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How To Answer Tell Me About Yourself and Why Medicine?

By November 1, 2020November 20th, 2020Announcements, Interview Advice
Medical school interview advice: How to answer "Tell me about yourself?" and "Why medicine?"

Medical schools receive thousands of applications for very limited spots in their incoming class every year. Many medical schools try to understand their applicants’ journeys and narratives. They often pose open-ended questions during an interview, including Tell me about yourself? and Why medicine? These questions are designed to highlight experiences that have contributed to your development and led you to medicine. A strong answer to these questions is essential to create a solid foundation for a detailed and robust interview that sets you apart from other candidates.

In this post, we will cover:

Get more common traditional medical school interview questions and sample Multiple Mini Interview questions by downloading our Cracking Med School Admissions interview guide!

“Tell me about yourself” is often the first questions asked in medical school interviews.  When answering, it is important to keep in mind that the interviewer is trying to get to know you as a person, including your background outside of medicine. We want to emphasize that the structure of your response as a clear, strong framework can provide a roadmap for your interviewer to follow as you lead them through the details. The framework and questions below are to help guide you brainstorm your response to this open-ended question. You do not need to answer every single question in the framework below.

A winning framework to responding to the “tell me about yourself” questions consists of the following:

Step #1: Describe your background
  • Questions to answer: What is your family structure like and where did you grow up? What kind of upbringing did you have? Did you have siblings? How did you develop your interests and engage your curiosity early on? What values did you gain from your upbringing and your family?
  • Why this is important: This provides some context on your upbringing to allow your interview to understand you better. Additionally, you will build personal connections with your interviewer.
  • Tips: One common mistake that applicants make is that their responses for the background section is too long. Stick to what’s important in your childhood and family and what is relevant for a career in medicine.
Step #2: Highlight your major pursuits in high school (if relevant) and college
  • Questions to answer: What did you study? What motivated you to pursue/focus on these particular areas? Why did you choose these extra-curricular activities? What did you learn about yourself and what you did? How did your activities contribute to your desire to be scientifically inclined and dedicated to service for others? Why did you pursue advanced education beyond college?
  • Why this is important: This section introduces how you begun to develop your interests and shows your interviewer some of the depth of your interests and experiences.
  • Tip: We don’t want to hear a laundry list of activities nor do we want a resume dump.
Step #3: Describe any gap year activities, advanced degrees, work experiences before medical school
  • Questions to answer: Did you work before applying to medical school? Why did you work in the field/industry that you did? If you had another career before medical school, what made you decide to leave and pursue medicine?
  • Why this is important: Since many applicants have very unique backgrounds, this helps an interviewer to gain an additional perspective on your journey. This can also help you to show how you have engaged with medicine before applying as well.
  • Tip: Link these gap year experiences to what you want to do at that specific medical school and why you want to go into medicine.
Step #4: Describe your present-day self and future goals
  • Questions to answer: What are you doing right now? What are some of your hobbies? What other pursuits are you engaging in? What are you hoping to gain from attending medical school? What is the future impact that you hope to create after medical school?
  • Why this is important: This section is the most important one and ties together many of the strings that you have introduced in previous steps into a coherent explanation of who you are and why you are seeking to pursue medicine as the next logical step in your journey. If you have laid a solid foundation before this, your interviewer will find themselves nodding along as you describe how you believe practicing medicine aligns with your goals.
  • Tip: You can receive bonus points if you can link what you are doing now to what you will be doing in that specific medical school.

Background:

  • Hi, my name is [_______].
  • I grew up as the eldest of 3 children in an Haitian-American family, son of a nurse and construction worker in San Diego. As the eldest child, I was often relied on to look after my siblings, whether that was helping them with their homework or ensuring that they were eating well as my parents worked long shifts at work. My parents were immigrants and we had little extended family around us so we remained highly reliant on each other for entertainment and to find what we needed inside and outside of school.

 

Major Pursuits in College

  • While at UC Berkeley, I decided to major in Biology and History because of my fascination with the human body and also how our modern-day society has been shaped by events in the past. I enjoyed the interdisciplinary learning that my school cultivated and I embraced that by writing my senior thesis on the health effects tied to Caribbean colonization by the Spanish conquistadors. I believe that marrying my two passions of biology and history has made me a more well-rounded person who is passionate about understanding medical history and how it affects care delivery today.
  • I was also highly involved in both basic and clinical research and served as a research fellow in my genetics lab studying the genetic elements of insulin production. I also enjoy teaching biology in underprivileged classrooms in the Bay Area as well as working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry. I have also enjoyed building my community at college through the Haitian Students Alliance and hope to continue to build bridges with others in my profession.

 

Work after Medical School

  • After graduating college, I have worked as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Neurosurgery at UCSF Medical Center studying the long-term outcomes of glioblastomas. I also have continued much of my volunteering work and teaching health and biology classes for many local community centers.
  • As somebody interested in academic medicine, I believe my research and teaching experiences will allow me to flourish in my pursuits as a medical school student interested in internal medicine.

 

Present-day day self / Future goals

  • Some of my hobbies include hiking any trail that I can find, reading philosophy and nonfiction literature, and playing jazz piano.
  • In medical school, I am interested pursuing additional research in genetic diseases. I am particularly interested in ____[name researcher, center, or project you are interested in]

If you are prepared, the Cracking Med School Admissions interview gives you the perfect opportunity to standout and shine by sharing with people what you are passionate about.

Med School Admissions Interview Guide eBook Cover

Since medicine is an extremely challenging profession, both from a lifestyle and responsibility perspective, many interviewers want to ensure that you have true motives and a clear understanding of what pursuing medicine will consist of. Interviewers are looking for you to take a step back and understand, what are some of the basic motivations that directed you to medicine?

A winning framework to responding to the “Why Medicine” questions consists of the following:

Step #1: Provide context and your initial interest in pursuing medicine
  • Questions to answer: Do you have any doctors in your family or amongst your role models? Did you have any early experiences with medicine that greatly affected you? Did you consider other careers before deciding on medicine?
  • Why this is important: Providing initial context helps your interviewer to understand some of your initial environment and how you may have arrived at the decision to pursue medicine.
Step #2: Highlight reasons for wanting to pursue medicine
  • Questions to answer: Are you passionate about health? Did you study science in school? If you did not study science, how will what you studied help you in becoming a great doctor? How did you cultivate your interests in healthcare and did you pursue any activities or research to do so?
  • Why this is important: By describing how your interests in healthcare have developed, your interviewer can gain a more nuanced understanding of your scientific curiosity and affinity. This is often the metric they use to determine if you will remain inquisitive, enterprising, and capable of absorbing and driving scientific knowledge forwards in medical school and beyond.
Step #3: Describe your desire to use your passion to make a positive impact
  • Questions to answer: Have you engaged in service work to help others? How does it make you feel and why is it important to you? Why do you want to pursue a career based around service?
  • Why this is important: This section provides a basis for why you are interested in dedicating yourself to a career of serving others. It is also crucial to help you describe why medicine, in particular, is the kind of service that you are interested in doing and why you seek to be a physician and not serve others in a different capacity. Excellent answers will incorporate one’s scholarly endeavors and extracurricular activities. They will link their activities with their career goals.
Step #4: Describe any other reasons and what you hope to accomplish in medicine
  • Questions to answer: Are there any unique reasons that are not covered in the other steps for why you are interested in pursuing medicine? How do you plan to use your scientific curiosity and desire to help others as a physician?
  • Why this is important: By connecting your current passions with the future impact that you hope to produce, an interviewer begins to get a window into what kind of physician you hope to become and how you could greatly benefit from attending their medical school.

Context:

  • Initially, I was not that interested in medicine and instead was passionate about space exploration and aerospace engineering. Because of many personal circumstances, I became more drawn to medicine. First, when my grandfather fell ill with pneumonia, I felt helpless to help him when I visited the hospital all while the medical staff remained attentive to small changes in his condition. Seeing how they listened to our and his questions, tailored their treatment to his needs, and reassured us at every step of the way, encouraged me to consider what role I wanted to play in helping others in the future. Second, after a bad ankle fracture while playing soccer, my doctors were just as attentive and they empowered me to come back stronger and more improved than ever before, solidifying my desire to pursue medicine.

 

Scientific Background

  • In college, I was a Psychology major. I was able to learn more about cognition and human perception works and how they can be affected by the underlying biochemical processes happening in the brain and rest of the body. I was also able to explore my interest in neuroscience by working at the Department of Neurology, studying the cognition of split-brain patients and trying to understand novel therapeutic options. Studying this has encouraged me to continue this work during medical school and beyond as I hope to patients suffering from debilitating chronic conditions.

 

Helping others

  • Although participating in scientific research was fulfilling, after my clinical volunteering experiences I began to remember the impact that my and my grandfather’s experiences had on me. During my volunteering roles, I was able to help and connect to the individuals on a personal level that I had not been able to do earlier, which was a fundamental shift and showed me the true impact of helping others. Also, volunteering for my local women’s center helped me to understand their needs and how I could be an advocate for them and champion the needs of those who may not able to do so themselves.

 

Goals in Medicine

  • As a physician, I hope to continue my scientific problem solving and combine this with my humanistic work serving others, my teaching work, and my desire to advocate for those who have traditionally been underserved by medicine.

download your interview guide

If you are prepared, the Cracking Med School Admissions interview gives you the perfect opportunity to standout and shine by sharing with people what you are passionate about.

Med School Admissions Interview Guide eBook Cover
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Since both “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why medicine?” highlight similar areas and can serve as the foundation for your interview, there are common mistakes that applicants make that affect their interview or may not paint them in the best light. We have included some of the most commonly made errors during an interview and ways to avoid these pitfalls below.

Tip #1: Avoid contradicting your story in your application

While some interviewers review your application before your interview, many others review it after. Nonetheless, they expect to see a high degree of similarity between your application essays and your interview. If they see significant differences (i.e. you write your personal statement on volunteering but never mention it in your interview), they may question which story is the most accurate and find it difficult to advocate for you to the admissions committee. Making sure that your narrative is consistent throughout the application process will make you more memorable and provide a clear rationale for what you will contribute as a future physician.

Tip #2: Avoid excessive focus on relevant experiences

Interviewers are looking to understand how some of the pivotal experiences that you have had have prepared you to pursue a career in medicine. If you begin to spend an inordinate amount of time describing experiences that are not relevant to the “Why medicine” question, you could distract the interview from understanding your main reasons of going into medicine.  The best way to avoid this from happening is to practice, practice, practice your answers to common questions like “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why medicine?”

Tip #3: Avoid getting too personal

Although your interviewer is trying to understand details about you and your journey to medicine, remember that this is a professional environment. There are certain topics that may be too personal to discuss with someone you only recently met. Try to shy away from over-sharing and perhaps placing your interviewer in an awkward position. For example, if you are discussing a unique illness that one of your friends had at a young age that greatly affected you and inspired you to go into medicine, perhaps avoid detailing too extensively the toll that your friend’s illness may have had on you and instead focus on the lessons that it taught you and how you seek to help others suffering from similar ailments.

Tip #4: Avoid sounding unconfident or negative

One turnoff is to sound unconfident or insecure about your application. Do not apologize for your past experiences and answers.

Avoid expressing a large amount of regret or negative takeaways from experiences unless it bolstered your desire to apply to medical school. Interviewers want to remember you positively, and not as someone who regrets many of their past decisions.

 

 

Now that you know how to approach answering the “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why medicine?” medical school interview questions, you are prepared to lay a strong foundation for your interview and impress your interviewer. With a clear understanding of who you are and what motivates you, your interviewer is free to delve into particular areas they find interesting or move on to other questions they may have. With the frameworks we have provided, you can confidently construct your narrative to convey your unique perspectives on how you will make an excellent future physician.

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Blog post written by Kevin Li and Dr. Rachel Rizal