The Ultimate Guide to Nail Your Interview for A Residency Program

The Ultimate Guide to Nail Your Interview for A Residency Program

Jul 16, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

Table of Contents

After mastering the art of answering medical school interviews and surviving medical school, there’s no doubt that the challenges are any different when you do your medical resident interview.

Every specialty is unique so most of these questions are wrapped around scenarios specific to the specialty residency you’re applying for. Fortunately, there is a way to systematically answer these questions without burning yourself out from the ‘analysis-paralysis’ of the process.

What is the purpose of residency program interviews?

While one may argue that a CV, dean’s letter, or having a high rank in class is enough evidence to gauge your abilities for a specific residency, certain metrics can be gleaned from interviews. Here are some of the probable reasons why interviews are necessary for resident candidates:

Gauge your ability to connect and get along with other people

This is a qualitative factor that shows your ability to connect with fellow healthcare workers, patients, and colleagues. Doctors should be sociable as part of their patient care. Doctors need to communicate effectively patient care details since this requires collaboration among nurses and fellow doctors.

Exhibits versatility in handling interpersonal difficulties

The hospital is a mixed bag of every personality, culture, and family background. The social dynamics within this institution along with the demands of the job can get overwhelming for someone socially awkward or egocentric. Interviews allow program heads to see a glimpse of your persona, especially in highly stressful environments.

Authentic from paper to the person

Interviewers want to know you are for real. There’s a possibility that you may sound fluent and knowledgeable in your essay. However, in-person interviews will reveal how you interact and react. Furthermore, the committees are hiring a person they want to work with and complement those who are already on the team.

While these may sound a bit intimidating, take these residency interviews as an opportunity for you to determine the possible environment you might be immersing yourself into. It’s also a chance to get to know your colleagues, faculty, and staff in the hospital you plan to take your residency. Here are some of the takeaways why residency interviews are good for you:

  • If you’re being interviewed for a residency program, it means you’ve made the cut. Being invited for an interview means the committee finds you qualified clinical and academic wise. It’s important to have the right mindset about what you bring to the table
  • The way you interact with the committee and hospital staff matters. No matter how you ace your interview, the way you handle conversations may leave a significant impression on the interviewer. After all, first impressions are truly a struggle to overcome once they’ve set their mind about what to think of you.

What do I need to do before the interview?

After your application, the interviews are usually done from fall to January. Other programs may require you to wait for a call for an interview schedule. It can be discouraging to find those around you who might already be getting interview schedules. But instead of wallowing, try to be productive and do your best during your rotations. During downtimes, you can practice on these interview questions so you are well-prepared for it when the opportunity arises.

What are the usual interview questions I need to prepare for?

1. What are your hobbies?

While this may be an unusual question to be asked for a medical residency program, interviewers want to know more about your personal life. ‘Real-life’ conversation like these gives them a clue on how you handle your free time once you’re out of the hospital or taking a break. Considering that hospital responsibilities can get overwhelming, it’s easy to lose enthusiasm and persistence on the job. Doctors who don’t know how to balance their personal and professional life often live under stress, anxiety, and constant burnouts. Having things to do outside the hospital that doesn’t involve any academic or clinical agendas will help them understand how you manage these challenges.

2. Can you remember how many emails are stored in your inbox?

This is another random question that you may be asked during your residency interview. It might catch you off guard and could overthink the answer. The safest way to answer this question is in a calmly and honestly.

Out-of-the-blue questions like this may only be looking to evaluate how you respond to different situations like these. If you’re a bit stuck on how to go about it, you can repeat the question to buy more time. This could also be a chance to lighten up the mood and could not affect your evaluation.

3. Why should we have you as part of our team?

It’s the most common question asked on several job interviews—and it’s no different for residency interviews. The interviewer asks this question to calibrate your strengths and what you could bring to the table.

One way to ace this interview is to structure your answer in a way that shows you as a resident and as a colleague. Some program directors would prefer teachable residents and those that they can see working with for the whole duration of the program. Considering the nature of the work, fellow residents would prefer to work with someone they can rely on especially in stressful times. However, the ‘likeability’ factor is not all there is to it. The combination of a good attitude, right skills, sociability, and good communication allows everyone within the team to perform at their best.

4. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?

This is another common interview question across the board. While this is ‘common’, it shouldn’t be disregarded as just another interview question you need to get through.

You can research about the program ahead of time. When a question comes to mind, write it down. Consider noting what strikes you most about the program and why it is important for you. Asking questions about the program shows your interest and showcase the initiative you’ve taken before the interview. This investigation could also provide insights into deciding the program you’re going for.

If there are no adequate materials about the program online, you can try checking the demographics, local activities, and other relevant details of the program. You can also structure your questions based on the program’s strengths and weaknesses, the number of residents staying after the program has been completed, and what they find most interesting while working on the program.

5. Tell me about the last time you got angry.

This is a question that might throw you off guard. It is meant to be answered by anyone and it’s universally experienced by everyone. Common scenarios include working with a disagreeable colleague, taking on a leadership role, or being mad at something that happened during medical school.

Answer this question as honestly as you can. Some situations merit anger as a good response against intolerance. It could be that a colleague is sabotaging a project your team is working on because of his laziness or incompetence. This validates the emotion that you are standing for. In a different scenario, misplaced anger could also provide an opportunity for you to show that you could admit your wrongdoing and make amends.

What else do I need to know before taking a residency program interview?

  1. Schedule interviews for programs starting from the bottom portion of your list. Consider this your ‘practice interview’ to get the feel of the questions interviewers will likely ask from you. You can also create a format so you can practice your interview around those questions. Don’t linger too long on this and move ahead to your top list somewhere between the beginning and middle of the interview season. For programs that you’re less keen on going, schedule them towards the end of the season.
  2. Once you receive an invitation for an interview, respond immediately. It’s not uncommon for some programs to send invitations more than they could accommodate. To schedule an interview, call or email the program coordinator as soon as you can to secure a date.
  3. Upon confirmation of the date, book your travel necessities so you can still get the best rates. Always anticipate travel delays and make sure to schedule arrival to the city one day ahead of the scheduled date. Make all the necessary plans such as packing, sorting all necessary documents, and even informing your current director about this schedule if applicable. Morning flights are better to minimize any chances of delayed flights especially for locations with cold weather.
  4. Regardless of their position in the program, you will be calling someone to schedule the interview. Consider this part of your interview process. It can be challenging to schedule an interview during peak season where some dates are just not possible on your end. Check your temper and don’t be pushy with your schedule. Be polite and grateful if they give you a date that’s amendable on your end. You would rather be remembered as the ‘nice guy’ to increase your chances of securing a good date.
  5. Do not rush to the interview site upon arrival. Leave a day or two to sort out your thoughts, practice on your answers, and try to relax before the interview day. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re agitated, rushed, or nervous in front of the committee. This gives a poor impression or may leave them feeling uneasy throughout the interview.
  6. Some programs may offer you to join dinner the night before the interview. Although they may say it’s optional, take this opportunity to learn and interact with the committee and other program residents. You’ll have the chance to convey your unique experiences casually, showing your warmth and personality. It would also be an opportunity for you to calibrate the kind of interview you’ll be expecting the next day.