What Students Need to Know About the Importance of the Medical School Interview
Updated: May 17, 2022
How important is the medical school interview in the med school admissions process?
How important is the interview? In two words: incredibly important.
When I’m working with students, I often show them different medical school websites. Medical schools clearly describe the importance of the interview.
For example, the website for the Ohio State University College of Medicine states:
"Even students with excellent credentials, and a chance to one day become a great physician can end up missing out on their medical school dream with poor interview skills."
Common Misconceptions About The Medical School Interview
When I speak to applicants and their parents about the medical school interview, I hear the same thing. There is often this feeling that the admissions process is largely about the GPA and MCAT--and that everything else just isn't as important. I've found that many applicants believe that the interview is essentially a formality.
This is a common misconception, and it's a dangerous one. In fact, all components of your application are important. Especially the interview.
High-achieving Applicants, with High MCAT Scores and Excellent GPAs, Are Still at Risk for Not Getting into Medical School
I'd like to share with you some interesting data from the AAMC website. Nearly 20% of applicants with GPAs greater than 3.79 and with MCAT scores between 514 and 517 failed to gain admission to medical school.
Think about that for a minute. To achieve grades and scores of that caliber requires years and years of hard work. And despite that hard work and amazing achievement, almost 1/5 of these students (in the 92nd to 95th percentiles) are rejected.
Why is this high-achieving group not getting in?
There are multiple potential reasons as to why applicants may not get into medical school.
They may lack experience or qualifications in one or several areas, such as volunteer activities, research experience, or shadowing experiences. The quality of their letters of recommendation may be suboptimal.
A major factor for many applicants relates to the medical school interview.
For example, the LSU Shreveport School of Medicine states that
“High grades and or MCAT scores alone are never enough. For those interviewed, impressions from the personal interview are exceedingly important.”
Medical school interviews are incredibly important during the admissions process, because they're the main way in which schools can evaluate your non-cognitive qualities and skills
Statistics on the Importance of Medical School Interview
Do we have any data that we can refer to in trying to determine what medical schools value? Yes.
A few years ago, the AAMC conducted a survey where they asked medical schools “What criteria do you use to make decisions about who is accepted into medical school?”
The survey results indicated that the interview was the number one factor that schools use. In fact, it was higher than the GPA and MCAT. In this survey study, the GPA was ranked 3rd in terms of importance, while the MCAT score was ranked 6th in importance.
Why would the medical school interview be ranked so highly?
The Difference Between Being Invited to Interview and Being Admitted to Medical School
The answer to this question boils down to this basic fact: there are actually two parts of the admissions process.
The first part is getting your foot in the door. In other words, this phase of the admissions process is focused on receiving that interview invitation. In order to be asked to interview, you need to have a certain minimum GPA and MCAT score.
Once you’ve gone through the interview, there's a different weight given to admissions criteria. In other words, once you’ve interviewed, there are a different set of factors used by the medical school admissions committee.
Out of that pool of applicants who have gone through the interview, the number one factor in terms of admissions decisions is their interview performance, with their GPA ranked 3rd and the MCAT score ranked 6th.
The Importance of Both Cognitive and Non-cognitive Qualities in the Medical School Admissions Process
What are medical schools looking for in the interview? In order to answer that question, you need to think about what patients are looking for in their doctors.
What makes for a successful doctor? Both cognitive and non-cognitive qualities and skills.
Your GPA and MCAT scores provide schools some important information about your academic abilities. However, being a doctor is so much more than being knowledgeable or passing a test.
Every time you visit or accompany a family member to the doctor’s office, you were probably thinking of how well the doctor treated you. You might think about how he has a really good bedside manner, or how she is so compassionate and a really good listener. This is something that we see over and over in studies of how patients talk about their experience with the doctor.
The studies show that patients already assume that the doctor is knowledgeable. The overall feeling/experience that they get is about how that doctor treated them and made them feel. Did the doctor care about them, listen to them, and make them feel at home?
For a doctor to provide that environment, also known as ‘patient centered care’, requires the right set of non-cognitive qualities and skills. While there are many ways to assess these non-cognitive skills, medical schools primarily determine this through the interview. This is essentially why the medical school interview is the most important criteria in admissions decisions.
Patients want health providers who are empathetic, good listeners, and who communicate well--all important non-cognitive qualities
The Bottom Line: The medical school interview is the final hurdle in the admissions process, and it’s the most important criteria for admissions decisions. If you'd like to learn more about the qualities that medical schools are evaluating during the interview, please see this post.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.