Monday, October 17, 2016

Residency and Medical School Interview Questions: How to Answer that Icky Decade One

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" the interviewer asks you, and you squirm...

An influential physician-administrator once complained to me that whenever he asked potential new faculty hires where they saw themselves in a decade they always said they were interested in global health or teaching. "They just say that because it's sexy," he remarked. "Many of them have nothing in their C.V.s to bolster their interest in either pursuit."

When asked where you see yourself in ten years, consider what your accomplishments thus far support to show a clear evolution. This doesn't mean you're stuck with what you've done even if you didn't like it. You could point out that having tried myocardial bench research, you realize that your real interest is in clinical investigations of new cardiac markers. Throwing out activities just because they sound appealing doesn't make you look professional or your candidacy seem well-synthesized. The idea is to have a trajectory that you can back up, defend, and easily justify.

Many medical school applicants say they don't know what field they want to go into. Of course not! And many residency applicants don't know if they want to do a fellowship. That's okay. Again, the point is to focus on your previous strengths and achievements and leverage them.

One more thing: If you are planning to seek mock interview help from me, please do it now. I am booking several weeks in advance.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Using Psychology to Further Your Residency or Medical School Application

In my last post, I spoke about the importance of knowing about a school or program in detail in order to show enthusiasm. This entry is a follow-up piece. Being genuinely complimentary (there's no need to sell yourself down the river being disingenuous) can readily further your candidacy:

There is a psychological principle that asserts that if someone likes you, you tend to like him/her more. So, if I say, "I was just talking to Mike, and he always says the nicest things about you," you now like Mike more (even though he's not a real person in this case).

Use this strategy to your advantage. It's hard to say, "I like you!" in an interview setting. But when speaking about a school or program during interview day, showcase what the institution's strengths are and specifically, how they apply to you. If the program has a focus on public policy, mention your work with AMSA's lobbying efforts. If the school is in Utah, note how much you like skiing. Demonstrating interest and zeal can go a long way to leverage simple psychology. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Your Residency Application: Know Before You Go

I distinctly remember a very strong candidate whom we considered as a potential emergency medicine resident many years ago. Although multiple faculty members raved about the medical student, one of my colleagues pointed out that the applicant made it clear he did not want to move to Boston. "He wants to stay in California. If he's not interested in us, why are we interested in him?"

Mathematically speaking, this strategy doesn't make a lot of sense. Programs should rank strong applicants highly no matter what they believe the candidates' desires are. (After all, the program may be wrong, and there is little disincentive to go for the gold.) But the point is that it's critical that you don't give off signals that you are not interested in the program at which you are interviewing. (If you would rather not Match than be at that residency, you shouldn't be interviewing there - not a tactic I would generally recommend, however.)

Know the program well and be enthusiastic about its strengths. Every program has something to offer, and you'll need to learn details of those positive qualities if you want to stay in the running for a spot.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Residency and Medical School Interviews: Don't Be the "Guy with the Tie"

Check out this brand-new Insider Medical Admissions Guru on the Go© under-one-minute, stop-motion video called, "Spiffy Tie for the Dull Guy." If you're heading to residency or medical school interviews this season, you'll want to learn about this effective way to protect your candidacy while you evade the fashion police.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Medical School Interviews: Preparing for your MMI

Although the majority of medical school interviews are traditional, an increasing number of medical schools (as well as dental schools) are using the MMI platform. The MMI (multiple mini interview) is a format that uses several timed stations to assess applicants' interpersonal skills and judgment.

A few things to note about MMI interview questions:

1) They are not always medically-related. You may be asked to manage an everyday problem (e.g. a disagreement at the supermarket).

2) They are not always situational. You need to be prepared for conventional questions too (e.g. what are your three greatest strengths?).

3) Schools are trying to assess whether you can skillfully employ important techniques and demonstrate professionalism. Underlying topics might include your ability to offer effective counseling, your understanding of patient-doctor confidentiality, your ability to diffuse a heated situation, your capacity to admit wrongdoing, etc.

It is important that you practice MMI questions before you go to your medical school interview. Even if you have excellent social skills, there are techniques you should hone to expertly manage the challenging MMI format. Please consider hiring me for a mock interview or two as soon as you get your first interview invitation, as my slots go fast.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Medical School Interview Tips: What Do Admissions Officers Really Want?

Congrats to those who have already been invited for medical school interviews. It's early in the season, so if you are an applicant who has not been invited yet, do not dismay.

Getting into medical school has gotten so competitive; the interview is critical. But what are medical schools looking for during the interview process?

1. They are seeking someone distinctive. Your goal is to distinguish yourself from all of the other applicants by showcasing your accomplishments. Anyone can say s/he wants to help people or is hard working. Fewer candidates can prove it with their pre-professional achievements.

2. They want to ensure you are committed to medicine and that you have an idea of what you are getting yourself into. Medical school is tough; the institutions are not seeking someone who is ambivalent and might quit. Giving examples of your clinical experience can help.

3. The schools want to ensure you are reasonable. They want to see that you don’t have a problem personality, aren’t going to harass your colleagues, aren’t going to cause them embarrassment or extra work. Being professional during the interview day and having strong letters are important.

4. They want to hear that you are particularly interested in their institution. You can convince them of your interest by knowing specifics about the school and city.

One would never take the MCAT without practicing first and yet, countless applicants go to medical school interviews without preparing. If you are interested in working with me, please hire me with at least two weeks' advance, as I'm booking up quickly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Medical School Interview: Creating your Elevator Pitch

You may have heard the term "elevator pitch," a streamlined summary a person uses to describe and hopefully, sell her product, service, screenplay, or book. In preparing for medical school interviews, you, too, should create an elevator pitch to

Create a 2 to 3 minute "summary statement" that recaps your candidacy, specifically your pre-professional accomplishments and other skills that make you distinctive. (Perhaps you are multilingual, for example.) I'd recommend conceiving of the elevator pitch in chronological order and presenting it that way as well. Doing so makes it easy for you to remember and for the listener to absorb.

Content should include accomplishments in these categories: academic, clinical, leadership, volunteerism, research, teaching, writing, and international work.

If you have this elevator pitch at the tip of your tongue, you'll be at a great advantage at your medical school interview, ready to nail questions like "Tell me about yourself" and prepared to showcase your accomplishments in other open-ended questions throughout the interview session.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Residency Personal Statement: Honors Won't Make it Write

Several years after writing my own residency personal statement, I found myself reading essays and making admissions decisions as a medical school faculty member. In assessing application essays, I learned firsthand that certain personal statement techniques fly and others don’t. A candidate’s approach can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection at his/her dream institution.

The below are some of the most common and easily-avoidable errors applicants make in crafting their personal statements:

1)      Unlike mom, an admissions essay reader doesn’t offer unconditional support for an applicant’s endeavors. Candidates who write a paragraph (or two) about their childhood surgeon Halloween costume have made two fatal flaws: First, the tactic is overused. Second, these stories do not engage the admissions reader nor further an applicant’s candidacy because they are not built on evidence of any distinctive accomplishments.

2)      The rule applicants should remember is this: All stuff, no fluff. (No Miss America clich├ęs!) The residency personal statement should be a persuasive document that convinces programs that a candidate is worthy of a spot at their institutions, which means it should include facts about what makes an applicant special – her achievements.

Just like a lawyer does when s/he is trying a case in front of a judge, the residency applicant must persuade with evidence. Saying he is a caring person or wants to make the world a better place is not compelling, and those claims do not distinguish the candidate from the scores of other applicants competing with him. The candidate needs to prove his value and distinctiveness with academic, clinical, research, community service, leadership, international, and teaching achievements. To the admissions reader, applicants are what they do – not what they say.

Every part of the personal statement should be distinctive, highlighting unique qualities through accomplishments. If there is even a phrase in the essay that could have been written by someone else, it should be omitted.

3)      I remember a talented residency applicant I advised a few years ago who showcased an award she had won. She listed the name, but didn’t explain what it was. When I asked her, she told me the award was an academic honor given to only the top 1% of students out of several thousand. Had she not rewritten the section, her admissions readers wouldn’t have given her an ounce of credit for that extraordinary accomplishment. What a candidate fails to adequately explain counts against her.

Bottom line: Candidates must ensure their residency personal statements can stand alone and don’t rely on the remainder of the application for clarification.

I hope this year’s applicants will leverage the knowledge I’ve offered above to anticipate a future reader’s objections so that they can strengthen their personal statements and reach their career goals.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Residency Application: ERAS Tips

I've been editing a whole heck of a lot of ERAS applications recently, so I thought I'd create a list of tips for those embarking on their descriptors:

1. Include relevant pre-professional accomplishments from college. If you conducted research, for example, list and describe it. Do not include high school achievements unless they were truly unique (worked at the White House, sang on Broadway ;)).

2. While you want to include many strong achievements, you do not want your ERAS to be so long that your reader is tempted to skim it. Be selective.

3. Keep your descriptors to approximately three to seven sentences. Fewer can look lazy and more can look self-indulgent.

4. Use full sentences. It’s a formal application, and you want to make your written materials as readable as possible.

5. Avoid abbreviations. Again, you want to be formal, and abbreviations you think are common might not be familiar to the reader.

6. Make sure you spell out your accomplishments clearly. If your reader doesn’t understand an activity, you will not get “full credit” for what you’ve done. Make no assumptions.

7. Write about yourself and your role – not an organization. For example, don’t use the space to discuss Physicians without Borders. Use it to discuss the specifics of your role at Physicians without Borders.

8. Use numbers to be persuasive. Saying that the conference you organized had 300 participants says it all.

9. Unless your PI won the Nobel, avoid using supervisors' and/or doctors' names in your descriptors as they will be meaningless to the majority of your readers.

10. Get help. Do not submit your residency application without having it reviewed. Don’t submit suboptimal materials for a process that is this important and competitive.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Nailing the Residency or Medical School Interview

Google had a problem.

As a New York Times article describes it, Google executives were growing increasingly aware that they were not hiring enough women. Worse still, they were attracting negative attention about it. So, Google did what Google does best: They amassed data and mined it.

In their analysis, among other findings, Google concluded that the company was overlooking women who tended to be more modest than comparable male applicants during interviews. The interviewers inappropriately perceived the women applicants to be less accomplished, and the female candidates were not offered jobs. (Once they understood the problem, Google altered their internal hiring policies accordingly.) 

This story is instructive in understanding the importance of your residency or medical school interview.

Let’s start with your overarching strategy, one that can be gleaned from the Google story: The residency and medical school interview processes are persuasive ones. Your role is to convince faculty that you deserve a slot at their institutions. The best way to persuade is with facts, just like a lawyer does when s/he is trying a case in front of a judge. Saying you are compassionate or hardworking is not convincing, and it doesn’t distinguish you from the scores of other people the interviewer is meeting. You need to prove your worth by highlighting your academic, clinical, research, community service, leadership, international, and/or teaching achievements.

When mentoring applicants, I hear them ask: Michelle, if I showcase my accomplishments in my residency/ medical school interview, doesn’t that mean I’m being redundant? My answer: Absolutely! Think of the medical admissions process like building a house. Your ERAS®/AMCAS® and letters serve as one layer of that house – like scaffolding. In other words, your accomplishments are conveyed simply and succinctly there. The personal statement is your opportunity to apply a thicker layer, one in which you flesh out your achievements, thus persuading the reader of your distinctiveness (plumbing, pipes, electrical). Finally, the interview is your chance to add on the thickest peel (exterior, roof). Discussing your accomplishments in detail can seal the interviewer’s positive impression of you. 

If you still feel shy about drawing attention to your achievements, I can assure you that occasionally residency and medical school interviewers do not leave adequate time to review materials for the candidates they will ultimately judge, or they are asked to interview such a large number of applicants that they might understandably get candidates confused. If you treat every residency and medical school interview as though it were a “blind” one, you address these obstacles. Determine in advance how you want your interviewers to remember you when they represent you to the committee, and tailor your interview to leave that impression. At the end of the week, when your interviewer asks what others thought of the "young woman who volunteered with Mother Teresa while doing malaria research and competitive hammer-throwing,” all the other admissions officers know immediately she is referring to you.