sugar rush followed by a huge depression if you over-indulge.

Your medical school interview is a time for the interviewer to get to know you. Your individual interviews will "sell" you to the rest of the committee. Don't make the mistake of trying to anticipate what you believe the interview "wants" to hear. Answer each question truthfully and carefully. Take your time and don't blurt out anything. BE sure to shake hands with the interviewer upon entering the office (unless you have been greeted elsewhere) and when you leave. Make eye-contact and don't be put off if your interviewer is rude or rushes. Being able to redirect is a good characteristic. Redirect if the interview gets off course.

When your day is done, try to relax. Resist the urge to re-play the entire interview in your mind. You are far too subjective to have good recall and you always have the tendancy to believe that the interview went worse than it actually did. If you are taking a plane, train or bus, you can relax and enjoy the scenery. If you are driving, relax a bit before you drive home. Even better is to change into your comfortable traveling clothes and relax before attempting to drive home. Don't drive home in your interview suit (you may need it for your next interview). Be sure to prepare for the weather where you will be interviewing by checking Accuweather http://www.accuweather.com any other national weather service like The Weather Channel.

On a final note, if you are staying with a student host, bring along a small gift. This can be Starbuck's gift certificates, Bed, Bath and Beyond gift certificates, any restaurant chain gift certificate or something small for the house or apartment. (Remember that they are saving you to cost of a hotel room so make the gift of appropriate value.) Bring your own towels and soaps and clean up after yourself. Check your host's schedule and make sure that you do not interfere with their study routine. Offer to take them to dinner or breakfast if possible and be sure to write a "thank-you letter" (with a courtesy copy to the Dean of Admissions). Do not expect your student host to entertain you but you should have some questions for your host and ask when they have a bit of time to answer them. Plan on providing your own transportation to and from the interview site, the airport etc. It's nice if they offer but don't plan on your host being your cabbie.

Finally, enjoy your interview. This is an opportunity for you to get the "feel" of the medical school. Take some time (outside of the interview day schedule), walk around, talk to students and get the feel of the campus. Are there plenty of safe and comfortable places to study? Do the students have social events? Do you NEED a car? Where do students live? Find out what you need to spend three years (fourth year is often away electives) in this place.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips, Dr. NJBMD - all good ideas that we sometimes forget.


Linda Abraham said...

Great post. I posted a few more suggestions at http://blog.accepted.com/acceptedcom_blog/2007/3/6/med-school-admissions-great-post-on-interviews.html .

Hope said...

Hi there,
Thanks for your advice. Ireally enjoy your blog; it's really helpful. I just finsihed an interview (I don't think it went very well...Oh..I don't know..) Anyhow, can you expand a bit more on writing the thank you note? You say to write to dean with a courtesy copy to everyone else, but should I include specifics for the interview? And do you mean to write a general letter of thanks to the dean and enclose separate notes to each interviewer --asking the dean to pass those along? Thanks again. Hope you see my question :)

Sigh... It has been a long day!