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NOTE: This will be the last the interview series for now. Not to say I won’t have more comments on this stage of the process–I hopefully have at least a few more interviews left–but this should conclude my first round of impressions.

When I was growing up there were three major things that I would stop at nothing to avoid: going to bed on time, brushing my teeth, and writing thank you letters.

The first two habits I have mostly grown into over the years. Thank you notes, however, are still far from instinctual for me. I feel as though every time good manners dictates such a document I am taken by surprise. “Oh yeah…I suppose it would be nice if I did that.”

There is something I find inherently insincere about thank you letters. There is none of the spontaneity or emotion of actually saying thank you in person, and by virtue of being letters, there is generally a lot more that needs to said on paper than you would customarily say aloud. I always find myself coming to a jarring halt after the first line: “Dear so and so, Thank you so much for X. I really appreciate Y….” Then what? Mission accomplished, gratitude expressed. What do you write to fill in the rest of the page?

This is even worse for interviews. A thank you letter for an interview seems to me to be a blatant suggestion for a returned favor. “Thank you so much for talking to me,” says the letter, but we all know what it really means is, “Let me flatter you a bit so you’ll like me enough to give me what I want.” No matter how sincerely I mean what I say, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Bizarrely enough this distaste for thank you letters has lead me to become rather good at writing them. I stutter and struggle over every word, but I pride myself on a final result that is both sincere and personalized. I’ve had more than one prospective employer include in their rejection a comment on how nice they found my thank you letter. “Keep writing such eloquent notes,” one person wrote. I suppose is softened the blow of not getting the job I wanted.

At the moment I am trapped in thank you card hell. Each interview day usually merits two or three separate, handwritten letters. I draft them on the computer and then write them out at our kitchen table as neatly as possible. It’s a delicate process; I refuse to even listen to music for fear it will distract me into writing the wrong letter or miss a punctuation mark. I scared the life out of the dog when he tried to jump up on my leg mid pen-stroke.

Truly I imagine the thank you note is not going to tip the scale one way or another in the minds of the admissions board. But this is my last chance to make an impression; the last argument I can make of my own behalf before my fate is out of my control. After this, all that is left is the wait.

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I have developed a rating scale for medical schools as I visit them for interviews. I call it the “Shininess Scale” (in partial homage to the show Firefly) and ratings range from “Hearts-In-My-Eyes-Shiny” to “A-Bit-Dingy.”

In an ideal world I could use these oh-so-subjective ratings to determine my top choice to medical school, and to be honest it’s playing a larger role in my actual opinions than it probably should. Unfortunately actually deciding on a medical school is not so simple as finding the place with the newest buildings and the latest technology.

As I’ve mentioned before, the interview process is as much an opportunity for we the prospective students to get a feel for the school as it is for the school to decide if we are up to snuff. Since most of us are seeing these schools for the first time, there is a lot of pressure to get a sense of the program and what kind of a fit we would be in only a few short hours.

This is easier said than done. For one thing, the schools have put effort into presenting their strengths for viewing. Similarly, the students who are willing to come to answer questions are generally ones who are really happy with their choice (even free food is not enough incentive to get a disgruntled student to take part in the admissions process that brought them such unhappiness.) And even though the students present for “the real scoop” portion of the afternoon are perfectly happy to tell you about flaws they’ve found in the program, they, for the most part, have nothing to compare it to. They chose the medical school they are advertising. If there was a better choice, they certainly are happier knowing they didn’t make it.

There is no question that these medical schools are different, but, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. The broad strokes tend to be similar across the board; a state of the art simulation lab with mannequins that can react to medications is really cool (and earns a high score on the Shininess Scale), but I’ve yet to tour a school that doesn’t have one. I’m always thrilled to hear about opportunities to study abroad, but there is little data with which to compare programs. A lot of schools advertise early patient contact (a change from older programs where the first two years were spent exclusively in lecture halls), but does it really matter if I start learning interviewing techniques in week one or week six?

Even the schools that boast the highest rating on my arbitrary scale cannot be named as a clear favorite. They are beautiful from the outside, but does that necessarily mean they will provide the most practical medical education? Well, no. But the opposite is not necessarily true either.

Thus my Shininess scale is really quite useless, and I am left to rate schools on an overall gestalt. Fortunately my choices will be limited soon, first by my actual acceptances and, later, by financial considerations. For now I remain happily overwhelmed with the possibilities and certain that even the lackluster options on my list might have hidden sparkle.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Even in our first meeting to discuss medical school interviews our director stressed the fact that we would be going on tours of our prospective schools. “Wear comfortable shoes,” she said.

I’m not a “shoe” kind of girl. I generally have one pair of flip flops, sneakers, dress shoes, galoshes and boots. As I acquire newer versions of each of these things, the older pair will fall to disuse. Way back after I graduated from college I acquired a pair of “interview shoes” that I believed were reasonably comfortable. I wore them to my mock interview. No problem. I figured that, despite a slight pinching of the toes, they would serve for medical school interviews as well as they had served for job interviews.

My first med school interview had an abbreviated tour. The guide was late picking us up, so a few items on our walk were referred to from the street without our going in to get a better view. By the end of the day I had a blister or two and was certainly relieved to change into a pair of flats, but for the most part I was fine.

On my second interview, I glanced around the room and noticed that I had the smallest heels of any of the girls in our tour group. Surely I would be fine.

My first warning was the walk to lunch that took us across campus. I was already slipping my sore feet from their confines under the concealment of the tablecloth. We hadn’t even reached the tour portion of the day. The trouble wasn’t the heels (they were barely half an inch tall) but the fit of the shoe that pinched my toes and rubbed my heel. I could already feel a blister forming.

We walked back from the lunch, toured the hospital, the library, walked in a complete circuit to where we started and then headed back to the medical school. As we trudged up and down flights of stairs I was in agony. I could feel blisters across the tops of all of my smaller toes and a sharp pain in each heel. The left was the worst. I felt the precise moment when that blister popped and found myself wondering if any of the hospital bathrooms stocked band-aids.

By the time we made it back to the admissions office I was still walking out of sheer willpower. Our guides left us with about five minutes to prepare for our interviews. I limped to bathroom along with two other girls. The moment the door was closed I gingerly removed my foot from the shoe.

“I am in so much pain from these shoes,” I said with a laugh, aiming for the pained-but-tough commiseration. As soon as I saw my foot though, I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone. Blisters ballooned across my toes and my left heel was smeared with blood.

One of the other interviewees gasped and offered me a band-aid from her purse. I took one for the left heel but the rest of my wounds I left bare, uncertain that the addition of the band-aid would do anything but hasten their rupture. I thanked her profusely and limped back to the admissions office.

Even though most of the walking for the day was past, it was harder than I expected to even walk the short distance from the waiting room to the offices where we had our interviews. I tried to keep from limping or letting the pain show on my face. “It would be incredibly stupid to give a bad impression because your feet hurt,” I told myself sternly.

There was an optional session at the end of the day, but I couldn’t stand another moment in those shoes, especially with the daunting prospect of a walk to the parking garage where my car was parked. I said my goodbyes and walked stiffly to the door.

I made it about a block before I gave up. The shoes came off. I walked past hospital staff, administrators and students dressed in my very nice suit, barefoot, with a pair of dress shoes dangling from my fingers. “This isn’t me!” I wanted to shout to them. “Seriously, most days I’m very practical!”

I have since purchased a pair of far more comfortable interview shoes. The heel-side is the same, but they fit me well enough as to not rub, and weathered a particularly steep hike up and down the steep hill my next prospective school was located on. I have yet to hear the results of any of my interviews, so here’s hoping my poor shoe choices were not the kiss of death for my medical school career.

It’s been an unspeakably long time since I have updated, so I’m going to try to do a series of posts about my experiences interviewing to semi-make up for that. Hopefully it will get me some momentum for coming weeks.

I’d like to start by explaining the interview process. This was something I had only experienced once in its entirety before, since interviewing for undergraduate programs is not a mandatory part of the application process and my interviews for the postbac program were mostly abbreviated versions of the real thing.

There are three major parts to any interview. The order tends to rearrange a bit, but most begin with the pitch. Just as the school is looking at us with a critical eye to see if we’d fit in well, so the applicants are looking at the school to see if it would be a good fit for them. The first part of the day usually starts with a big push from the admissions office to sell their medical school for us. We’re brought into a nice room–sometimes there is a powerpoint, sometimes just a circle of chairs–and the dean of admissions will explain why their school or program is so awesome. They show a lot of pictures of smiling students bent over textbooks or microscopes. There are glamour shots featuring the more exciting architecture in the area. They throw out some statistics to make you feel special for even being invited for the interview.

By the time I would walk out of the pitch I would be feeling pretty positive about the school and eager to blow them away in my actual interview.

From there the order of events is subject to change. Some places have interviews scattered throughout the day, but others will immediately foist you off on a group of students to the “real scoop.” These students, we are assured, are not secret spies for the admissions committee. This is our time to ask the brutal questions and find out what life X University is really like.

This portion also features lunch. I have thus far enjoyed sandwiches from a nearby shop, two course meal at a faculty dining hall, deep-dish Chicago pizza, and a buffet spread of stuffed pastas. The food serves not only to fuel us interviewees, but also seems to serve as bait for the current students so that they will come and talk to us.

There is also a tour at this point in the day. The tour guide is also usually a student, or a collection of them, and they often serve to reinforce the information we received during the pitch. For a female, this can be the most dangerous part of the day and it only took two experiences limping back to my car with blistered feet before I invested in a pair of very comfortable dress shoes. The tour, although informative, can be exhausting. One school was located on an extremely steep hill, so every time we went to a new location we were trudging up and down a near vertical incline. Another day was particularly humid out, so by the time I made it to the actual interview I was covered in a fine layer of sweat. The fact that this entire tour is done while in our suits does not help.

The last piece of the day is the interview itself. The style of the interview varies. I haven’t been to any MMI (multiple mini interviews), group interviews or panel interviews.  I haven’t even had a particularly difficult interview. Mostly I’ve just had a nice conversation with someone who knows the broad strokes of my path to medical school and now wants to fill in some details.

On the one hand, it’s a relief to not have had any really negative interviews. On the other hand it makes it really difficult to tell how well I’m doing. Well yes, we had a lovely conversation…but what does that mean? Maybe they have lovely conversations with most applicants. Maybe I said something terribly wrong and they just were too polite to let it show.

At one school there was one long interview that covered everything from my interviewer’s wife’s life story to the pronunciation of my last name. Some of the other schools have had student interviewers, who try to gauge how you would fit into their class. (At one school the student coordinator came out and said, “We want your student interview to be casual and comfortable, but please, no F-bombs.” At our surprised looks she laughed and said, “Oh it’s happened.”)

Some of the interviewers have read my file extensively and know extensive details about my past. Most of them have read my personal statement at least, and I’ve had a flattering number of compliments on my writing style. I’ve had one blind interview, where the only thing the student interviewer knew about me was my name and the town I was coming from.

In addition to the major events (the pitch, the real scoop and the interviews), schools sometimes throw in sessions about student life, special programs they offer, or financial aid. Sometimes these are optional sessions (we are vehemently assured that not attending an optional session will not hurt our application, but a small voice in my head often wonders how true that is.) Sometimes they are slipped in between the other scheduled events to make sure everyone attends.

The end of the day tends to come abruptly. One minute I’m being hustled from here to there, the next I find myself standing awkwardly in the admissions office collecting my bags and wondering if there was something else I was supposed to do. Because optional events and the fact that the interviews don’t always happen all at once, a lot of the fellow applicants will still be hanging around as I leave. All of a sudden I’m free to change clothes, catch a bus or a train or plane, and wonder if there was anything else I should have done to make a better case for myself.