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    More Questions from Women Students 

Questions from Women:
   Specialties still male-dominated?
   Women taken less seriously?
   Women considered more emotional?
   Interview questions about family, marriage,
More Questions...

    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 a surgeon.

    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 habit.

    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
    (202) 828-0521

    3. American Medical Association Women In Medicine Project
    515 North State Street
    Chicago, IL 60610
    (312) 464-4392

    4. American Medical Women's Association
    801 North Fairfax Street Suite 400
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    (703) 838-0500