There are several types of interview formats and each medical school has its own structure. Some interview formats include panel interviews, group interviews, one-on-one interviews, and a combination of all three. Medical school admissions committees are responsible for determining the most qualified applicants who are likely to support the medical school’s mission. The following explores some of the common interview formats in-depth, so that medical school applicants can know what to expect.
Want to see sample questions? See our collection of sample medical school interview questions.
The Panel Interview
The panel interview is an interview format where the medical school applicant is asked questions by a group (panel) of people. The panel will generally consist of two or more individuals who hold a seat on the medical school admissions committee.
The panel make-up varies from medical school to medical school and may consist of one or more faculty members, a medical student, or physicians and other notable leaders of the local community. Each of the members of the panel will have his/her own area of expertise and will query the applicant appropriately.
What to Expect
To provide you with a mental picture, imagine walking into a room in which three people are sitting at a large table. When you are invited into the room, walk in and quietly close the door behind you. Walk towards the closest member to the door, introduce yourself, and offer a firm handshake. Repeat the introduction for each member in the room. When instructed to do so, sit down in the chair that has been allocated for you.
Once seated, the most common first question is “Tell us about yourself” or some equivalent. Once you have answered a question, another panel member will follow-up with a different question. It is common for applicants to feel as though they are in a tennis match, being volleyed from one panel member to the next. It is important that applicants remain calm and maintain eye contact with the speaker.
If you do not understand a question, ask the panel member for an explanation. Give yourself the opportunity to think before answering the questions presented. Ensure to respond with a well structured and articulate statement.
Towards the end of the interview, you will probably ask the inevitable: “Of all the applicants we interview, why should we choose you?” Answer this with your well-prepared and well-rehearsed response. When the interview is over, offer a handshake to each of the panel members and thank them for their time.
The Group Interview
The group interview is an interview format where the applicant is interviewed along with other medical school applicants. Two or more applicants may be interviewed by a single person or by a panel such as the one described above. The group interview format is very uncommon, but be prepared for anything.
Typically, there are two mistakes that applicants make when involved in a group interview:
- The attention hog. A group interview is not the time for you to be the center of attention. You should not feel as though you must compete for the spotlight. Of course you want to be noticed, but being overbearing is just as counterproductive as being silent.
- The quiet mouse. Be humble, but do not be silent. Remember that the interview is an opportunity for the medical school admissions committee to learn more about you than what is on paper.
Maintain a balance between the hog and the mouse. Be confident in your statements and ask questions when appropriate. Allow others in the group the opportunity to speak, but speak up when it is your turn.
The One-On-One Interview
The most common medical school interview is a one-on-one interview with a single admissions committee member. Depending on the amount of time available, you may interview with one person or you interview with as many as three people at different times.
The committee member with which you interview is likely to have many questions for you. By the time of the interview, the interviewer has had adequate time to review your application. With this in mind, review your application and personal statement before the interview to determine potential questions that you may be asked.
You should consider the person conducting your interview as an “applicant advocate”. This person is responsible for filling in any gaps in your medical school application in an effort to determine your qualification for admission. At some schools, the interviewer actually sits on the admissions committee when an acceptance decision is made. In this situation, the interviewer is responsible for answering questions from the committee about your application. Essentially, the interviewer must convince the other members of the medical school admissions committee that you are worthy of an acceptance letter.
From the AAMC
The interview day is typically filled with opportunities for you to interact with faculty, medical students, administrators, and staff. During the course of an interview day, you will likely meet with a dozen or more people. Interviews are usually conducted by members of the admissions committee, faculty and administration, and at some schools like ours, the student body.
An interview session often varies in size from institution to institution. Some invite small groups ranging from 15 to 25 applicants while others invite large groups ranging in size from 50 to 100 applicants. A typical session at our school ranges from 40 to 50 interviewees per session.
The format of the interview varies from school to school. Some use group interviews with panel members talking to one applicant. Other times, a whole group of applicants may be interviewed together by one or two committee members. Both methods are more the exception rather than standard practice.In the main, interviews are done on a one-on-one basis for 30, 45, or 60 minutes.
Where possible, most schools will have two separate interviews, the first often with a faculty member and the second with a medical student. Some schools only have members of the admissions committee interview applicants. Other schools call upon a broad range of faculty members who are not necessarily on the admissions committee and are not given access to the applicant’s file. The second interview may be with an administrator who does have the file and will seek to clarify any pertinent academic or personal issues identified there. Medical schools try to include one of their own students as interviewers where possible.
A word of caution: Don’t take the medical student interview less seriously. What the medical students have to say about applicants carries substantial weight with an admissions committee.