“Wow—my first medical school interview!” I shouted to my parents breathlessly. I could hardly believe it. And it was at a top choice school for me in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Although being invited for an interview by no means guaranteed that I would be accepted, I found myself daydreaming about all the world-famous physicians I could work with there and the endless career possibilities that would potentially be at my fingertips.
I was also practically planning my weekends there already. I had visions of elegant restaurants, nights at the opera, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
I scheduled the interview the very same day that I received the letter and quickly booked the Amtrak and hotel reservations. I probably should have been nervous for the interview, but I was truly excited about the chance to discuss my dreams of a medical career with an individual who was in the profession I aspired to join. I saw every aspect of the trip as an adventure to be savored.
Interview day was on a blustery cold winter day in December. Although it was overcast and gloomy on that particular day, it was like a sunny day in paradise for me. I was elated to be there, and as the song says, I was “walking on sunshine.”
However, things did not go exactly as planned. Of all the medical school interviews I had, one of the interviews I had that day stands out in my mind even to this day. Although it is not possible to anticipate every interview question that could arise, there are certainly more common ones that you will most likely encounter in some way, shape, or form. I was anticipating one of those types of questions. My interviewer, who was an older gentleman, had an air of sternness about him that did somewhat temper my excitement, at least inwardly. He had my MCAT scores in his hand and said to me in an austere voice, “Regarding your verbal reasoning score, are you illiterate?”
I felt my face flush and beads of perspiration appeared on my temples. Thoughts suddenly raced through my mind at a lightning-paced speed. “Yikes—did I just hear what I think I heard? Did he just ask me if I were illiterate? Is that even possible?” The interviewer seemed to be in a chair that was several feet higher than mine—or so it seemed to me that day. It also seemed that the interview room was longer than it was wide, but perhaps that is because I felt like the room was closing in on me.
I took a deep breath, smiled politely, and answered the only way that I knew how—honestly. I said, “No, sir. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I just read very slowly and carefully so that I did not miss any critical points. Unfortunately, because of this, I ran out of time and did not finish the section.”
He did not comment further on this, and I do not remember what other questions he asked me, but I left the interview thinking that I did not pass muster because of that one question.
After the interview, my dad asked me hopefully, “How did it go?” I meekly replied, “Well…” in the same way that Vivian Vance had answered on the show “I Love Lucy” when she had to explain another Ethel and Lucy misadventure.
As hard as it was to accept, I felt I had to scratch this school from my list of hopefuls. However, exactly two weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was accepted and with a four-year scholarship.
For some time, I was perplexed about being accepted and offered a scholarship to a school where I had what I had interpreted as a less than successful interview. At the time, I did not understand the purpose of the question. After reflecting upon the interview question years later, I realized what the interviewer was trying to accomplish. He was trying to test me to see if I would lose my composure.
Why is this so important? Although the vast majority of patients and families will be polite and kind to you, occasionally, a patient or family member may appear angry with you. In reality, they are most likely upset with the situation and not with you; they are frightened and tested beyond their limits.
Always maintain your composure and professional demeanor and look for the suffering human heart behind the seemingly angry words. Always answer respectfully, honestly, and deferentially.
Your interviewers want to know that you will not lose your composure or become defensive with a patient. Whether you have a traditional interview or a Multiple Mini Interview with an actor who appears to be asking you provocative questions, above all, remain calm and answer with compassion and humility. A little bit of equanimity goes a long way.
The best way to feel confident going into your interview is to be absolutely sure you’ve taken the right steps to prepare. A mock interview and feedback from an Accepted admissions expert will provide you with personalized guidance and feedback and help you put your best foot forward on interview day. Contact us to get started!Dr. Elena Nawfel acquired her B.A. at Harvard, earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts, did her residency at the Lahey Clinic, where she also served on the Lahey Clinic Internal Medicine Residency Recruitment Committee, and trained in Medical Oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. After completing her medical studies, she was a Fulbright scholar in Medical Ethics. Want Elena to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!