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Tips for Interviewing at Caribbean Medical Schools

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So you've decided to attend medical school in the Caribbean and narrowed your choice of schools down to a few...and you've been invited to interview. Congratulations!

Interviewing at any medical school is nerve-wracking, so it's understandable if you're a little overwhelmed when you contemplate interviewing at a foreign school.

If you have chosen one of the top schools that cater to English-speaking students, you can safely reduce your worry to normal levels. The interview process will be similar to what you would face at schools in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some of the most common questions you can expect and some general tips to bear in mind.

Preparing for your trip

One of the most disastrous mistakes you can make is not packing for your destination. If you're coming from the north, it may be hard to imagine how warm it will be when you land on a tropical island, even in November or December. If you need to bundle up for the trip to the airport, dress in layers with something light on the bottom, shorts or lightweight knits with heavier clothing over it that you can easily strip off and stuff in a bag when you land. Remember that scene from Cool Runnings where the Jamaican bobsled team lands in Canada? It's a lot like that. If you're overdressed for warm weather, you can overheat really quickly.

Likewise, you need to pack a lightweight, professional outfit for your interview. Arriving out of breath, sweaty, and rumpled will destroy your confidence at the one time you need it most. Choosing the right wardrobe for warm weather and you can cross one stressful issue off the list.

Likewise, you need to pack a lightweight, professional outfit for your interview. Arriving out of breath, sweaty, and rumpled will destroy your confidence at the one time you need it most. Choosing the right wardrobe for warm weather and you can cross one stressful issue off the list.

Write up a checklist of items you'll need to pack, including paperwork, passport, and research notes about the school and faculty you've done to prepare for the interview. When your visit is over, use the same checklist to pack up your things from the hotel. It's easy to forget things you can't do without, like phone chargers and deodorant.

It will also help to print map directions from your hotel to the school before you leave home. You may not need them, but a few minutes of your time before you leave can save you an anxiety-ridden pre-interview morning and help get you there in time.

If your schedule is not too tight, get there a day or two early so you can settle in to the hotel and take some time to relax and acclimate. Take a walk on the beach, stroll around the area, and get a good night's sleep. Being a doctor is highly stressful, and medical schools are looking for candidates who can handle the pressure. You'll make a much better impression if you're well-rested and in control.

Answering interview questions

While no two interviews are exactly alike, some questions are almost universal...and far trickier to answer than they appear. Medical schools are looking for standout applicants. It's tempting to give easy, generic answers...just like everybody else.

You have under an hour – in some cases under half an hour – to sell yourself. Imagine, for a moment, that you're a product, like cola, that is new to the market. You might have a taste that people prefer to Coke by 10 to 1, but without packaging and advertising, no one will buy it. You may be a fantastic flavor, but you have to convince people of that before they'll give you a chance.

To stand out, try viewing every question as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to patients, your fascination with medicine, and your interest in the school. Offer concrete answers about why you want to attend this school, the more flattering to the school the better. Never hint that the school was not your first choice or the only school that invited you to interview. The goal of this interview is to try and determine whether you'll be a good student and a good doctor.

Common questions

  • Tell me about yourself: Be honest. Tell them how you like to spend your free time, what motivates you, what fascinates you. Start with a succinct bio that includes where you're from and what your family is like, but always bear in mind that, unless these details influenced your decision to become a doctor or your great grandpa was a world-famous surgeon, they are not going to stand out. They are looking for a well-rounded candidate with experiences, so this is a great opportunity to talk about travels, experiences, or your commitment to physical fitness.
  • What not to say: Don’t relate your entire life story. It’s way too easy to babble out of control when you’re nervous. That’s why it’s great to rehearse in advance.
  • Why do you want to be a doctor? Most answers will include family legacy or inspiration borne of sickness or injury in the past. Noble sentiments are fine, but be sure to add what you did with that inspiration. If you decided to be an oncologist after watching a relative battle with cancer when you were nine, what did you do next? If you learned everything you could about disease and treatment, and based every school project on what you learned, good answer...especially if you have an amusing anecdote.
  • What not to say: for the money.
  • When did you decide to go to medical school? This answer might be similar to the last one. Your inspiration and your decision might have gone hand in hand. If not, just detail what led you to the decision and when. If your answer is not terribly interesting, keep it short.
  • What not to say: I didn't know what else to do or it's what my parents wanted. Being indecisive or easily manipulated is not a good trait for a physician.
  • Why do you want to attend this medical school? This might be the most important question you'll have the opportunity to answer. Do your homework. Your answer should reference the school's track record in a certain area, faculty (and if possible, publications or research professors have been involved in), or your interest in areas of practice where the school has a reputation for excellence.
  • What not to say: I applied to lots of schools, and this is the only one that offered an interview.
  • What would you do if you weren’t accepted to medical school? The acceptance rate for medical schools is much higher at Caribbean medical schools, but there's no guarantee you'll be accepted. The best answer includes a lateral move into an alternate science or medical field.
  • What not to say: I'll go home and work at my dad's plumbing business. Would you really give up a fascination with all things medical that easily?
  • What are the most important characteristics for a physician? Your answer should include more than just a technical skillset. Physicians need interpersonal skills, strong ethics, compassion, and other qualities.
  • What not to say: Anything flippant. Physicians need steady hands. Try to say something that really shows an understanding of the profession.
  • What do you bring to the table? Your grades may not be perfect, but you have more to offer. Think about what sets you apart. Do you have leadership skills? Are you super organized? Can you speak different languages?
  • What not to say: I have great people skills. Know who says that? People with nothing else to say.

If you're prepared, rested, and confidant, your interview at a med school in the Caribbean will be no more stress-inducing than any other interview. Anxiety is common, and your ability to control it, without coming across as cocky, is an important consideration. Answer questions calmly and completely, and you'll do fine.

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