Why I Couldn’t Answer the Easiest Question in Existence

So I just had my pre-health interview. Allow me to set the scene: I walk into a board room and I’m seated in “the hot seat”. Sat before me are four members of the pre-health department there to interview me on my projected success or failure as I near my application to medical school. We made it through three questions.

The style for this round was mostly informal. Everyone was friendly to one another and the main focus of this meeting was as a means of preparation for the real interview, the re–do, which is scheduled for a few weeks from now. My answers to their questions were long-winded, though mostly well-directed and adequate. The question that I stumbled on the most? “Tell us a little about yourself and why you want to be a good doctor.” Ridiculous, right?

I’ve prepared to become a doctor for the past 4-6 years of my life. I’ve thought of every reason possible why I want to become a physician and why I would make a damn good one. And here was my moment. He was the question, lobbed to me like the underhanded toss of a softball (which I was never any good at) and I completely fumbled (see? wrong euphemism used only semi on-purpose). I entered into my life story. Instantly. I started from the very beginning and I was ready to tell them everything–ready to walk them through my entire story; but that’s not what they asked for.

“Tell us a little about yourself and why you want to be a doctor.”

It’s a loaded question. It was asked at the very beginning and it threw me off my center because I had no idea where to start, so I started from the very beginning, which is fine if you’re writing a book, but not if you’re pitching an idea—the idea of you as an applicant, the idea of “Adam as doctor.” If you have a great idea for an invention that can improve upon the design of an iPod and you run into Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) in an elevator, you don’t start your pitch with how music first began. Rather, you get straight to the point, the details, the elevator pitch.

It’s important to employ strategy–to walk into an interview with questions prepared for that specific school that you want answered before you leave. It’s important to remember that you’re interviewing the representatives of this school as much as they are interviewing you (and for the same reason). It’s also important to have 3-5 key points that you want your interviewers to know about you before the interview is over. For me? I’m curious, passionate, and hard-working. I want to make a difference, and I want to rise to the defense of those who need it most because I acknowledge the importance of advocating for the health and safety of others. And I want to effect change by way of shedding further light on the health impacts of human-driven climate change.

When you’re interviewing, I’m learning that it’s important to always keep your vision in mind. It’s your job to choose your school based on the criteria that you set for yourself and the completion of your vision and ask “can I rise to my fullest potential here.” “What can this school offer me that others cannot?” “I understand the positives of going here, but can I live with the negatives?”

In interviews, we are made to feel small and feeble. Made to feel that we aren’t worthy of their acceptance because we know so little of the world of medicine. And while this is true to a degree–while it is true that there is still so much more that we have to learn, we cannot let that discount the work that we have already done so far. We have power. We have a plan, a vision, and it’s our job to ensure that that vision comes through on interview day.

I’m scheduled to reinterview in a few weeks so stay tuned for a follow–up. In the meantime, read below for a list of possible interview questions that you should be aware of; but DON’T memorize them. Just use them for practice. You want to be prepared, not well–rehearsed. You’re not a robot.

Opening Questions:

  • Tell us a little about yourself and why you want to be a doctor.
    • Simple but not so simple…
  • Why should we accept you over another candidate? What makes you different?
  • Why would you be a good doctor?
  • What would you contribute to this profession?
  • What makes you think that you can succeed in medical school?

General Questions:

  • Please provide us with hour greatest strength as well as your greatest weakness.
  • How would your best friend describe you?
  • To this date, what is the most important medical development in the last 25 years?
  • In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue in healthcare today?
  • Provide us with an example of a time you worked with someone of a different culture.
  • Give us three qualities of a good doctor that you encompass.
  • What do you plan to do if you are not accepted into medical school this year?
  • Where do you see the medical profession in 10 years?
  • What are your personal and professional goals 10 years from now?
  • What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you in medical school?
  • If you could change one thing about your application package, what would it be and why?
  • Can you describe to us a difficult obstacle that you had to overcome? What did you learn from that experience?
  • What was your favorite and least favorite course as an undergraduate?
  • What things frustrate you the most? How do you usually cope with them?
  • How do you deal with conflict? Give us an example.
  • Do you like to work alone or with other people?
  • Give us an example of a time that you contributed to a group effort.
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • How do you feel about the debate over the amount of hours residents are forced to work?
  • Are you happy?
  • What if we don’t have a residency available for your specialty?

Off the Wall Questions:

  • What is the last book you read?
  • What is the greatest gift you have ever received?
  • If you were a tree, which tree would you be and why?
  • If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
  • What is your ideal vacation?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • Are you married? Do you have children?
  • Tell us about your family. Are they supportive of your decision to apply to medical school?
  • Tell us about a significant event in your life and how it shaped you.
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
    • Okay so I looked this up because I just wanted to know the answer. They’re circle so that the cover cannot fall through the opening. If it were square, it could fall through if it were inserted diagonally. The more you know…

Ethical Questions:

  • Surgeon scrubbing in and you smell alcohol.
  • HIV positive patient who is sleeping with your cousin.
  • 16-year-old who wants an abortion and mom doesn’t want her to get one.
  • Someone refuses treatment due to religious reasons.
  • If you have a choice between giving a transplant to a successful elderly person in the community or a 20-year-old drug addict, who would you choose?
    • That’s a leading question…

Closing questions:

  • What is one question you thought we were going to ask and didn’t? What is your answer to that question?
  • Is there anything you want us to know that we have not asked?

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