M.D./Ph.D. and M.D. applications: interviews and decision making

By Sai Phyo, St. John’s University

Now that I have finished the interviewing process for MSTP (medical scientist training programs) and have some acceptances under my belt, I want to share some of my experiences on what to expect after successfully submitting the primary and secondary applications. I am by no means an expert in the M.D./Ph.D. application process. But throughout the process, I interacted with some of the experts who shared advice on what to expect. I will also touch upon some things I have indirectly learned about the M.D. interview process.

In my past article, I wrote about the M.D./Ph.D. and M.D. application process: what prerequisite classes to take; what extra-curricula activities to participate in; and information regarding the primary (AMCAS) and secondary (school-specific) applications. After submitting these required applications, you will have to wait until you get an interview invite. Once you get an invite, set up a day that is convenient for both you and the school.

???????????????????M.D./Ph.D. interviews are set up very differently from one program to the next. M.D. program interviews are usually a discussion between the applicant and one or two faculty of the school, as well as a current M.D. student. M.D./Ph.D. interviews are longer and more intense, usually lasting for about two to three days. A typical M.D./Ph.D. interview day consists of multiple interviews. These interviews can be sorted into several different types: M.D. interviews, Ph.D. interviews and M.D./Ph.D. interviews. Some schools might have all of these types, whereas some might have only one or two of them. Regardless of the program, in my experience, there will always be Ph.D. interviews.

For the purpose of both M.D. program applicants and M.D./Ph.D. applicants, I am going to start by talking about M.D. interviews. These interviews are conducted by administrators of the school of medicine or medical practitioners who lecture in the SoM. M.D. interviewers will be the ones who ask you why you want to be a doctor and why you are interested in medicine. Of course, there are many other questions that you should look up before going to any interview. Be prepared to discuss why you have chosen to apply for that particular SoM. Look into their school mission statement, curricula, geographical location and so on. You should also be able to discuss your volunteering and research experiences if you had any. Interviewers are more interested in what you have learned and skills you have developed through these experiences rather than just counting how many hours you have put in. More sample M.D. questions can also be found on online support groups and online forums here.

As for M.D./Ph.D. applicants, there are a lot more interviews in one day. Moreover, the interviews also include a first visit, meaning you’ll get to meet current students, have dinners and social outings, get a tour of the medical school and, possibly, laboratory areas. M.D. interviews might also do the above activities, but not all programs offer such activities. During the interview day, which is typically on the second day that you are at the university, you’ll be interviewed by graduate school faculty, SoM faculty, and the M.D./Ph.D. steering committee.

Graduate school faculty interviews (Ph.D. interviews) are usually targeted towards talking about what the faculty’s research is. Skills usually tested are whether an applicant can comprehend science and whether an applicant can communicate his/her research to another scientist. SoM faculty interviews (M.D. interviews) tend to ask questions focused on why an applicant is interested in pursuing this degree. M.D. interviews try to gauge if an applicant is suitable for a career in medicine and for the SoM. I had an interview in which the faculty asked me about my research project, and then asked me if I could repeat the science behind my research project in layman’s terms to test my communication skills.

M.D./Ph.D. steering committee interviews, in my opinion, are the most important of all interviews, and they take many different forms. Some will ask you to talk about your research in front of the whole committee before conducting individual interviews about your understanding of being an M.D./Ph.D. These interviews are conducted by an M.D./Ph.D. steering committee. These committees help guide students in their curricula.

After the interview, the waiting game begins. In the meantime, you can show the programs that you are very interested by contacting them with relevant updates since the interview, uploading an updated (can be unofficial) transcript or writing letters of intent (LoI). I emailed numerous personal updates about my life and submitted an updated transcript.
Personal updates are sent directly to your interviewers, especially to those on the steering committee and describe what has happened since you have been interviewed. It may include your research progress, academic progress and interesting and pertinent extracurricular activities.

Letters of intent are a little different from personal updates in the sense that you are updating the school about yourself in addition to indicating a strong interest in that particular school. These letters should strongly indicate that if you were accepted, you would matriculate. You don’t want to write a letter to every school to which you applied. Limit this to the one or two schools that most excite you.

You are now officially done with the application process. You have done the best you can. It is now time for you to try and relax and wait for the decisions.

Once you get the decisions, there are several factors that you should consider when choosing a program since this is where you will be spending the next eight years of your life. For more advice on the decision making process, check out this wonderful article by Lawrence “Skip” Brass, M.D., Ph.D. (director of MSTP at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania).

One thing that you should note is that an applicant can hold as many acceptances as s/he wants until April 30th. April 30th is the deadline when an applicant must release all but one acceptance to which s/he will matriculate.

M.D./Ph.D. program applications are a stressful, time consuming and complicated process. Try to enjoy the process, because it is not about the destination but the journey of getting to your destination that is the most enjoyable. Good luck with your application process!

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