Read Part 1 of this piece here.
All of my interviews were one-on-one, thirty to sixty minute sessions with either a physician, an administrator, or a student (so I can’t speak on what Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) are like). I loved this one-on-one interview style because it felt like a conversation. I also loved the interviews that lasted an entire hour because they felt more comprehensive. The more time I got to ask and answer questions, the more I felt like the interviewer got to know me. Also, I personally tend to get more relaxed as time goes on, and open up more, so it was great to have that extra thirty minutes to recover from any nervous moments that I may have had at the beginning.
As for the questions, some I was prepared for (Was there a moment that solidified your desire to be a physician?) and some I wasn’t (Are you a workaholic?). Others were incredibly detailed and showed me how thoroughly the interviewers had read my application. For instance, in my primary application, I had briefly mentioned that I had observed a gynecological exam while shadowing a doctor, and one of my interviewers asked me to expand on that experience. In that moment, I was so glad that I’d only mentioned pivotal experiences in the application because I was able to talk extensively about that experience in a genuine way. Some applicants may be tempted to embellish the truth, but please don’t do this because the interviewers can spot this immediately. Only mention experiences that truly matter to you.
Beyond these questions, there were also moments when we discussed things that had absolutely nothing to do with medical school. Like my 2+ hour commute to an interview. Or the interviewer’s family. Or the Syrian refugee crisis. I even complimented one interviewer on her shoes! Thinking back on it now, conducting interviews in this conversational way that intersperses serious questions with things you would talk about with just about anyone is actually brilliant because it allows the interviewer to see the many sides of the applicant. Do they know how to go from serious to laughing and back again? Do they have a life outside of the lab and the lecture hall? Do they know how to relax? Can they talk about their experiences in a way that sounds like they’ve done a lot of preparation yet doesn’t sound scripted?
In many ways, this conversational style of interviewing was actually more difficult because I had to know how to walk the line between my professional and “everyday” self. But it’s great practice for what I’ll actually be doing with patients one day: interspersing advice about medication, diet, and skin care in between talking about favorite Grammy performances.
Morning vs. Afternoon
I have a hard time deciding whether the time of the interview matters, at least in my experience, because it honestly depends on so many other things. It’s all about how you feel that day, and it’s impossible to predict that beforehand. Sometimes the morning interviews were great because my mind was fresh and ready to go, and other times, they were not so great because I was exhausted from working the day before or a bad night’s sleep. But like I said in my previous post, it felt good just to get that weight off my shoulders early in the day and then chat with the other applicants and med students. It’s funny, though, because my one afternoon interview ended up being the best interview that I had, and it had virtually nothing to do with the timing. Just before I had to go into the room, I had a couple of moments to decompress and do some deep breathing so I was uncharacteristically calm and collected which made for a great interview. No matter the time of day, I think your mindset ends up being the most important indicator of a successful interview.
My Fellow Applicants
Remember, everyone sitting in those interview waiting rooms earned their opportunity to be there. They’ve all worked incredibly hard, and they all want the same thing as you—to dedicate their lives to helping others live their best lives. It’s easy to be intimidated by that, but I think it’s better to be inspired by it.
With that in mind, I came into all of the interview waiting rooms with the attitude that I wouldn’t treat anybody as my competition, and I was pleasantly surprised that other people did the same. It makes me hopeful that med school will be an environment of camaraderie rather than passive aggressive attempts to beat out the competition. Plus, they were all so interesting and had such diverse stories! And maybe most importantly, I met people who I could be friends with. People with whom I could share the bouts of anxiety and triumph that were sure to come.
It seems like on days when things have to go absolutely right, instead they often go astray. Like how I got lost in the northern Bronx for 20 minutes while trying to get to my interview at Einstein. Or how I had terrible nausea on the train ride to my Mt. Sinai interview and couldn’t stomach anything but a bottle of orange juice from the breakfast spread. Or when my clothes wouldn’t cooperate (uncomfortable shoes, ill-fitting dresses, frizzy hair, etc.). But I love that things didn’t go perfectly because not only do these “mishaps” make for good stories, they’re also humbling. You may be interviewing at some incredible medical schools, but you’re not immune to the ultimate practical joker that is life.
After each interview, I took notes about what happened during the day so that I could reflect on how I did and what I might have done better. I wrote down whatever I could remember about the questions, things I had answered well, things that I needed to improve on, and any interesting facts about the school that I wanted to remember.
Then, I sent thank you cards to each interviewer and also to the admissions office. These were actually a lot of fun to do because they were hand-written (only one school said that they preferred emails), and I never get to hand-write anything anymore! For me, they didn’t feel obligatory whatsoever because I was so grateful to the admissions staff and interviewers for the time and effort that they invested in getting to know all of us.
Three things can happen after an interview: a yes, a no, or a maybe (wait list). It can be nerve-racking waiting for a letter, but I told myself that I did everything that I could, and now, I could sit back, relax, and wait.
Medical schools have lots of ways to measure whether students are qualified to study at their institutions, but an important part of the package of being a qualified applicant is something entirely intangible and immeasurable. Something that can only be seen in between the lines of what you write in your application and say during your interview. Your potential.
I used to think that I’d have to be my best and most developed self by the time I stepped into gross anatomy lab. But I now realize that medical schools just want to see that we’re ready to learn, resilient enough to work through challenging times, and open and committed to the exhilarating adventure that starts when we put on those white coats.
- Before entering the interview room, take slow deep breaths to manage any anxiety so that you can go in calm, collected, and confident.
- Know your application well, and be able to talk about everything in a genuine yet prepared manner.
- Treat your fellow interviewees as friends and not competition.
- Don’t wallow in what could have been better—move past any mishaps.
- Enjoy yourself! Out of numerous applicants, you got an interview. Allow yourself to celebrate that victory and each of the many that are sure to come from all of your hard work.
About Slavena Salve Nissan
Slavena Salve Nissan was born in Baku, Azerbaijan (a former USSR republic) and comes from an ethnic minority known as the Mountain Jews. She moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was 6-years-old and graduated with a major in biology from the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in 2015. She’s planning to start medical school in 2016 and in the meantime, is working as a medical receptionist. She has a lifelong love of both the sciences and the arts and dabbles in cooking, interior design, photography, genealogy, women’s rights, and poetry.