Written for Kaplan's Medical School Admissions Advisor. Posted
versions are longer than those published.
Will my status as a single
parent affect how I am perceived by admissions committees?
Admissions personnel are not allowed to ask your marital status. The
Medical School Admissions Requirements book quote is "Medical school
admission decisions are made without regard to marital status."
The Financial aid Office will have your dependent information if you
apply for grants, loans or scholarships, as most students do, but, this
should not be used in your admissions process. If you find out that
it was a consideration for denying you admission to a school, you might
have a case for discrimination.
As a single parent, will there be adequate childcare for
evening study? How will my financial aid package support us?
These questions revolve around having children and supporting
children. One case of a single parent was told earlier. There are creative,
loving, single parent mothers who attend medical school and become physicians.
It is difficult, but, then lots of things in life are difficult. One
older single parent with three children ranging from elementary to high
school age, let their father take them during her first year of medical
school. The children then voted to live with their mother. That mother
told stories of how she supported her children under very difficult
circumstances, sometimes not being able to come home at night or to
fix them meals, or to pick them up from school, etc. She had to develop
a support system in a city where she had no family other than her dependents.
Somehow, she survived this difficult situation and went on to become
Will I encounter sexual discrimination or harassment during
my interview or in my training?
In a recent survey, one-third of all medical school students reported
being asked "illegal" questions during their medical school
interviews. Many of those asked "illegal" questions are women.
It would be rare, however, to find cases of sexual harassment during
the admissions process. In medical school and residency, however, things
change. Sexual harassment by their patients, nurses, peers, residents
and attending physicians is reported in the case of more than 25% of
female medical students and residents. Clearly, the critical mass of
women in medicine has not yet been reached to inhibit this activity.
What should I wear at the interview?
This is not a frivolous question, as first impressions are important
during the interview, and what you wear does say something about your
judgment. Consider that you are interacting with people who represent
one of the most conservative professions in the United States, and they
tend to select people who are very much like themselves. On the east
coast and in the midwest, where people tend to be a bit more conservative,
a skirt suit or dress is best. On the west coast, a pantsuit, skirt
suit or dress is equally acceptable. Your hem (if you are wearing a
skirt or dress) should be about two inches below your knees. If you
move around much during your interview, then, you shouldn't have to
worry about where your hem is. A good rule of thumb is to dress comfortably,
neatly and conservatively. If you normally wear jewelry, wear items
that do not focus attention on them, but blend in. You want the interviewer
to listen to what you say and be interested in you and your ideas, not
to be fixated on an extravagant hairdo, your paired nose rings, or your
clog shoes. For example, don't wear high heels for the first time at
your medical school interview if you have never worn them before just
because you believe they look more professional. Wear shoes that you
would wear to a formal gathering of your older family members (church,
party, wedding, etc.). If your hair is very long, wear it in a style
that is not distracting and doesn't allow you to play with it as a nervous
Could I be asked "illegal" or inappropriate
questions during my interviews?
Yes, but schools are supposed to train their interviewers not do this.
First, what are illegal questions? The most common questions asked women
that are "illegal" are about marriage, family, and childcare
plans. It probably will not happen to you, but you should be prepared
for this if it does occur. You can ask yourself, if this question gathers
information about my ability to function as a medical student or a medical
professional whether I was a man or a woman, it is probably reasonable,
but if it does not, then it is probably not warranted. In addition to
those "illegal" questions already mentioned, some include,
"Do you use birth control? Do you believe women should take care
of their children? How will you care for an infant in medical school?
Are you single? Are you divorced? What is your husband's name? How does
your husband feel about you becoming a doctor? How many children do
you plan to have? You have a son to consider, do you really think you
should be attending school rather than caring for him?"
There are also ethical questions that are not supposed to be asked,
but could be asked of males or females such as, "How do you feel
about abortion?" One student said, "I have an advantage over
my male peers. I believe that I can better understand the fears of a
woman when she finds that she is pregnant. I have a closer perspective
to ethical issues relating to reproduction such as abortion." You
can choose to answer this question, but it is best to bring in ancillary
medical care issues relating to ethics rather than to focus solely on
a hot-button issue like abortion.
Now, how should you answer "illegal" questions or those that
have hot button responses? First, it is desirable to answer the question
in a way that is favorable to you without affecting your integrity.
For example, If you are asked how you plan to care for your three children
in medical school, you can remind the interviewer that you have been
successful in your past academic performance, and that you expect to
continue to be successful in your future performance at their school.
Usually, the interviewer does not realize that he/she is asking inappropriate
questions. If you handle it cautiously, yet truthfully, you can sidestep
any problem it could cause.
You can, and should, report to the Admissions Office before you leave
campus any discriminatory behavior, illegal questions, inappropriate
questions or poor interview technique (such as the interviewer only
spent fifteen minutes with me because they were late and had to leave
early...). You have the right to request another interview...and the
school should provide it. If that means you must stay over another day,
the school should help you with your arrangements.
Lastly, you are not required to answer any question. You can point
out to the interviewer that the question being asked is "illegal."
However, you probably won't get accepted there if you are blatant about
this. You could ask the interviewer how the issue in their question
relates to your performance as a medical student, but you need do this
in an upbeat and non-confrontational manner if you wish the interviewer
to back off and continue the interview.
Are married women perceived differently by interviewers
than unmarried women?
Unless you divulge your marital status, this information should not
be available during your interview.
Women have an additional component of responsibility: they must be
teachers and role-models for younger men and women. Male physicians
are required only to survive the initiation process, then they become
part of the club which seeks to support itself. Has medicine changed?
Yes, and no. Perhaps, we will soon reach that critical mass of women
practicing the profession that will lead to equity in leadership roles
for women in the AMA, in the AAMC and other professional organizations
governing physicians. Perhaps, then, some of the attitudes and unwritten
rules will change.
1. Medical School Admissions Requirements, United States and Canada
(annual edition released about April). Published by the Association
of American Medical Colleges www.aamc.org
2. Association of American Medical Colleges
Division of Institutional Planning and Development
2540 N Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037-1126
3. American Medical Association Women In Medicine Project
515 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60610
4. American Medical Women's Association
801 North Fairfax Street Suite 400
Alexandria, VA 22314