These interview tips are not specific to UNC.
Do not be scared of interviews! Think of them as time set aside for you to talk about things you are excited about/interested in, and people have to listen to you. This isn’t just your time to talk about why you want to be a doctor, but also science that you think is cool or even just what makes you excited about your extracurriculars, even if they have nothing to do with medicine.
Most schools will pick some combination of these interviews, but some schools will only do MMIs.
- MMI: This is not as scary as it sounds! Think of it as one normal interview spread out across multiple people, where each person only asks you one question. Here’s what this looks like. You will likely be in some kind of hallway with a bunch of rooms. A timer will go off and you will go to the first door. You will have a minute or so to read the prompt attached to the door. Some schools may give you paper or something to write down ideas. Then you will go into the room, and you will have 5-10 minutes to talk about the prompt. The prompt may be a hypothetical situation, an ethical dilemma (medical or not), or it may be a typical interview question. You may enter a room and have to role play with an actor. Don’t freak out! Remember: these interviews are really short. You will be out of the room in just a few minutes, and then you won’t have to see that person again, and the next interview station person won’t know how you just did at the previous station. If you feel that you messed up, you will be out of there soon and only need to hang on for a few more minutes! A timer will go off to let you know you are done with the next station, you will have a minute or so to rest/move to the next station, and then the whole thing will start over again. You will probably have something like 5-10 stations, and the whole thing will take at most around 2 hours. Some people really like this interview type. You don’t have to make small talk, you have a set situation to discuss, each interview is short, and you get to constantly “start over.” There is a lot of hype about this interview type, and the Internet may try to scare you and tell you how stressful this is. It really isn’t that bad, though the time limits may make things seem more stressful than they actually are.
- Research Faculty Interviews: Usually a school will let you know in advance who these interviewers are (or you requested them as potential PIs), but sometimes they don’t. I recommend bringing with you a paper from each faculty member (from with you have read at least the abstract and conclusion) along with a paragraph summarizing their work. Before you head out on your interview, refresh your memory on who this person is and what kind of work they do. You don’t need to be an expert in their work, but you need to be able to answer the question, “Why did you choose to meet with me/what about my research interests you?” This is my favorite kind of interview because you get to learn something new! Usually, the interviewer will say, “So tell me about yourself,” which is where you pull out your 2-minute description of yourself. This will usually get the conversation going. They will ask about your research, so make sure that you can explain it with enthusiasm and confidence. I recommend also being able to draw something related to your research that will help explain a concept—this can really help the PI better understand your work. You also need to be able to talk about what kind of research you want to do if you join the program, and if they ask, mention by name some PIs you would want to work with. These interviews typically last 30-60 min. 60 min can seem long, but if things ever drag and if you feel you have already said everything about yourself that you want to, ask about their research. You can even ask to see their lab and talk to students in the lab.
- Medical School Faculty Interviews: These are usually 30-60 minutes, and you likely won’t know who you are meeting with until the day of your interview. These are the interviews where you will most clearly need to articulate why you want to be a doctor. This is probably the most important question they will ask you, and they will ask you this. The best way to prepare for these interviews is to reread your secondary applications. Typically the questions here are ones you already answered in your secondaries (though maybe not to this particular school). Don’t recite your secondary, but you can reuse stories. Usually my interviewers hadn’t read my secondaries. Questions most likely here: why you want to be a doctor, why do you want to go here, what obstacles have you faced, what was a time when you failed, what was a time when you received criticism and how did you respond, what was a time when you failed at something (preferably non-academic), what was a leadership experience you had, tell me about your clinical experience, tell me about your community service experience, what would you change about health care today, tell me about your research (though less likely to come up).
- Student Interviews: Like medical school faculty interviews but with a current student. These are nice because you can also ask the student about what it is like to live there, go to school there, etc.
- Panel Interviews: These can be with students or faculty members. Don’t be afraid of these! Having a panel means that you can have more of a discussion going, and often your interviewers will start talking to each other as you bring up something that they find interesting. For example, in one panel interview, my interviewers started bouncing ideas off each other about new applications of my research.
MD/PhD Interview Days
You will likely have a two-day interview. Likely the MD-PhD part of the interview will be at least 50% of the interview day, though it may be more. For example, some schools may spend half of one day on MD-only interviews and the rest of time on MD-PhD interviews (meeting with PIs, touring facilities, etc.). Some schools may only have you do MD-PhD interviews (no interviews will be labeled “MD interview”). Some schools will have days just for MD/PhD applicants. Some schools will mix you in with the MD-only applicants. It will vary from school to school. The number of interviews will vary a lot. You may only have two MD/PhD interviews per interview weekend, or you may have seven. Either way, don’t freak out. It is tiring, but I think that after the first interview or so, you are so distracted by trying to get to the right place on time and trying to figure out everything that you forget to be worried about the actual interview.
Also, be aware that some schools will have someone escort you between interviews, while others will just give you a map. Do not hesitate to ask for directions if you get lost! There will always be lots of students and faculty members wandering around campus, and I have frequently found if you are wearing a suit, a nametag, and looking lost, people will ask you if you are lost because you look like you’re interviewing.
You will be asked why MD/PhD, even though you probably answered that question several times in your application. Make absolutely sure that your interviewer has an answer for this question, whether or not they ask you. Also, some people will remind you about the whole “8-years long” thing or ask you how you plan to handle it. Just be prepared to address that if they ask.
General thoughts about interviews
- Bring an interview bag! Some people like bringing portfolio cases, but a bag (laptop bag, messenger bag, etc.) is a lot more practical. Schools will always load you up with folders, water bottles, nametags, etc., and it is nice to have a place to put all this. Here is what you should carry in your interview bag.
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel Kleenex
- Water bottle
- I recommend putting a legal pad into the folder mentioned below.
- Tide stick
- Band aids.
- Friction block for blisters (Interview shoes can hurt!)
- External cell phone battery and charger
- Folder with the following:
- Travel itinerary
- Interview schedule with room numbers
- Papers and information about PIs
- If possible, try to make your first interview not be for your top choice. It can take one or two interview days to figure out how you best interview and which anecdotes people seem to respond to. If you can hold off on scheduling an interview for your top choices later, you can get some practice first. (This is not always possible, but if it is, it can be very helpful!)
- What do you do if your interviewer doesn’t like you? You will likely be able to figure this out very quickly. Here are a couple of approaches to take.
- Have a couple of anecdotes stashed up that show what an awesome person you are without being braggy. It might be as simple as something like one time in which you had to realize that you were wrong or failed at something (a very commonly asked question anyway). It could also be about some great thing you did that you are really excited about. In any case, have a story or two stored up specifically for this purpose.
- Ask them about their research or their experiences. Most people like to talk about themselves, and this can actually do a lot to bring them over to your side. Also, it can be a good strategy if the conversation is veering into territory outside of your expertise. For example, once I was asked an ethical question that I felt I didn’t have as solid an answer for as I would have liked, so after I gave a brief answer, I turned it into a discussion by asking my interviewer (a physician) about her experience and how she would approach the problem. (Also in a situation like this, they really want to see your thought process, so feel free to just think aloud and acknowledge the complexities of a situation.)
- Most interviewers will leave time for questions at the end. Always have questions! Always! Here are some good questions to know about the school.
- Is the program pass/fail? (Ideally, you should know this before you go, but this information is sometimes hard to find online or out of date, so if they don’t tell you in the information session, make sure you ask someone.)
- How engaged are students with research? (For MD/PhD students, you can ask how lab rotations work into the schedule, if the PI has had MD/PhD students, etc.)
- Nearly every school has undergone a curriculum change in the past few years. Ask how students like the new curriculum.
- Ask if feedback on courses/the program in general is easy to give and how seriously such feedback is taken.
- Ask if students at this program have regular one-on-one interactions with faculty members.
- You can always ask about the city. You’re going to be living there for a while, so you might as well ask about it. I’d leave this until you’re out of other questions first.
- Interviews (and actually the entire application) are all about telling stories. Stories are great because they allow you to “show” rather than “tell.” If you say that you’re really excited about your research, tell a story about some experience you had with research.
- Have your two-minute spiel prepared that includes your basic background, key experiences, and why these shaped why you want to be a doctor. Many interviews will start out with, “So, tell me about yourself.” Here’s where you need your two-minute spiel.
- Talk to current students! Ask them all your questions, including why they chose this program. You can then use this information in your interviews.
- Interviews can actually be fun. I remember hearing this and thinking, “Yeah right, no.” But really, they can be! The vast majority of people you meet will be nice. You also learn how to talk about yourself and kind of get to learn what makes you awesome. When you so frequently have to explain why you are awesome and talk about all these cool things you do (and you may be telling the same story five times in a single day), you start to think, “Yeah, I actually am.” Don’t let the interviewer or applicants convince you otherwise! (Not that they will, but you may see the occasional applicant who wants to play King of the Hill.) You are allowed to steer the interview. After all, the point is for you to talk, and so you can always redirect the conversation to something you want to talk about. You can also talk about extracurricular activities you enjoy. If you spend a lot of time in choir or on a team sport, you can talk about these things. They round you out as a person and can show leadership, creativity, etc.
- Pay attention to the other applicants and the current students. They may be your future classmates, and if you don’t get along with them, that may mean something.
- Drink water! This is so important! Carry a water bottle into every interview! Holding the water bottle (but not fidgeting with it) can keep you from making nervous gestures. Taking a sip of water can give you a bit of extra time to think of responses to questions (though you can always ask to think for a second too). Also, you will be talking a lot anyway, so hydration!
- Do not go on Student Doctor Network. I know it’s tempting, but don’t do it. If you have a question, email the pre-health office, an alum, or a professor. People on SDN are likely in the same boat as you are, so they might not actually know any more about this whole process than you do. Then you also get people who are playing King of the Hill or just give bad advice. Really, stay out.
A final note about attire: You should dress professionally but also be comfortable. Yes, a suit is essentially required, but make sure that your shoes are comfortable because most interview days will involve a fair amount of walking. Also I think it is useful to consider if you fiddle with your hair when nervous. If this is the case, I recommend styling your hair that day in such a way that you won’t be tempted to fiddle with it.