How to Schedule Residency Interviews

You’ve sent in your application. Your anxiety increases. You begin to compulsively check your email account. Your heart skips a beat when you have a new message. Welcome to interview season.

Getting the interview

You will be contacted via email (very rarely by snail mail) if a program wishes to interview you. They will generally provide options for dates, which tend to fill up very quickly (sometimes within minutes).

Respond promptly. An invitation to interview is not a guarantee to interview.

Do not make the mistake of holding onto a less desirable interview without responding while you wait to see if something better comes along. Schedule all interviews at first. Then, as your list fills, you can begin being more discriminatory. You may have to cancel interviews. That’s fine, as long as you do it properly (see below).

It is common but somewhat awkward to inquire about your application status to programs. This is especially advisable in the following situations:

  • In a couples match when one partner has received and scheduled an interview but the other has not.
  • If there is a particular reason you want to go to a program that may not be clear in your application. If you have not heard back from a program after they’ve sent out invitations, it’s common to send a love letter detailing your special desire and asking about the status of your application.

There are often threads on sites like studentdoctor.net where posters share when different programs have sent out invitations. This can lead to substantial neuroses but can be helpful in scheduling interviews and timing queries.

Picking the date

Ideally, you should schedule interviews during the period in which you have taken vacation. You should attempt to cluster interviews geographically when possible to save on travel expenses, though this is often not possible. Join rewards programs for airlines, hotels, or sites like Expedia. December tends to be the heaviest month, though this can vary be specialty.

There are several theories about scheduling interviews:

  • Interviewing at a program you are very interested in early in the season is bad because you won’t be polished
  • Interviewing at a program you are very interested in late in the season is bad because you will be tired
  • Programs will forget you if you interviewed early
  • Programs will be exhausted and uninterested by the end

The bottom line is that many programs have looked at their own histories and found no correlation between interview timing and likelihood to match. Residency interviews are very different in content and style than medical school interviews. The programs are often auditioning just as much as you are. Don’t worry.

If you are applying to an advanced specialty like radiology or dermatology (requiring a preliminary or transitional year), you will likely need to take a full two months to interview. The same may true for other fields if you plan/need to interview at ≥ 20 programs (such as marginal candidates in competitive fields).

How many is enough?

The bare minimum of interviews varies by specialty. As a general rule, 12 contiguous ranks in a single specialty will give you an extremely high chance of matching. For most applicants, especially in less competitive fields, even that number isn’t strictly necessary so long as there is a combination of programs of different tiers. Like college, you don’t want to interview only at the ivy leagues. You need a balanced mix of programs for your competitiveness.

Programs will make you feel loved, so don’t let generic praise wash away your due diligence. Interview until it hurts.

If you have fewer than 7 interview offers by mid-October, you will need to schedule a meeting with whichever dean at your school oversees the match and your mentor to address the possibility of adding a backup plan.

Of successfully matched US students in 2011, 55.4% got their first choice, 16.1% got their second, 9.9% got their third, 5.8% got their fourth, and 12.8% got a choice beyond their fourth. This means that 81.4% of successfully match students got one of their top three choices. Even including unmatched applicants, the top three number only falls to 77.2%.

Cancelling

If you cancel an interview (be polite!), make sure to receive a confirmation of your cancellation. A short gracious email to the program coordinator is usually sufficient, and they will typically respond back promptly. Do not simply no-show at an interview, as it makes you and your school look bad! People actually do this! Give as much notice as possible, at least one week if possible. Programs remember when people no show and sometimes hold it against the institution in future years, not to mention that someone else could have used that spot who actually wanted it.

There is a tendency for many students to cancel their later interviews (mid-to-late January) because they feel they have likely interviewed at enough places to match and are generally very tired of traveling. Don’t misinterpret positive feedback from programs as an indication of your place in the match, no matter how blatant or explicit. Students get burned every year. Make sure to have enough programs on your rank list before cancelling interviews, because you can only rank programs you’ve interviewed at!

9 Comments

  1. 4 Rads interviews this cycle, and it’s mid-October. So you’re saying it’s time to start getting concerned? Should I go ahead and send more apps in as a backup?

    Reply
    • Depends on where you’re applying and what your hit/miss rate looks like so far, some of the timing has a strong regional bias. For example, while Texas programs frequently sent out interviews early (Sept, early October), the Harvard programs in MA often haven’t sent out the bulk of their invitations until November. The SDN forum post can help you get an idea of how things are shaping up.

      You can also email the programs directly to express your interest; it’s not uncommon for applicants that don’t seem to “make sense” to be overlooked at regional programs who are trying not to waste their time. It occasionally helps to let them know you are genuinely interested, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply, Ben! I actually didn’t notice your post until looking back now post-match, but I appreciate it all the same. For future readers wondering how things turned out for me:
        -Ended up with <10 interviews altogether. ~20% of my applications resulted in interviews. I'm a DO and applied MD Rads with 260+ boards, average LORs, and almost no research. Applied to a competitive region against a regional bias.
        -My last interview offer came in early November.
        -I decided not to apply to more programs when I started freaking out in the above post.
        -I reached out to programs as Ben recommended, and it seemed to work for 1 Rads program and 1 PGY-1 program out of many. The Rads program sent me an interview offer the day after my email, but that was also the day they sent everyone their first round of interview offers (via info on SDN) so I don't know if there was a true correlation.
        -Matched my #1, which was a mid-tier academic place in my desired competitive location!

  2. Hi Ben,
    Your page is very helpful. I am an IMG who is applying to Pathology. I got good usmle scores (259 & 263) and have good honors and no research. I have 1 strong LoR from a Pathologist in my home country so far and I am expecting 3 more letters of Recommendations from doctors from Yale, where I did a short rotation. My question is the following. Should I apply early on Sept15 with my only LoR and then add the other letters as they arrive or should I wait until my application is complete with at least 3 LoR. I don’t know if it waiting one or two weeks after Sept15 would affect my chances to get interviews at my top choices (harvard, pennsylvania, pittsburgh, ucsf, hopkins, mayo, chicago, washington)and I was also told that some programs do not look to incomplete applications. What would you suggest me?
    Thank you very much for your time!

    Reply
    • I don’t have any evidence-based answer, but I’d wait, especially since you think you’ll have them soon. I don’t think submitting an incomplete application is a great idea personally, and I doubt any of the programs you’re hoping for would invite someone without letters. If pathology is anything like radiology, particularly in the northeast, you’ll be fine, as a lot of interviews do go out later. You could always check last years thread in SDN to see when interviews at your choice programs went out.

      The issue with having an incomplete app is that programs can download it and don’t necessarily refresh what they have regularly, so they could end up looking at your unfixed app even after you’ve made the additions. So if it’s going to be 1-2 weeks, just wait. If it’s looks like 3-4 weeks, then consider submitting.

      Reply
      • Thank you very much for your quick answer Ben.
        I think I’m waiting.
        Best Regards

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