My Medical School Interview
I attended Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, the setting of much of IN STITCHES. Why Michigan State? Well, for one reason, they let me in.
Actually, I applied to several medical schools and got accepted to most. There was one school, though, that I applied to and received neither an acceptance nor a rejection; I never heard from them at all. Just as well. I didn’t want to go there anyway. Too far from home, too rigid a program, and the medical school interviewer freaked me out. Here’s that interview.
Oh, the school? I can’t tell you. Let’s just call it Case Eastern Reserve.
I can’t get over this guy’s cred — the wall of his office is plastered with diplomas, awards, certificates of excellence, framed yellowed scientific journals containing articles he wrote, and pictures of him shaking hands with four different Presidents. You’d think he’d rate a bigger office. This is the size of a closet, dingy, dominated by a cruddy old desk, one visitor’s chair with the stuffing spilling out, and a lone smudgy window overlooking a dumpster.
We’re four minutes into the interview and so far all he’s talked about is himself, his career, his accomplishments, spoken in a mumbled garbled voice as inviting as someone trying to clear a throat full of phlegm. I felt nervous for the first two minutes, now I’m bored and planning my escape.
Then I notice his eyes. They go off in opposite directions. His right one’s looking at me, his left one’s looking out the window. Where do I look? I alternate and feel like an idiot. I choose the wall behind him where I focus on a photograph of my interviewer, much younger, shaking hands with a confused, stone-faced President Ford.
Finally, he speaks.
“Hmpf,” he says, rustling through a folder that I assume contains my application. “So then, Mr. Young.”
“Youn,” I say. “It’s Youn.”
“Ah,” he says. “Hmpf.”
Is it hot in here?
The interviewer yanks off his glasses and drops his head an inch above my folder. He squints at my transcript.
“Hmpf,” he says. “Your GPA. 3.94. Impressive.”
I whistle out a breath. The interview is turning around.
My friends were right. You have to relax during your interview. The application process is a crapshoot and the interview is only a small part of that process. It’s unlikely that these fifteen minutes are going to make any difference, unless you’re a superstar or a freak. You are only guaranteed admission if you’ve discovered the cure for swine flu, escaped from a communist country in a small boat when you were four years old, won the Gold Medal in figure skating at the Olympics and you only have one leg, or your father paid for a couple of buildings at this particular med school. I’m sitting here 0 for 4, so I might as well relax.
“Unless you’re a star, don’t stand out too much,” my friends have said. “Fly under the radar. Appear hard-working, sincere, and personable. Interviewers are screeners. They’re looking for a red flag—applicants who shout obscenities, political slogans, or drool on their shoes. So be cool and try not to piss the guy off.”
“So, 3.94, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” I say.
“Top five percent of your class.”
I smile modestly. “Only two B’s in my entire four years of college.”
“What happened there?” he grunts. “Why not all A’s? Why not a 4.0?”
My smile sinks.
Dr. Evil slaps my folder. “And your MCAT scores. An 8, 9, and 10. Are these right?”
“Um, yes— ”
“Did you actually study for the MCAT?”
“I thought I did. I bought several review books.”
“Maybe you should’ve considered taking a review course.”
“Apparently,” I mutter.
“Well, a lot of people do poorly on standardized tests,” he says. “Few of them become doctors.”
He folds his hands and leans across the desk, one eye staring at me, the other looking off into space.
“So, tell me, Mr. Young, how do you plan on serving humankind?”
It is hot in here.
The interviewer blinks. Well, one of his eyes blinks. I can’t see what the other eye is doing. He waits for my answer.
“I’ve thought a lot about how I want to serve humanity,” I say, leaning in, meeting his stare with a grave look of my own. The truth is I’ve been preparing a list of key touchy-feely responses to this question for weeks. I let them fly. My mouth starts moving and I hear myself blather “family practice,” “rural,” “Appalachia” “the less fortunate,” “the homeless,” “inner city,” “free clinic,” and, my favorite, “I have a need to give back.” I stifle the voice in my head, the one I use with friends when we satirize this very moment, the one that threatens to blurt, “prescribing privileges,” “six figures,” “nice car,” “hot chicks,” “won’t accept Medicaid,” and “breast augmentation.”
Dr. One Eye keeps his one eye trained on me.
“You have a need to give back. A need.”
“Well,” I say, “A desire. Maybe that’s more—”
“Allow me to peruse your personal statement.”
Great. This guy hasn’t even read my application. He rifles through my folder, nods at a page, finds my photograph affixed to the corner and compares that face to mine, confirms that the photograph is indeed me, lowers his eye and begins reading—for five full minutes. I squirm in my chair, my eyes tracing the veins on his bald spot as he labors over the most dreaded part of the application. Took me hours to write the personal statement. As cautioned by my friends who applied last year—you have to become noticed without going over the top. You want to appear memorable, in a good way. If you’re up for a Nobel Prize or climbed Mount Everest, be sure to squeeze that into your personal statement, but always connect it to medicine. As I reached the summit of Everest, I thought about this unfortunate handicapped child I met while volunteering at the clinic—
“I find the personal statement the most telling part of the application,” my inquisitor says without looking up. “Ah, yes. Hmm.”
Hmm? I crane my neck to see what’s caused him to hmm.
He raises his head and looks at me with the slightest hint of a smile.
“Fascinating,” he says. “So you were a Candy Striper.”
“Yes, ah ha, for two years, in high school.”
“Two years.” He slowly closes the manila folder of my application as if shutting a door.
“Hmpf.” My aging wall-eyed interviewer frowns and waves a hand in front of his nose as if he’s smelling a carton of milk that has turned. “Do you have any questions for me?”
He tips his head to one side doubtfully, his right eye focused on me, his left eye staring at the ceiling.
“I do,” I say. His mouth flutters in surprise.
Thanks to my friends, I’m more than ready for this one.
“They always ask you if you have questions. We know that you don’t care if the medical school has opportunities for you to conduct bench research on mice. We know that you don’t care if there are volunteer positions available to work at indigent clinics during holiday breaks. We know you don’t care if there is a medical student suture lab. We know that like most med students you care only about passing your classes, eating, sleeping, and getting laid. Pretend you care. Prepare a question.”
I Googled this guy last night and found out that his research specialty is liver enzymes. I ask him about his research. That’s all it takes. He’s off and running. Dr. One Eye waxes rhapsodic about abnormal aminotransferase levels and alkaline phosphatase elevation for what seems like an hour. If a kitchen timer doesn’t beep in his battered leather briefcase, he’d still be going.
“Well, hmpf,” he says. “I have so much more to say on the subject but I’m afraid that annoying beep signifies that our time together has lapsed. I believe you’re scheduled to have lunch now with a second year medical student who will give you the real inside scoop. Ha. Well, it has been a pleasure, Mr. Youn. You are an impressive applicant.”
He pumps my hand as if I’ve just offered to fund a new wing in the administration building. Whew. Talk about completing a Hail Mary pass as time expires. I’ve aced this interview in the last possible second while learning an important sociological lesson:
The sweetest sound to anyone—even to an egomaniacal blowhard, especially to an egomaniacal blowhard—is the sound of his own voice.