Thousands of medical students are hitting the final stretch of their medical school education and beginning to embark on one of the most critical times of their career…choosing a residency and applying for a position.
Despite one’s academic prowess, however, the interview could make or break an applicant.
Therefore, let’s get you ready for the biggest job interview of your life.
Know your audience
Every residency program is different. And each one has defining elements. So don’t make the assumption that all hospitals, doctors, staff and teaching programs are the same.
Do your research before your interview, and know inside and out what makes them tick.
- The services they offer that other institutions don’t
- The type of community they serve
- Current research studies
- What are they known to have excelled at or trail-blazed
It might even help to read up on the program director and see what he/she published.
Why?? Because the first question they ask you is:
Why did you choose our residency?
Know the specialty you’re applying for
This may seem like a no-brainer but many students will, when nerves take over, cite misconceptions or negative stereotypes of the field their entering.
For example one may cite during a surgical residency interview that they “Prefer cutting over figuring out what the patient has.”
Or during a family medicine interview say, “I don’t like working in the hospital,” or “I would rather be a Jack-Of-All-Trades, than specializing in one subject.”
These answers could make the interviewer cringe. So the following examples may be better statements:
Surgery – “I enjoy working with both my mind and my hands when it comes to the vast amounts of pathology one sees as a surgeon.”
Family Medicine – “I enjoy working with the family as a unit and am excited to have the capability to treat those of all ages.”
Internal Medicine – “I’m fascinated by the complexity of cases seen in internal medicine and how the history and physical exams skills we learned in medical school can be just as accurate as the most powerful imaging study used when determining what is wrong with a patient.”
Pediatrics – “Children make me laugh and smile and to be able to do that every work day is a rarity in many professions and specialties.”
Remember it’s an interview
Dr. Thomas Hunt, Program Director, Valley Health System Family Medicine Residency Program, states:
Generally programs are looking for a good fit – fit to the specialty, culture, community, and mission of the program. Each program will weigh elements of your application differently, taking into account your transcripts, scores, letter of recommendation, etc. looking for candidates that best adhere to their “Ideal” resident.
That being said, the best advice I can give to students interviewing for residencies this season is to relax, be yourself, and remember that you are interviewing the program as much as they are interviewing you. Watch how the faculty, staff, and residents interact with one another and ask yourself “How do I see myself fitting into this program over the next 3 to 5 years? Is this what I am looking for? Will I be happy and thrive in this environment?”
So remember…. it’s an interview. The reason why you are sitting before them is because they liked what they saw on paper but now they need to see you how you act, speak, and compose yourself in person. So the same rules apply.
- Thank them before and after the interview, using a handshake when appropriate
- Dress professionally, but comfortably so you appear comfortable and professional
- Avoid slang and overly wordy responses
- Keep giggles to a minimum, even if they make a funny joke
- Be respectful
- Be gracious to everyone with whom you come into contact with that day from the security guard to the program director to the parking attendant
- Be humble
- If a question seems random, and you don’t know the answer, respond with, “That’s a good question, let me give some thought into my answer before I respond,” to provide you with some pause to collect your thoughts.
Why should they pick you?
Each program is being inundated with applications and your competition is fierce. However, don’t let that over-intimidate you. The fact that you clutched an interview means you are already ahead of the pack. Now you need to convince them they made the right choice in choosing to interview you.
- Remark how appreciative you are in them giving you the opportunity to interview for such a highly coveted position.
- Highlight your strengths and how they can be of benefit to their residency
- If you are multilingual, don’t hold your tongue, let them know!
- If you did an audition rotation there and worked well with the residency team (less transitioning needed) remind them of how well you all worked together
- If your academics and board scores are strong it can enhance their test score average
- Some may straight up ask what three things make you valuable for their residency program
- You want to become apart of the community in which the residency resides and help continue their good work.
Many programs want to train those who will stay instate and provide much-needed care to their residents. If you do plan on living in the state in which you train, make sure you let them know!
Will they try to trip you up?
The short answer….No. Program directors don’t have time to waste by choosing applicants and then scaring them off or tricking them into performing badly.
However, they are going to want to get to know you. Residents and their attendings are committed to working with each other anywhere from 3-5 years and your future boss wants to know you can make the cut and work well with others. Don’t be afraid to show some personality but remember to be brief and continue to allow them control of the interview.
So what are some sample questions?
You might be asked any of the following:
- Why did you choose our residency?
- What made you choose this specialty?
- How would you define our specialty?
- What do you like about our institution?
- What do you dislike about our program?
- What sub-specialty are you interested in?
- Where do you want to live once you graduate?
- Do you work well with others?
- Give me an example of when you had a conflict with a coworker and how did it get resolved.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Tell me about your research.
- Tell me about your volunteer work.
- Tell me about your community service.
- Have you had any leadership roles?
- Briefly touch upon some of your academic challenges.
- What do you do for fun?
- What are your hobbies?
- How do you relieve stress?
- Do you have family and friends who support your career choice?
- Do you read books, and what book are you currently reading?
- Describe a challenging patient case you’ve come across.
- How would you approach a colleague who is abusing narcotics?
- Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
- Do you have any questions for me?
For the final question, refrain from asking the interviewer questions that are easily answered on their website or catalog. Use the opportunity to show off your interests whether it’s regarding what research, community partnership, or teaching opportunities exist. You can also ask them what they like about the program, why they chose to teach there, and what they would like to see in terms of evolution and progress.
After the interview
You will thank them and shake their hand but when you return home send a thank you note for their time. Don’t stress over how your interview went. Most likely you performed better than you thought. Moreover expect your skills to improve with each interview. Some suggest to leave your favorite picks to the end until you gained more practice, however, some may argue to not allow the interviewer to get “applicant fatigue” such that by the time they meet you they have made their choice.
Practice with classmates or faculty if you need and remember to prepare.
Finally, realize that you have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of individuals in your lifetime whether they were students, patients or faculty and are very skilled at what you do. If not you wouldn’t be about to graduate medical school. You got this!! Crush it!
The Ultimate Medical Student HandBook
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.