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.


Leave a Reply