Editor’s Note: This post is one of two pieces on the hybrid interview format used at the University of Michigan Medical School. Read the other piece here.
By: Ilana Fischer
Ilana Fischer is a second-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Of the medical schools I had the privilege to interview with, all used the traditional, long-form interview. At these schools, both public and private institutions that rank among the University of Michigan’s peers, each interview day included two or three one-on-one interviews lasting 30 minutes to 1 hour. For these interviews, the University of Michigan, like other medical schools, drew from student, alumni, administrator, and faculty interviewers that generally posed a few standard or predetermined questions within a generally unstructured session.
I actually enjoyed the long-form interviews and appreciated the chance to ask questions and interact personally with representatives of each medical school. At their best, traditional interviews were fun, informal, engaging conversations that gave me a sense of the culture of an institution. One interview I had with a pediatrician was so genuinely pleasant it could have been a happy hour—we went over the allotted time by 30 minutes chatting about Game of Thrones and my thoughts on the decriminalization of marijuana in Colorado. But like many applicants, I wondered to what extent my ability to “click” with my interviewers would influence my admission. Sometimes I was paired with interviewers whose interests were very different from mine or who seemed perplexed by my untraditional background. Would they doubt my fitness as a medical student because I seemed unfamiliar to them? Also, to what extent would this type of interview ensure that my classmates would have the interpersonal skills to be good collaborators, professional colleagues, and frankly, good friends?
For these reasons, I was excited that the University of Michigan’s interview process included multiple short-form interviews alongside the traditional, long-form interviews. After the two long-form interviews, I had six short-form interviews lasting 6 minutes each, staged back to back. In two of these interviews I was paired with actors who posed an ethical dilemma, another set of these interviews involved problem-solving exercises with another applicant, and in the last two I was directly posed a question by an interviewer. I felt these interviews were low pressure—there was no way to prepare, so I just had to do what came naturally! The structure and content of the short-form interviews also provided me with additional information about the school. The standardized structure of the interviews implied that the admissions department was seeking more objective and transparent assessments of applicants (and would perhaps be transparent in general). The content of the interviews indicated an institution deliberately screening for applicants with a solid ethical intuition and a basic ability to communicate and work productively with others—a nice reassurance that the other applicants chosen would be good classmates. My impressions, though formulated independently of Bibler Zaidi and colleagues’ recent study, were consistent with the group’s findings that combining multiple short-form interviews alongside the traditional interviews confers benefits that neither format can provide alone. The short-form interviews were unique in how they communicated (albeit implicitly) which values the medical school found important, and served as a nice complement to the unstructured, conversational tone of the traditional interviews.