Interview Preparation & Sample Questions

Each fall, OCS holds medical school interview workshops for students who are currently in the application process. These workshops create an opportunity for advisers and students to discuss the medical school interview comprehensively. See the event calendar

Preparing for the Interview

Why do medical schools interview?
As you prepare for the interview, it may help to think about why medical schools interview applicants. They hope to evaluate your personality, professionalism, and maturity; to hear your motivation to pursue medicine in your own spoken words; to hear how you have tested and confirmed your desire to become a clinician; to learn if you have realistic expectations of life as a physician; and to decide if you are going to be a great colleague and peer.

What about logistics? 
Schedule your interviews as soon as you receive an invitation. With regard to logistics, remember to use an incognito window as you search for flights; know that staying with student hosts is an option; and know that the Harvard Financial Aid Office may be able to help with some costs if you are a student on significant financial aid. If you are going abroad or are otherwise going to be unavailable during interview season, make sure you let your schools know.

Appearance matters.
There are two main options for interview attire: suits with pants or skirts and a solid color dress shirt or blouse or a dress with a blazer. Dress conservatively so that nothing is too low cut or too short. Remove facial piercings and tongue studs if possible, and cover large tattoos.

Preparing for the substance of the interview.
Come prepared to tell them more about why their med school is the right fit for you. Build on what you wrote about the specific medical school in your secondary. Be prepared to show that you are familiar with the school’s style of teaching and assessment. Contact your house premed tutors to arrange a mock interview.

Interview formats vary.
Medical schools use different formats which are listed on MSAR and on the individual schools' websites. Schools may utilize traditional 45- to 60-minute interviews, multiple mini-interviews, or group interviews. The interviews may be closed or open with regard to your file. 

Tips for the Interview Day

The day of the interview can be stressful, but many people also find it exciting and enjoyable. Here are a few last minute tips:

  • Be nice to everyone.
  • Be prompt.
  • Be prepared, but do not over rehearse.
  • Be flexible and expect the unexpected.
  • Smile.
  • Shake hands.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Actively engage.
  • Be positive and upbeat. 
  • Give direct, thorough answers.
  • Do not ramble.
  • Take your student interviewer seriously.
  • Anticipate what might concern the interviewer (e.g., poor grades, disciplinary action). Have an explanation ready that is not an excuse or rationalization.

You are not expected to resolve difficult ethical, moral, or political issues, but you should be able to demonstrate familiarity with current issues in medicine. At the end, be prepared for “Anything else you want me to know?” and “Do you have any questions for me?” Do not ask questions that would have obvious answers from the website. It is fine to ask questions directly related to your interviewer. 

The MD/PhD Interview

There are a number of ways in which the MD/PhD interview process is different. Be prepared to speak about your research at a number of different levels. You will often know who your interviewers are in advance. Be sure to use that to your advantage. Meet with and set up a mock interview with an MD/PhD student who is a resident or non-resident tutor at your House. Prepare an “elevator speech” (of 90-second duration) to describe your research extemporaneously. Feel free to make an appointment with an OCS adviser to discuss the details of this process as it relates to you.

The Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI)

More and more medical schools in both the U.S. and Canada are using the MMI format. There is some variation from school to school, but the MMI usually involves 6-10 stations. At each station you are given two minutes to read a scenario and 6-8 minutes to answer/execute. There are varying types of questions. Some use scenario-based questions, which tend to be situational, ethical, and problem-solving oriented. Some schools use spatial and collaborative problem-solving.

What you are being evaluated on may not always be obvious. You receive scores based on how you answer the questions. Do you consider different perspectives and possible answers? How do you react emotionally to the interviewers' follow up questions? How do you respond if you're disagreed with?

Sample Questions

There are countless possible interview questions that you might be asked. Many will seem predictable. Some will be unique and thoughtful. Rarely, they may seem silly or irrelevant. Your job is to roll with whatever you're asked, to be familiar with your own application, to be generally familiar with the broad issues facing American healthcare, and to be familiar with the school as presented on the website. If you have solid, thoughtful answers to these few questions below, that will get you through the majority of your interviews.

  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • What experiences have most motivated you to pursue medicine?
  • What got you interested initially in medicine?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to compromise. 
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. What did you do and how did you correct it?
  • What was the most stressful situation you ever faced? How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time when you collaborated on a successful project.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is the one thing you want me to convey to the admission committee?
  • What is the biggest challenge that is facing the medical field today?
  • How do you imagine the balance of research and clinical work in your future?
  • Why choose medicine over some other career in health?
  • Tell me more about ­­­______ from your personal statement (or AMCAS application).

Additional Sample Interview Questions

  • What makes you particularly interested in this school?
  • How have you enjoyed your undergraduate experience? What would you change?
  • What field of medicine interests you most?
  • How did you choose to major in _____________?
  • What non-science courses did you like the most?
  • What do you think you will find most difficult about medical school?
  • What are your strong points? What are your weaknesses?
  • What has been your biggest failure, and how did you handle it?
  • How do you work under pressure? Give an example. What, in hindsight, were you most dissatisfied with about your performance? What did you learn from your experience?
  • What have you done that shows initiative? What did you gain from that experience? How were you most/least satisfied with that endeavor?
  • How do you respond to criticism? Describe a situation where your work was criticized. What was your immediate reaction to the situation?
  • What are the negative aspects of being a doctor?
  • How could you affect the health care system?
  • How would friends describe you?
  • What do you think is the most important quality a physician should have?
  • Are you interested in research? How do you imagine the balance of research and clinical work in your future?
  • What is the reason for your poor grades sophomore year?
  • What last bit of information would you like me to know about you?
  • Describe a situation in which you felt like a fish out of water.
  • Tell me about a time when you got into a conflict with someone else. How was it resolved?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • How would a good friend describe you as a person?
  • If you couldn’t be a physician, what career would you choose?
  • How do you see the field of medicine changing in the next ten years? How do you see yourself fitting into those changes?
  • What is the one thing you would change about the American healthcare system?
  • What is your opinion about what we can do about the high cost of healthcare?
  • How would you react if a colleague wanted you to keep a medical error they made a secret from a patient?
  • What would you do if a 15-year-old came into your clinic and wanted an abortion?
  • What would you do if you were seeing a patient in the emergency room and he or she wants to leave against medical advice?
  • What do you think about physician-assisted suicide? Alternative medicine?


Immediately After the Interview 

If you are given an assignment, such as reading a paper or connecting with someone, do it quickly. Send a thank-you note to your student host.

Send a hand-written note to interviewers or to everyone on a panel as soon as possible, unless the school asks that you not do this. Travel with notecards and stamps. It is a great activity to do while waiting for trains, planes, buses, etc.

In the note, thank them for their time. Be enthusiastic about the school. Be sure to proofread. Do not try to sneak in a personal statement. This is a thank you letter. The letter may be read by your interviewer before presenting you to their committee and can strengthen their recollection of you. It may or may not become part of your file.