October 20, 2006

Med School Hopefuls Stress Over Upcoming Interviews

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Recruiters for the annual Cornell Career Fair have long since packed their bags, and employers from financial services and consulting firms have largely dwindled. But the interview season has yet to end. For one group on campus, the pre-meds, the anxiety has just begun.

Forms have been filled, essays written, applications mailed and now, one key to the gates of medical schools remains.

“It’s the wait. It’s about checking your e-mail every second hoping for an interview,” said Gene Weinstein ’07.

Unlike the application process for many other careers, even getting an interview to medical school is an accomplishment.

Just a glance at the numbers is telling enough. According to the admissions staff of the Weill Cornell Medical College, over 5,000 applications are received but only 700 are offered an interview each year. Harvard Medical School had similar numbers, with 711 interviews given to an applicant pool of 5,741 for the 2005-2006 first-year class. And Johns Hopkins granted less than 600 interviews to close to 6,000 applicants that year.

But getting the interview offer isn’t always a telltale sign of success. Most medical schools take only one-sixth of those interviewed, making the interview itself yet another extremely competitive process.

“Why do you want to be a doctor?” That, perhaps, is one of the most commonly asked questions. But if you were thinking of replying with the commonly given response, “to help people,” think again. While that may in fact be your reason, it certainly won’t be enough to get the approval of admissions staffs of medical schools today.

Furthermore, the range of questions that have been asked can vary from the mundanely atypical (“Why are manholes round and not squarish?”) to the morosely arcane (“Assume that you are rejected from every medical school. What would be your alternate career option?”) to the morbidly arbitrary (“If you died today, what would people say at your funeral?”).

In other cases, according to one Cornell pre-med who had already been interviewed, a scenario is presented such as the following: “Two patients, age 25 and 55 are admitted in critical condition and require immediate attention. Who would you help first?”

Or, according to another student’s account, “You catch your friend, a fellow medical student, cheating on his medical board exams. What would you do?”
Despite their unconventionality, these questions are designed to allow candidates the best opportunity to convey who they are as people.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “some interviewers have prior access to the applicant’s information, including grades, MCAT scores and letters of evaluation, but other interviewers do not, and they focus instead on the candidate’s experiential attributes.”

One pre-med currently in the interview process shared her thoughts on what makes a good interview.

“There is no secret to a good interview,” she said. “It just depends on who you get and how you click with them. Smile and let your excitement about anything their school has to offer shine through.”

Ultimately, the interview is just the final step in separating the wheat from the chaff. Only two percent of applicants make the final cut at Weill Cornell Medical School.