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"Excuse me?": Answering an inappropriate question in a medical school interview

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

medical school interview

Interview season is upon us in the medical school application world! Many of you might be receiving invitations to interview at several medical schools. You're probably going through your best suits to figure out the best one to wear. Maybe you're setting up mock interviews to polish your answers and bring down your anxiety. It's an exciting time and you definitely should be celebrating that you've made it this far. But, what if you're caught off guard with a question that definitely should not have been asked during a medical school interview?

Most medical school interviewers will ask appropriate questions, but on occasion, interviewees have encountered someone who has asked an inappropriate question. Several pre-meds that I've worked with have encountered inappropriate questions about their family lives, finances, and even religion. What's worse is that many of them didn't realize that the questions were inappropriate.

The problem with inappropriate questions is that they might impact the interviewer's impression of you based on a bias. This might affect your chances to be fairly considered for an acceptance at the medical school.


So what are inappropriate questions? I'll give you examples of questions below, but in general, any question that isn't relevant to your candidacy for medical school should be off limits. Here are some examples:

  • How old are you?

  • When were you born?

  • What's your religion?

  • Do you go to church?

  • Are you married or single?

  • What does your spouse do for a living?

  • Do you have children?

  • Who lives at home with you?

  • Are you a citizen?

  • Where are you from?

  • What kind of accent is that?

  • Is English your second language?

  • Why did you leave the military?

  • What's your sexual orientation?

  • What's your race?

  • What's your household income?

  • Would you consider yourself financially disadvantaged?

  • Do you make a good living in your current career?


Sometimes, inappropriate questions blur the lines so that it seems as though the question has everything to do with how good a candidate you are for medical school. Here are some examples:

  • Will having children interfere with your ability to study?

  • How do you plan to pay for medical school?

  • Is your understanding of the English language enough to succeed in medical school?

  • Will your spouse be working to support you while in school?

  • As an older student, will you be able to keep up with the rigors of medical school?

Non-traditional students are especially vulnerable to being asked inappropriate questions. because often have more going on in their lives than college students and tend to share those things during interviews. But, sharing that you're married, have children, are changing careers, or any other personal information is not an open door to ask inappropriate questions on those topics.

So, what if someone does ask you something inappropriate in an interview? First, let's acknowledge that as a medical school applicant, you're in a vulnerable state. Anything you say or do could put the kibosh on getting an acceptance letter. That does not mean that you're helpless.


Strategy is of the utmost importance here! Recognizing an inappropriate question is the first step to approaching it. When my team does mock interviews with pre-meds, we train students to identify and address inappropriate questions by including at least one in each interview.

The next step is deciding how you will address the inappropriate question. After weighing the pros and cons on how to answer the question, you can handle it one of two ways. You might choose to answer the question if you don't feel uncomfortable sharing the information. You could decline to answer.

If you do choose to answer the question, remember that this is still not an open door to ask more inappropriate questions. You can decline to answer an inappropriate question at any time. Also, if you do answer the question, quickly bring the conversation back to your candidacy for medical school. For example, "Yes, I have a son, but what interests me most about going to medical school is..." and keep it moving!

You can decline to answer in one of two ways. The most direct way is to state that you feel uncomfortable. "I don't feel comfortable answering such a personal question in this setting." The other option is to ask to clarify the question in the context of your candidacy for medical school. "Can you please clarify the question. I want to be sure that I understand your question as it relates to me being a candidate for medical school." This might alert the interviewer to the inappropriate nature of the question. If not, then revert to being direct.

If you've been asked an inappropriate question, you can report it after the interview in person to an admissions officer before leaving campus or by email within 24 hours after the interview. Good luck with interviews!

Nervous about medical school interviews? Schedule a free strategy session with me!

#premed #nontraditional #interview #medicalschool #strategy

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