Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good Reads For Your Interview

Preparing for the interview season is a stressful affair. Interview invitations begin trickling in late in August, for some schools it could be as early as August 14th (for example, Brown sends out interview invitations starting that early). In early September most applicants receive 5-10 interview invitations, and most interviews are scheduled for late September to late October. Suddenly you find yourself traveling all the time, your boss becoming frustrated with your chronic absenteeism at work. You eat pre-wrapped food from airport cafeterias and festoon your suitcase with single-serving shampoo and conditioner bottles. You wear a suit. Constantly. In North Carolina in September in 80-degree weather. In Maine in October when it's 30s. The point is, interviewing season is exciting, but it's also exhausting. It helps if you prepare for it before the fun begins.

So how to prepare? How to know what to say (and what not to say) at your interviews? There are many ways to prepare for your interview season, but the bottom line is this: READ. Read constantly. You want to know a lot before you start interviewing. You also want to chose intelligently what to read, selecting books and articles densest with relevant information. My strategy was to sort all of my reading material into three categories:

1) Current Events
2) Medical Issues
3) General Interest

I am generally interested in politics so I stay in touch with current events through news sources such as CNN or Washington Post. When I interviewed the country was electrified with the election campaign, so it made sense to anticipate that my interviewers would be intellectually curious people engaged in the election process. This is how I decided to make "Current Events" a major reading category. Recommended readings in this category:
Politico webpage gives a rich and concise overview of what's happening in the world, I would highly recommend reading it.

A quick-and-easy way to stay in touch with current politics is a recent WBUR newletter service. They will send you a daily summary of events by email. You can quickly scan the headlines and read only the ones you’re interested in. Overall it is a great way to stay informed. You can subscribe to the service here:

There are so many wonderful medical issues to read about, all rooted in ethics, new technologies, new policies, and demographics. It really helps to be knowledgeable in this category. I really enjoyed reading books by Dr. Atul Gawnde, "Better" and "Complications" to learn about the current issues facing medicine. Gawande will give you an idea of the kinds of issues that medical profession faces today. He is also a wonderful writer and researcher. His books are very informative. I learned about doctors in the Army, doctors in India, issues facing doctors working in prisons, doctors assisting with administration of lethal injections to prisoners, and much more.

"The Silent World of Doctor and Patient" by Jay Katz (a doctor and a lawyer from Yale) is a fantastic source of questions in medical ethics, however it is a torment to get through. I read this book in small bits. Few pages here, few pages there in between more entertaining literature. This book alone made me so much more aware and informed -- if you're going to read anything on medical ethics, read this book.

I finally paid $64 for a year's subscription to New England Journal of Medicine online. It is simply a cornucopia of most current medical knowledge written by good writers. Every week a new issue comes out, featuring two articles in the section called "Perspective". These are usually the most pressing, most recent, most burning issues in medicine - unrivaled source of conversation material!

I also read books about what it's like to be a doctor: personal accounts by medical professionals of their lives, their careers, their medical education. I read a number of books by different authors, and although the material is mostly engaging I found that the best writing was by far was Dr. Frank Vertosick, a neurosurgeon trained at Pittsburgh. I read his books "Why We Hurt" and "When The Air Hits Your Brain", the later one being my absolute favorite. It is a funny, witty, engaging read. Sadly, Dr. Vertosick was struck with Parkinson's disease and no longer practices neurosurgery.

Finally, I read the six hundred page biography of Dr. Harvey Cushing, the nation's first neurosurgeon by Michael Bliss. He also wrote the biography of Dr. William Osler -- I don't think you will have time to read both of these books in one season. I recommend reading about Cushing because he was American and more of your interviewers are likely to know him. Osler was Canadian, and I found that fewer of my interviewers knew him.

Here I read anything of interest, which for me means science and politics, and superhero movies. I loved reading Dr. Carl Sagan's books about the universe, "Candle In The Dark" and "Varieties Of Scientific Experience". I also loved reading Dr. Richard Dawkins -- "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker". These were excellent sources of fun knowledge to share, learning about human evolution, and the evolution of our minds, and the origin of gender struggles.

I read some fiction, although I had little time left for it. One of my favorite American authors is Cormack McCarthy, I read "The Crossing", "Blood Meridian", "The Road", and others. Although I enjoy reading fiction, it was the least helpful for my interviews. It's good to have read one interesting fiction book and be ready to say something interesting about it.

Did all this reading pay off? Absolutely. At Dartmouth my interviewer was reading the same New England Journal of Medicine Perspective article that I was - we had a great time discussing it. At Yale I toured the Harvey Cushing library and other historical places I read about. When asked "What did you like today at Yale?" I had a great response ready. They love Atul Gawande at Harvard! I talked and talked with my interviewers about him. They called him "Our Sanjay Gupta". I never hesitated to answer questions on medical ethics and felt I was able to say something about their historical origins. At Duke I was asked what super hero I would like to be. Since I watch "Heroes" I knew what to answer immediately (I would love to fly like Peter, of course!!!)


  1. wow! what a lot of reading! you must be a really fast reader, i presume

  2. I just discovered your blog and found it to be incredibly informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing your trove of information with the rest of us!


Real Time Web Analytics My Zimbio
Top Stories