5 min read

What Happens If You Fail Your Medical School Interview?

Published on
May 13, 2024

The medical interview is the final hurdle that students face in attempting to gain admission to medical school. Having reached this step, it is completely understandable that you may feel stressed leading into this high-stakes challenge. The fact that you have reached this incredible milestone indicates that you are almost certainly a worthy candidate for medical training. 

Unfortunately, the competition to secure a place at a medical school is very tight, and for every admission there is certainly a rejection. We are not advocating that you should be scared for med school interviews - quite the opposite. In fact, we will be trying to re-frame your approach to the interview, to parallel the strategy that you have likely already developed leading up to your university exams and GAMSAT.

It is perfectly common to underperform or even fail in your university studies, or GAMSAT exam. Should this occur you carefully evaluate your performance, and incorporate these lessons into your future application, and even your future medical practice. 

A ‘messed up’ medical school interview is really no different. It is critically important to step back and learn from your interview mistakes, in order that you can have a strong performance in future interviews, all while becoming a more proficient patient communicator. 

What Is Resilience in Medicine? 

One of the prominent myths regarding medical school interviews, and perhaps medical careers in general, is that both are fundamentally rife with failure. Many individuals see the high performance, success stories that emerge from the medical admission process, and overlook the fact that the majority of learning in the biomedical world builds on mistakes and shortcomings. This is probably most true in the context of hospital training, which is effectively an apprenticeship, where you learn and grow under the tutelage of senior doctors. 

This leads us to the discussion of resilience in medicine, as well as in the medical pre-admission process. When facing up to the great challenges of a career in medicine, it is important to reframe your view of resilience in this field. Throughout your life, you have almost certainly been told being strong and persistent in the face of adversity is a virtue. 

While this is almost certainly true, this statement has to go further when preparing for medical school. Statistically speaking, there is a large chance of failure at every stage of both medical and pre-medical training. It is beneficial to view failure as a routine learning point, rather than a personal failure. 

Possibility of Being Accepted After a Bad Interview

Before we continue our discussion of med school interview failure, we should address a specific reader demographic. If you have searched this article immediately following your interview during which you feel you underperformed, the best possible next step is to close this web-page and stop worrying. 

In the hospital, one of the most important tenets repeated by experienced doctors is that you should never undertake a task, unless it serves a specific goal or purpose. This article provides helpful advice regarding evaluating your interview performance, but it cannot change the outcome of your recent interview. It is not useful to feed into medical school interview anxiety by searching the web for predictions. 

The most scientific advice we can possibly give is that you should reward yourself after completing an interview. It is critically important that your brain is rewarded for all of its hard work - this is a core psychological principle guiding mental wellbeing. 

Regardless of your sentiments following a medical school interview, remember the following:

  • You have no access to the marking sheet
  • You have no knowledge of your competition
  • You have a biased recall of events 

Considering all these factors together, it may very well be that you have performed poorly. It is equally possible that you have performed well. Do not over analyze your performance prior to receiving your result, because this does not serve a specific purpose. In other words - it’s poor medical decision-making! 

How To Talk About Failure?

Perhaps you have recently received the dreaded ‘email of death’ from your preferred university. 

What are the next steps?

First - be open and honest with yourself regarding your performance. There is no great shame in your shortcomings. In fact, you have just received your first lesson in medical resilience. The timing is arguably better than had your first encounter with medical failure occured in the hospital. If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss your situation with a friend or family member. This is both cathartic, and helps you reflect and accept your situation. It is also useful for gaining insight and advice from a third-party perspective.

Second -  begin to technically evaluate your questions, and consider where your medical interview went bad. One of the biggest possible failures in medical school interviews is viewing it as a casual assessment. In your MMI and panel interview articles, we discussed in detail the assessment objectives of an interview. Recapping those points briefly - the admissions committee is trying to evaluate your ability to empathise with patients, and be an effective team communicator. 

In healthcare, effective communication is the difference between a patient’s life and death. As such, it is governed by strict rules and formulas. These are extremely relevant to interview preparation

How Do You Do Well In Your Next Medical Interview?

The following piece of advice is probably the most important information that can be communicated to an interview candidature:

Unlike the GAMSAT, or your GPA, preparing for the interview is the most straightforward process in medical admission. 

Note - straightforward does not mean easy. Passing the medical interview is certainly not easy. What we are trying to communicate is that there is a specific set of rules to correctly respond to interview questions. Unlike the GAMSAT, which has a nearly unlimited scope for learning, the types of questions, and the principles of responding are both limited and fixed. The challenge of the interview is mastering these principles - this requires extensive practice and feedback. 

This means that the not-so-secret recipe for improving your next interview performance is a regular study plan. We have gone into great detail about interview preparation in our MMI and Panel article series, however this is the bottom line - you should be practicing multiple times a week. This practice should involve recording yourself for review, and presenting your answers to multiple people to seek feedback. 

Three Common Medical Interview Mistakes

We will now provide some final points of advice regarding key misconceptions that students should be aware of, going into medical interviews.

You Are Expected To Demonstrate Biomedical Knowledge - FALSE

This is a pretty significant mistake that is fairly common among students applying for medical school.  Many MMI scenarios place you in the shoes of medical staff. Remember, you are not yet qualified to evaluate situations from a medical point of view, and should you attempt this, it would be considered malpractice. Instead, you should aim to be clear and concise in your general communication, empathy, and logic. 

Interviews Are Extremely Formal - FALSE

While it is important to adopt a formal attitude to medical interviews, it is counterproductive to be dry. Remember to deliver animated and passionate responses to questions. Please smile, and consider the fact that you need to be a pleasant student and team member in the hospital environment. After all, medicine is a team sport!

Finishing Early Is a Mistake - FALSE

Given that interviewers are going to listen to hours of responses, there is nothing more refreshing than a short, sharp answer that gets straight to the point. It is incredibly easy to zone out during an overly detailed, rambling interview - aim to keep your interviewers focused on the star of the show!