How to Ace Your Med School Interviews

Canadian medical school acceptance rates are incredibly low, hovering between 4 and 10 percent. To increase your odds, you need to thoroughly prepare for every step of the lengthy application process. Preparing for medical school interviews is especially important because they are your first live encounter with admissions committee members, giving you the opportunity to showcase the skills that you highlighted in your written application. 

Effectively preparing for your interviews will help you confidently tackle whatever questions or scenarios come your way. We’ve got a few of the most common medical school interview questions for you to prepare with. Before we dive into those, let’s go over the different interview formats used by Canadian medical schools today. 

Medical School Interview Formats 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, medical schools have opted to host their interviews online this year. We’ve got a list of virtual interview tips to help you prepare for this change in setting. Don’t forget to make sure your device is fully charged and that your Wi-Fi is stable!

Although interviews are virtual, medical schools are still using the familiar interview formats: 

  • Modified Personal Interviews 
  • Panel Interviews
  • Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)

Regardless of which interview format you encounter, your interviewers will be current medical students and/or residents, faculty, and practicing medical professionals. Let’s take a look at the different formats in more detail. 

Modified Personal Interviews 

This interview format is used exclusively by the University of Toronto. In this format, you sit through four interviews with four different interviewers. Each interview lasts for about twelve minutes with three minutes in between to allow for a quick breather or a drink of water before the next one. 

Panel Interviews 

Instead of speaking with interviewers individually, a panel interview presents you with three or four interviewers simultaneously. 

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs)

MMIs are the most common and the least predictable interview format. In an MMI, you’ll rotate through a series of stations, each lasting eight to ten minutes. The way you’re assessed at each station may differ, ranging from a standard one-on-one interview to role play scenarios in which you have to act out a given problem and come up with a solution. 

Each university that uses MMIs customizes the stations to specifically assess the skills, qualities and characteristics they’re seeking in an applicant. MMIs help them identify those who are likely to excel at their particular program. As a result, the kinds of questions or scenarios and even the number of stations can differ from one university to another. 

Now that we’ve defined the different interview formats, let’s explore some of the most common interview questions.  

Question #1: Tell Me About Yourself 

We’ll start with a question that many applicants dread. While it’s easy to give long-winded answers to this question, it’s actually an invitation to answer creatively and strategically. Because it’s so open-ended, it can be approached in a variety of equally impressive ways. However, there are still certain elements that you need to include to give a comprehensive answer. 

Firstly, be honest and authentic. They’re interested in who you are and in how your skills will benefit their program as well as the medical profession. Giving clichéd responses won’t help you stand out, regardless of the effectiveness of your communication skills. To stand out, you have to discuss your unique personality traits and skill-sets. 

This is a great opportunity to mention some of the experiences that have shaped you and that you didn’t get a chance to discuss in detail in your application. When selecting which traits and accomplishments to share, make sure you’re selecting ones that demonstrate the CanMEDS framework. This is a list of seven qualities that Canadian doctors need to have in order to effectively care for their patients. It also forms the foundation of Canadian medical education. 

Admissions committees are always on the lookout for applicants who demonstrate these qualities or in whom these qualities can be nurtured. Where possible, make sure your interview answers demonstrate the CanMEDS qualities you possess!

The University of Ottawa also has a few great suggestions on how to answer this question. Although their answer is tailored to residency interviews, it’s applicable for medical school interviews as well. 

They suggest you keep your answer between one and two minutes long. They also suggest including the following: 

  • Background information that explains why you want to pursue medicine, including experiences that led you to this path 
  • Your education background 
  • Three of your relevant accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of 
  • Some personality traits and hobbies 

When answering this question, avoid going into unnecessary detail, especially about information that your interviewers already know. Use these precious couple of minutes to shed light on other important aspects of your profile that speak to who you are and will help you stand out from your competitors. 

You don’t have to exclusively discuss personality traits and hobbies that are directly related to medicine. For example, mentioning that you participate in horseback riding competitions or art exhibits is a great way to raise your interviewers’ interest and give them a holistic picture of who you are. Besides, these hobbies could certainly help you build skills that are important and transferrable to medicine. Creativity, perseverance, and determination are just a few great examples! 

Question #2: What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

To identify your strengths, look once again to the CanMEDS roles. Which of those do you possess? Can you tell a short anecdote to exemplify it to the admissions committee? The point of using an anecdote is to demonstrate that you possess these strengths by describing times where you had to use them.

For example, maybe one of your strengths is that you’re great at conflict resolution and this has allowed you to thrive in collaborative work environments (such as clubs or group projects) in which you’ve needed to maintain peace in a group in order to achieve your goals. This example hits two birds with one stone. It demonstrates that you’re able to work well in a team and that you have the patience, sound judgement and leadership skills to resolve conflicts.

Listing your weaknesses requires just as much strategy. You want to be honest and realistic without putting yourself in a sticky situation or unintentionally raising any red flags. To decide on your answer, consider asking your supervisors, managers, or fellow colleagues for their honest and critical feedback. What are some qualities that they think you could improve on? Make a list of everyone’s responses and choose the ones that are relevant and that you’re working on improving. 

You also likely possess weaknesses that you’re already aware of. So take some time to reflect and self-assess. This requires a great deal of self-awareness and honesty, which are qualities that are crucial for a successful medical career. 

Depending on how the question regarding your weaknesses is framed, you should touch on both your personal and professional weaknesses. A personal weakness is something like having trouble asking for help. A professional weakness is more skills-based and can be something that you haven’t had much exposure to or a skill you haven’t refined, such as your analytical or writing skills.

The University of Ottawa also has a few tips for how to structure your answer to this question. They suggest using the sandwich method. This means saying a strength, a weakness, then another strength. 

Question #3: Why Are You Applying to This Particular School?

Admissions committees want to see that you’ve done your research and are actually interested in what their program has to offer. To prepare for this question, go through their website and take note of anything and everything about the program that interests you. Are there certain electives you’re interested in? Are there specific research opportunities or extracurriculars you’d like to get involved with? What about the faculty? Are there specific doctors you want to study under? 

The environment in which the university is based should also be an important factor in your decision. Are there elements of the city’s culture that you want to get involved in? Is the city a hub for some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have friends or family there who can provide you with a support system? Providing this information in your response will help the admissions committee get to know you better and will also help you identify some elements that make this program stand out to you when admissions letters start rolling in. 

Question #4: Tell Me About a Time When…

Behavioural questions are a major part of medical school interviews because they grant admissions committees insight into your problem solving abilities. So they might ask you about a time you disagreed with a superior or a time you had to complete a major project on a short deadline. 

To answer these questions, your best bet is to rely on the STAR Method. Using this method, break your response down into…

  • Situation: Where/when did this take place? Who were the major players?
  • Task: What were you trying to achieve?
  • Action: What steps did you take to complete it?
  • Result: What was the outcome? What did you learn?

It should take you about one to three minutes to answer a question using the STAR interview technique. Any shorter and you’ve likely neglected to mention some important details. Any longer and you’re probably saying too much. 

Question #5: Ethical Dilemmas 

Medical school interviews often include questions that require you to demonstrate your ethical decision-making skills. There generally aren’t any right or wrong answers to these questions; your interviewers are more interested in how you support your arguments. 

To prepare for these kinds of questions, you have to develop your own opinions on medical ethical issues. Take a look at the American Medical Association’s journal of ethics. They’ve got articles on a variety of ethical issues related to medicine, all neatly organized by date. Going through some of these articles will inform you of the major arguments surrounding current and past ethical dilemmas in medicine. Where do you stand on each issue?

If you have a handle on the major ethical dilemmas, give some of these sample MMI questions a try. They include ethical dilemmas related to…

  • Abortion
  • Patient Autonomy
  • Informed Consent 
  • Medical aid in dying/End-of-life care 

When trying to answer the questions, make sure your responses include where you stand on the issue and what steps you believe should be taken in each scenario. If the question relates to an issue that you’ve never heard of or thought deeply about, then do your best to answer it using what you’ve learned from other ethical dilemmas and make sure to walk your interviewers through your reasoning. Regardless of the issue at hand, it’s also important to acknowledge its complexity and to recognize differing perspectives. 

And there you have it! Those are the most common medical school interview questions. 

At I Got In, we know that getting feedback on your interview performance goes a long way in preparing you for the interview itself. Our medical school interview preparation service will support you through your preparation process with mock interviews and customized feedback. Book a free consultation today to find out more about how we can boost your chances of admission to the program of your dreams. 

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