Additional thoughts on residency interviews

After a few years of seeing medical students on their interviews from the other side, here are a few of my favorite new considerations for dos/don’ts during your interviews (note, many of these also apply to your personal statement):

Don’t: Say negative things about other fields.

The fact that you think other fields suck is not the reason people want to hear when they ask you, “Why X?” The biggest problem with field-specific negativity is it often reveals your naivete. An applicant applying to radiology who says they didn’t go into medicine because they don’t like writing long notes and spending the day on the phone calling specialists may sound silly, because of course a radiologist spends all day dictating reports instead of notes and talking to referring clinicians on the phone. Every field has its pros and cons, and in many cases, the overlap between fields can be as substantial as it is surprising. There’s no free lunch in medicine. So stay positive.

Don’t: Spout overly familiar things with your field

You may be familiar with concept of “fourth year swagger”: the horrible disease that strikes when a student finishes their third year and, after being exposed to a few weeks of multiple different specialties, thinks they understand everything about medicine, knows all the ins and outs of various fields, and certainly isn’t just parroting the shit that other people who also don’t know what they’re talking about say to them. If you casually repeat things you read on internet forums, this goes doubly for you.

If you had the chance to interview college students applying for medical school, you may have been surprised at how clueless they are about medicine. But of course they are! And almost certainly you were as well. If you think a med school applicant who wants to do a “cardiology residency” sounds naive, then keep in mind your imperfect grasp of your chosen field. You’ve at most done a few months rotating as a student, potentially as little as none before you made your choice. You have no idea what it would actually be like to do that field day in and day out for decades. The things that excite you now will likely be routine. Other aspects that you hadn’t considered may be your passion. So while you need to articulate why you’ve chosen your field, you don’t want to come across as a know it all. Overconfidence is a vice (unless you’re a general surgeon [ba-dum-dum]).

Do: Be normal if you have an MD/PhD…

People with PhDs need to play the game of both implying future academic productivity with a seemingly earnest desire to master clinical skills and do patient care. You don’t want to fall into the trap of seeming like a scientist who views residency and patient care like an obstacle to doing their true work. Or an awkward serial killer. Or, even worse, someone who is tired of doing research.

Do: Own your problems

You just can’t be embarrassed and don’t need to be nervous. Consider the interview as your chance to see if the program is right for you and less about you auditioning for them. It doesn’t matter if you have (in no particular order) a failure, a leave of absence, a heinous evaluation, a stutter, a disfiguring condition, or a weird laugh. You need to be comfortable and happy with yourself if you want people to be comfortable with hiring you. So own it. When appropriate: offer explanations, not excuses; acknowledge everything, apologize for nothing. If you needed to get better, explain how you have and that you’re still working on it (whatever it is).

I recently came across this guide from UW that I liked that addresses this nicely.

Do: Have “questions” ready

The hardest question you’ll get on the trail very well might be “what questions do you have for me?” It’s the hardest because the real answer is none, and you’ll stop listening the moment you ask anything. Here a few of my favored BS ones to put in your arsenal, particularly helpful for later in the season when you’re tired of pretending you care what a random person thinks about anything.

  • What is one thing that surprised you when you came to work here?
  • Was there anything you didn’t expect between when you applied and when you started working here? (for a resident interviewer or newish faculty)
  • How has this place changed over the past few years?
  • Do you foresee any changes coming to the program or department in the near future?

Specific questions about the curriculum, rotations, electives, dedicated research time, etc are all great—IF they haven’t been discussed already in a presentation, aren’t in a printout in your interview folder, and aren’t readily available on the website. Asking about things people think you should know is awkward. If you do or aren’t sure, try to frame them as opinion questions (e.g. “How do you feel about the research track offering? Is there support for this dedicated time among the faculty?”).

Also consider: my thoughts on not screwing the interview process in general.


PAYE vs REPAYE: interest capitalization cap better than interest subsidy?

The PAYE interest cap is essentially never better than the REPAYE interest subsidy. There are reasons PAYE can be a better choice for many borrowers, but the interest capitalization cap isn’t really one of them.

But let’s take a step back: If you’re reading this post, you may already know the relevant facets of income-driven repayment plans that I’m referring to: Within the PAYE plan, any accrued interest that capitalizes is limited to 10% of the original principal amount when you enter repayment. What this means is that no matter how much interest accrues, the maximum principal amount after capitalization in the long-term is the original amount + 10%. Which means that over the long term, the rate of interest accrual is capped (but not the amount, of course). When does interest capitalize within the PAYE program? When you lose your partial financial hardship, which will likely happen at some point during attendinghood depending on how much you owe vs. how much you make. An example would be if you had a $200k loan with $50k in accrued interested; after capitalization in PAYE, the loan would be $220k with $30k in accrued interest instead of $250k, which means at 6.8% $14,960 accrues per year instead of $17,000.

In contrast, REPAYE has a subsidy that pays half of the unpaid accrued interest on a monthly basis. The reason the above question is basically never is because REPAYE interest never capitalizes unless you leave the plan. Because there is no hardship requirement, your interest will continue to accrue at the same rate it always has. Only if you try to change back to a different repayment plan (say, to lower payments as a high-earning attending) would your interest capitalize. That $200k loan in REPAYE will always accrue the same amount of interest every year (until you begin to pay down the principal, of course).

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Organizational stupidity

Please read and cherish this incredibly cynical essay in Aeon, “Stupefied: How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.” I’m going to superblockquote a chain of some of my favorite parts. Please tell me this doesn’t describe every hospital you’ve ever worked in:

No matter how hard you search there is little – if any – leadership to be found. What most executives actually spend their days doing is sitting in meetings, filling in forms and communicating information. In other words, they are bureaucrats. But being a bureaucrat is not particularly exciting. It also doesn’t look very good on your business card. To make their roles seem more important and exciting than they actually are, corporate executives become leadership addicts. They read leadership books. They give lengthy talks to yawning subordinates about leadership. But most importantly they attend many courses, seminars and meetings with ‘leadership’ somewhere in the title.

Ha, yes.

But often there are very weak reasons for following ‘industry best practice’. For instance, when the Swedish armed forces decided to start using Total Quality Management techniques, some officers naturally asked: ‘Why?’ The response: ‘This is presumably something we benefit from, since this is what they do in the private sector.’ In other words, we should do it because others are doing it.

Applying methods and policies wholesale because they worked somewhere else without then evaluating those changes is a critical role of most middle managers.

At the outset of our research, we suspected that organisational life would be full of stupidities. But we were genuinely surprised that otherwise smart people would go along with collective stupidity, and be rewarded for doing so. Mindlessly following rules and regulations – even if they were completely counterproductive – meant that professionals would be left alone. Using empty leadership talk would get ambitious people promoted into positions of responsibility. Copying other well-known organisations meant a firm could be seen as ‘world-class’. Launching branding initiatives meant that executives could focus on the easier work of manipulating surface images and avoid the much messier realities of organisational life.

This is just brutal.

Working in a stupefied firm often means blinding others with bullshit. A very effective way to get out of doing anything real is to rely on a flurry of management jargon. Develop strategies, generate business models, engage in thought leadership. This will get you off the hook of doing any actual work. It will also make you seem like you are at the cutting edge.

This is what people are hoping to master when they go back for that MBA.

Literally every business/leadership/whatever book I’ve ever read should have been a few blog posts or a short essay. While a lot of people have been piling on recently and calling BS on the organizational psychology and tedious bureaucracy that compose the contemporary large organization, I’m actually tempted to pull the trigger this time and read the book (if only for the refreshingly direct approach).

Thoughts on studying in medical school

Let’s start with this premise: In the 21st century, the medical school basic science curriculum is probably best learned through guided self-study and likely not whatever your school is trying to teach you (especially if that involves the blind leading the blind via TBL). How much you can fulfill this ideal will unfortunately depend on how cooperative your school is with reality.

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Nothing > Fitbit

Among young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months. Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.

That’s the conclusion of a 2-year 471-participant randomized controlled trial in JAMA of how wearable tracking technology affects weight loss.

Wrinkles: Only 75% completed the study. And both groups did lose weight: 3.5 kg in the “enhanced intervention group” and 5.9 kg in the control.

One wonders if meeting your goals with a wearable might cause some people to skip working out or quit an exercise session earlier than they might otherwise do (at least on occasion). The study also didn’t use one with any of the gamification principles that some people have promoted as making exercise more “fun.”