Interviews: Pre-Med Drama

Admissions Decisions May Hang in Balance

On campus these days, neatly groomed seniors dressed in dark suits can be seen rushing to recruiting interviews at top consulting and investment banking firms.

But while pre-med students may be more closely associated conducting research in lab, interviews are actually an important component of medical school admissions as well

Both consulting and med school interviews require students to be academically accomplished, articulate and graceful under pressure. But the different demands of each of the respective professions make the substance of the interviews much different.

While business interviews may test an applicant's ability to handle pressure, medical school say they interviewers look for a student's ability to connect with patients and their interest in helping others.

"A physician must show compassion, an ability to establish a partnership with the patient or the patient will not get well," says Theresa J. Orr, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at Harvard Medical School.


Medical school applicants are tested on everything from their knowledge of health care reform to their ability to establish "chemistry" with the interviewer.

Just as a student applying to work at an investment bank might study that company's annual report, most medical students study medical-related issues thoroughly before attending their first interview.

Stress Questions

Consulting and other business interviews are notorious for asking questions to applicants requiring them to think on their feet, such as "how much pizza is served in the United States?" or "how much money would you make if you were the owner of the Border Cafe?"

To a certain extent, such stress questions occur in medical school interviews as well.

Sean M. Lin '95, a biochemical sciences concentrator from Winthrop House, says he told his interviewer at Stanford Medical School that he thought "everyone should have the right to health insurance."

According to Lin, the interviewer looked him pointedly in the face and asked him what he meant by "right." At some interviews, says Lin, the admissions officer would question every point he made.

According to Steven M. Kalkanis '93, a second-year student at Harvard Medical School, some stress questions ask the applicant to respond to a hypothetical situation.

For example, Lin says one interviewer asked him, "What would you tell a terminally ill child? Would you tell him or her that he or she is going to die?"

Not all interviews, however, are as intimidating.