Med school hopefuls face up to interview pressures

While some seniors busy themselves with case study workshops and crash courses in the stock market, interview season is in full throttle for the equally-anxious corps of Yalies hoping to head off to medical school next fall.

But many premed students said the pressure of an interview is not as intense as the route to getting one, which often involves choosing a lab report and MCAT preparation over a night out, or even over a European history course.

Richard Silverman, the School of Medicine’s director of admissions, said that although many students perceive the interview as a grueling experience, in reality, it is meant to be a “two-way conversation” between the candidate and a member of the Admissions Committee. He said Yale conducts two interviews with its applicants in order to maximize the opportunity of having a meaningful conversation.

“The interviews enable us to explore an applicant’s depth of knowledge, communications skills, personal qualities, and perhaps most important, the applicant’s commitment to medicine,” he said.

Brandon Einstein ’07, who is applying to medical school and has already been to three interviews, said he has not found the process nerve-wracking at all.

“It was a stress-free environment, and the interviewers try to keep it to a conversation — things have changed a lot since the sealed windows,” he said, referring to the urban legend that interviewers used to shut hopeful physicians into their interview rooms and tell them to find their way out.

Students who are invited to interview have already been through one round of close evaluation based on their written applications, Silverman said, which means they are short-listed as viable candidates. Last year, the Medical School interviewed 787 applicants out of a pool of 3,699 who he said were the strongest candidates for Yale on the basis of their applications.

Silverman said that because the interview process is so competitive, it is extremely crucial for candidates to be as prepared as possible. He said there are three things applicants should do: ensure that they are well informed about the curriculum, student body and culture of the school they are visiting; be able to speak thoughtfully and succinctly about their “academic, extracurricular, personal history, and aspirations in medicine”; and practice by conducting mock interviews.

“Students should be prepared to ask intelligent questions, not just to impress the admissions committee, but to learn as much as they can,” he said. “Amazingly, students are sometimes caught flatfooted and are unable to speak to the point when asked very basic questions about their own background.”

But Nancy Angoff, associate dean of student affairs at the School of Medicine, said she does not think applicants can really prepare for the interviews. She said some of the best interviews she has had have been about literature, ethics, or even personal stories about illness or tragedy.

“What I look for in an applicant is a student who can engage me in a conversation,” she said. “If they don’t know their own research, that’s sad.”

Nevertheless, officials at Undergraduate University Career Services said that the University provides a large number of services for students applying to medical school. Ed Miller, director of the Health Professions Advisory Program, said UCS has three pre-medical advisers on staff as well as workshops about the interview process, a Health Professions Career Fair, and access to alumni who have already been through the process.

UCS Director Philip Jones said he has seen “a whole spectrum of reactions” from students applying to medical school, ranging from collected and prepared to extremely apprehensive. He said preparation is important because it results in the confidence necessary to do well in an interview.

Jones said one of the most interesting trends taking place right now in medical school admissions is that more alumni are applying than current students, which he said means that people are either taking a year or two off before applying or making the decision to be a doctor later in life. Either way, he said, UCS continues to work closely with students even after they graduate.

Although Angoff said the interview is a very important part of the process, particularly because it gives a good indication of the student’s ability to have positive doctor-patient relationships, she said it is not really the most effective way of gauging a student’s true personality­, including the ability to empathize and what drives them.

“It’s very easy for a student to be a certain way for an hour,” she said. “What the interview doesn’t pick up on is values.”

But Kesi Chen ’07 said being herself is exactly what she has been doing in her interviews.

“They basically want to see if you’re going to be a good doctor,” she said.

Chen said the path to medical school interviews is not an easy one and that the focus on numbers and copious requirements should be rethought. She said being a doctor is not as attractive as it used to be.

Rosanna Perretta ’07 also said the premed path is challenging. She said she did not feel prepared for the application process, particularly because she only applied to one school, Yale, during the college admissions process. Taking the MCATs, she said, was “the worst experience of my life.”

“It was so much information so quickly and it’s so time-consuming,” she said. “You question your ability to do anything and everything.”

But Perretta said that despite the feeling that her pre-medical requirements precluded her from taking lots of liberal arts classes, it was important for her to keep her goal in mind.

“You have to think about the end result,” she said. “[Being a physician] has the prestige associated with it because it is so difficult to get there.”

Silverman said interviewers know the pressure that applicants are undergoing during the process and understand the stress students go through while juggling school with interviews.

“It is a demanding process that extends from the summertime or early fall right through the admissions season, which might mean almost a full year for some applicants,” he said. “During the interview season, applicants might be taking planes and trains to interview visits, experiencing jet lag, struggling to manage their academic obligations back in school, and trying to get enough sleep so that they are at their best in the interviews. At Yale, we try to minimize stress by making the interview day as relaxing as it can be, but we know that applicants will be nervous and excited, and that’s perfectly okay.”

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