The Interview

Now that we have these 500 applications we go into the interview process.

The interview process is an attempt to characterize you in terms of what you’ve already presented — your letters, your personal statement, and your track record. Depending on your ranking and based on those other objective pieces, the interview is directed in certain ways. For example. A person has very high MCAT scores, but the GPA suffered. Perhaps it suffered in a particular year — sophomore year there was a slew of less than expected grades. Well that interview will be directed at what happened. We know something happened, tell us what happened. And if it was “I joined a fraternity and got drunk for a semester,” that’s not so good. If it was, “I was ill,” or “A family member was ill,” or “I had the opportunity to go to Australia, and I was gone for 3 weeks and was never able to catch up, but I learned a lot,” perhaps that doesn’t sound so bad.

So that’s what the interview is for. Interviews come in all varieties, and the admissions committee directs them. They send a candidate to an interviewer and give him a note that says “Please look for this,” or “Perform this type of interview.” There are stress interviews — we’re taught how to give an interview to put some people under stress. Why is that? Because how one reacts to stress is very stereotyped. One reacts to stress in the same way whether it’s traffic, a money problem, or whether it’s a dilemma at work or in the laboratory. So by provoking a stress response in someone, you get a sense of how they’re going to approach a problem or a hurtle. If they become unglued, then that’s not a good thing. We don’t do this to everybody — it’s done for a reason, in certain directed cases. For example, we may do it with an older candidate, someone who has put off medical school for some reason or other for a number of years. It would be an attempt to see, is that person immature? Have they delayed medical school because they’ve been delayed in their development, or are they wizened, able to handle stress?

And it doesn’t last long. Those interviews are about 30 minutes and generally a medical school will give you 2. Some medical schools will give you 3. There are many interview strategies, but in 30 minutes you have to have this person to believe that you are honest, sincere, and thoughtful. What I mean by thoughtful is that you have depth. Because we can’t give you a test to find out if you are sensitive, so that you are going to be nice to other human beings when you become a physician. All we can do is find out if you are a person of depth, substance. And that is not well communicated in a 1 page “Why I want to be a doctor.” And it’s not well communicated by those letters from professors, which are very stereotyped. Your audition to medical school really amounts to an opportunity to demonstrate that you are compassionate, smart, thoughtful, all of those qualities that one thinks of in a physician. And that’s what I said … that the uniqueness of each person could be used to enhance the application. The uniqueness can injure you as well. So you have to be sensitive to that.

The kind of questions that I would ask commonly, and we’re trained to do this, would be “What was the saddest experience in your life? What has been the hardest moment in your life.” “How do you think the president’s doing right now?” There would be an expectation that you have some knowledge of current affairs. You are the best of the best. “What are you reading now?” We’re looking for depth — maybe a follow up would be to contrast that with another book you’ve read, or a movie we have in common. Depth and the ability to juggle. It might jump from that to, “Tell me the best course you have had. Tell me what was good about that for you.” “Do you play an instrument? Tell me about that.” It’s a matter of depth and your ability to speak well about yourself.

Some clever applicant will come in and ask me “Tell me why I should go here.” The medical schools are competing for students. And that’s a clever strategy because, first of all it gets me talking, chewing up time when they should be talking to me. But it’s insightful, and deserves an answer. So I usually try to give them some short answer. But often time we try to turn the table, get them talking again.

There’s a first impression thing that goes along with it too. Medicine is about, fundamentally, the doctor and the patient. And when someone makes you at ease talking to you, you feel good about that person. So the candidate comes in and you begin a conversation and you’re enjoying that conversation. It can come for any direction. It can be about whatever comes up. You’ve got 30 min to get your heart and your character out there on the table … to say that you can do it. I’m the person who will succeed in your medical school. I want it and I will do it.

From this, the interviewer then ranks you. The interview rank then applies more weight than the other things that we’ve talked about. We’ve already used the numbers. Everyone who gets an interview is sort of re-started and then they are rank ordered by the interviewers. You get a couple of different numerical scores on the interview (e.g., on maturity, on content, etc.) and your score is averaged between the two interviews. And then those scores are put in rank order.

An interview is to give you an opportunity. If you’re not straightforward, that will put you aside. Don’t beg. Don’t try to sell yourself. The interviewer will lead you. The questions will be designed to provoke thought and see if you can think. This will assess your maturity and to some degree your depth.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

For more information about pre-health professions advisement at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Donald Slish
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Hudson Hall 325
Phone: (518) 564-5160