With interview season in full swing, I’m constantly asked, “What am I supposed to ask at the end of an interview?” While you shouldn’t ask a question just for the sake of asking a question, it can be a way to signal interest in the institution. Be careful not to ask questions covered in the information sessions or readily available on the school’s website, as this shows lack of attention and incomplete research.
Here are a few details I wish I had known about when choosing a medical school:
“What does the school do to support students in matching? Or for students who don’t match, what does the school do for students who have to go through the SOAP process?”
Every administration is likely to be startled by this question, as no student or institution wants to consider this possibility. However, every student deserves to know the answer. While you may not yet fully understand the process of the match if you’re a student applying to medical school, I encourage you to do your research. Here is a video from the National Resident Matching Program on the match.
“What research opportunities are available to students, and are they affiliated with an academic institution?”
There is currently an arms race in research among students on ERAS applications for residency. I recommend having at least one or two research-related items on your medical school application, regardless of the specialty you are applying to. In more competitive specialties you see 10 or even 20 research-related experiences on applicants’ resumes.
This question allows you to ascertain what type of research opportunities are offered, learn about connections to residencies where you can work on research with residents, and determine whether they have academic institution backing for students. You may also want to find out if they have an employed statistician, as many students and residents struggle with this aspect of research. Having help with statistics is a game changer.
“Does the school have a fund to help students cover travel costs associated with presenting research?”
While the school may have robust research opportunities, you’ll want to determine if they support students by helping cover the financial costs of presenting posters or oral presentations at conferences. Attending conferences can easily add up to over $1,000 or more between hotel costs, flights, and so on. Many schools offer support to attend conferences if presenting.
“Do students have flexibility in scheduling their fourth year to allow for as many audition rotations (sub-internships) as they would like?”
This is incredibly important as some specialties are very audition-dependent. If the school does not have great flexibility in the beginning of the fourth year, then you may not be able to audition at as many prospective residency programs as you would like.
“What are the rotation sites like, how many are there, and how do students select/rank spots? Do students get one-on-one time with attendings, or is it glorified shadowing?”
Some schools have only a few hospitals they send students to while others have over 50 rotation sites. If you need to be in a specific location, this is a critical question. Your experience during rotations is 99% about the type of preceptors you have and your opportunities. Many sites treat students almost as residents (often because they don’t have residents), whereas some sites have fellows, residents, auditioning students, and regular third and fourth year students — it may be more difficult to get hands-on experience in this environment. While more trainees doesn’t always equate to less hands-on experience, it is something to consider. My site allows me to have my own patients, conduct supervised small procedures with guidance, create treatment plans, and write notes, whereas some friends at other sites spend their entire time observing. This can make or break your clinical clerkship experience.
“Is there early clinical experience during first and second year? Do you have a simulation lab? What experience do you offer students to prepare for clerkships?”
While simulation isn’t the same as hands-on patient care experience, introducing first and second year medical students to clinical scenarios can be beneficial. Repeated exposure to simulation has shown increased preparedness in students entering their clerkships. Some schools offer hospital experience once a month during the first 2 years or have student-run health clinics where they learn the basics of patient interaction and conduct blood pressure checks, EKGs, help with physicals, and so forth.
“What board materials do you supply? How do you support students struggling with standardized exams? For a DO school, are there funds included in loan disbursement for both COMLEX and USMLE or only COMLEX?”
Money can be tight during medical school and boards are very expensive, especially for DO students planning to take both USMLE and COMLEX. When taking both exams, it can be close to $3,000 between second and third year. Many DO schools only cover the cost of COMLEX in loan refund disbursements, as it is the only licensing exam required to graduate (although a lot of DO students take USMLE as well). Additionally, board prep question banks such as UWorld are often more than $400, and other preparation resources add to the cost. As many students struggle with standardized exams, you can also ask whether the school provides board coaches, board schedule prep, or tutors.
As an interviewee, you should gather as much information as possible about every institution you’re considering spending the next 4 years with. While I didn’t ask these questions during my medical school interviews, I wish I had. I unfortunately didn’t know their importance at the time. These questions offer essential information about the institutional environment and support offered to students.
Do you have other questions you wish you’d asked during your medical school interviews? Comment with your suggestions below!
Ashton Amos, MMS, is a DO/MSMEd candidate at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.