Residency interview prep tips

  • Research each program. Explore the program website and all other available data. Look at current residents.
  • Develop a set of questions to ask programs. Based on your research, prepare some interesting questions that may show your high interest in a particular program, if possible.
  • Get know about your interviewers. Get know about the interview type: virtual or in-person, grouped or individual. Will it include meetings with current residents?
  • Review common residency interview questions.
  • Improve your interview skills. Videotape yourself and review and/or practice mock interviews with residency interview coach, or use comprehensive residency interview preparation services.
  • Greet, smile, make eye contact (look at the camera), dress to impress, ensure your body language is good.

How to prepare for residency interview? Real stories.

1. Dr. L., Family medicine resident

(Read full story here)

Prep for Residency Interviews

Applications are in, and now to wait for invites. Residency interview practicing became the next step. In my head, I felt like I knew what I had to say for all the typical questions. Why family medicine? Why this program? But when I tried to make myself answer these questions in front of a camera, I found myself stumbling. It turns out there were so many things I wanted to say that I started word vomiting and had to keep starting over. Eventually, I found how to say what I wanted to convey and keep my answers within a couple of minutes. When it came time for my first residency interview, I was glad it was not my first attempt.


As interview invites came, I had to make sure to stay organized with my dates. I was fortunate that my school allowed me to have November off for residency interviews, as that was when I had most of them. I used Google Calendar and kept track of the times for each interview and resident meet-and-greets so that I did not accidentally double-book myself. Having things virtual helped in this aspect since I could have multiple interviews in a week, in totally different areas without leaving my home. I could even have an interview for one program in the morning and then a meet-and-greet for a different program in the afternoon. I had some residency interviews spread out in December and January as well and ended up interviewing at 19 programs.


Another benefit of having virtual residency interviews was the ability to have cheat sheets. I made two sticky notes with generic questions, one I could ask any program director or faculty member, and one I could ask residents. For every interview, I put these sticky notes on the corners of my laptop so that I could sneak a peak when “Do you have any questions for me?” inevitably comes. Before each interview, I also researched the program again to come up with program-specific questions. These questions I put on another sticky note to tack onto my laptop. This ensured that I seemed interested in the program and did my research.


Questions for PD/Faculty

How are residents assessed and how often?

Where do graduates go?

Is there more oversight or independence?

Abortion training? LGBTQ experience?

Are there many opportunities for procedures?

Do residents teach medical students?

Do residents easily reach their numbers?

Questions for Residents

How much teaching/feedback do you get?

Where are rotations?

How far do residents live?

Do you break work-hour restrictions?

How is the relationship with other staff?

What do you like to do in the area?

What are the typical hours?

Medical Residency Interview Specifics

When it came to the interviews, the format was varied but the overall idea was the same. I think it spoke to how everyone was adapting to this online format, even programs. Some interviews would last a whole morning, while others would only be 15 minutes long. The 15-minute interviews would consist of logging in and being in the same room as the PD, a faculty, and a resident. They would take turns asking questions, you get to ask your questions, and that would be the end of it. The longer ones would have an introduction with a slideshow presentation or a video followed by individual interviews with the PD, APD, faculty, and/or residents. Occasionally, residents would be there solely to answer your questions rather than being an interviewer. There were a couple of instances where I had a group residency interview where there was one interviewer with a few of us applicants taking turns answering questions.


The questions asked were repetitive for the most part. That made it good practice for me to refine my answers as the interviews went on. Below are some of the questions I remember being asked.

  • Tell me about yourself

  • Why do you want family medicine?

  • Why do you want to come to this program?

  • Why do you want to come to this location?

  • What can you bring to our program?

  • What do you like to do for fun?

  • Tell me about a time where you had a conflict in a team

  • Tell me about a mistake you made and how you dealt with it

  • Present a patient to me

  • Tell me about a memorable patient encounter

  • If you could be any animal, what would you be?

  • If you were any ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?

The resident meet-and-greets are separate sessions usually in the afternoons. Sometimes they would be the night before the interview. Sometimes they can be weeks later. The format can vary. Most of them were relaxed sessions where applicants can ask whatever questions they want to the residents there. Occasionally, there would be a slide show presentation that the residents give about the program followed by a Q&A. For the most part, these sessions are optional unless they want you there to see the presentation. They are a great way to get insight and have your questions answered so I encourage attending them.

2. Dr. G.U. Gunner, successful urology resident

(Read full story here)

I applied to sixty-two different Urology residencies, and I received only twelve residency interview offers. Nine of these were from DO programs; three were from MD programs. As soon as I heard back from the first program, I sent a personalized email to thank them for the opportunity and share my excitement. I did this for every program, and I did not send duplicate emails.

I then set about scheduling residency interview dates. I tried to be strategic. I did my best to schedule interviews at programs where I did not feel confident about my chance of matching early in the process. However, I also responded with a preferred date immediately to demonstrate my appreciation and excitement. To keep track of things, I asked my future wife to help me. I gave her access to my email account and made sure I didn't miss anything significant.

I made specific rules for myself for my interviews, and I promised myself not to over-prepare. At the time, I didn't have a lot of confidence in my application, and I felt like my research experiences were last-minute. I wanted to stand out as relaxed, carefree, and excited at my interviews rather than nervous. Especially at my MD interviews, I felt like I had nothing to lose. Thinking back to my medical school interviews, I recalled that I put my best foot forward during my interactions with "non-decision makers."

I'm shocked at how little I prepared for the most critical step in the match process. I did no mock residency interviews, nor did I thoroughly research the programs, and I used canned questions. At two locations, however, I felt minimal pressure. While I truly felt honored to have the invitation, I had no geographic ties to either area. In both cases, I let my guard down and answered questions honestly. In one interview, I told a hilarious story about the way I met my wife-to-be. I bluntly communicated that anyone who matches into Urology is lucky, no matter where. I even gave positive testimony about other students with whom I spent time. It worked. I heard back from one program that I had placed within their top five choices. And the other program...? I matched!

In hindsight, having participated as a resident in rank-list meetings, I now know that program directors have plenty of help assessing prospective residents. At my program, everyone got a vote. Not all ballots had equal weight, but students seldom cracked the top ten in the rank list unless every person in the program liked them.

Another correct assumption I made involved the importance I placed upon events scheduled around the interview. Informal dinners or get-togethers counted for or against me. At my eventual residency program, I had a genuine smile on my face during the pre-interview dinner, during the group breakfast, for the interviews themselves, and even at the post-interview luncheon. I kept telling myself, "This is an important milestone for you. Someday, years from now, when I'm a practicing doctor, I will look back on this moment with a grateful smile filled with nostalgia."

While I tried to approach all my interviews with that degree of enthusiasm and serenity, the experiences at other programs did not go so well. At every stop, students had to do multiple interviews. At one place, students met with ten separate individual people for 30 minutes each. A timer sat in each interviewer's office, and when it dinged, I walked to the next room and started over. At another interview, I sat in a room filled with forty or so people, and each person took turns asking me questions at the head of a set of tables and chairs. Words cannot do justice to the enormous amount of stress I experienced sitting before all those people, and I did not perform well. Most other programs had three or four interviewers responsible for meeting with prospective residents one at a time for 45 minutes or so.

Questions mostly centered around my reasons for choosing Urology and my CV. I can remember feeling off guard by a question about the research I had listed on my ERAS. During the interview, I had to admit that I did not know the dose of the drug used in the clinical trial on which I had worked. On two or three interviews, I had to answer questions related to ethics. At two different programs, attendings asked me what I would do if a patient required further attention as I came up against ACGME hours restrictions. I still don't know what answer is fair to expect from a student. I answered that I would tell on myself. I would call another resident or attending and admit that I had lost track of my hours and would need to hand off care soon. The ACGME rules allow for exceptions regarding continuous work when the quality of care may suffer from a sudden transfer of care from one provider to another. In short, watch your hours closely. Patient care comes first, and make sure you are honest about your hours: even if it means enduring criticism for lack of efficiency.

Of course, the most intense and stressful residency interview involved the time spent answering questions in front of forty or so people. At this interview, they asked questions regarding my medical knowledge. These types of questions occurred at no other place. I did my best to answer the highly stressful questions without looking flustered, but I felt flustered. Because I had rotated at this place, I remember asking which resident seemed most like me. I am a male, and I answered with a female resident's name. My answer drew laughter. I explained my choice, but people still snickered. Incidentally, I confidently responded to the question requiring medical knowledge incorrectly, so I did not handle that well. A few different interviewers asked me to make assessments of other rotators or students. I gave glowing reviews of everyone with whom I worked. A better response would have been to politely answer that I did not feel comfortable saying anything negative about anyone else.

Finally, I may have lost points by asking canned questions about what questions I may have. I'm sure there is a way to do this well, but I never really learned it. It pays to research details about the residency curriculum or the research done at the place. So, I suppose you could ask a question or two about that. I would avoid asking about call schedules, weaknesses of the program, or anything that negative. People don't always remember your name or face, but they tend to remember how you made them feel. It's best to avoid putting them on a hot seat.

Reflecting on my medical interview experience makes me smile. Whatever imperfections I displayed were simply the flaws that make me human. If I couldn't look back and laugh at myself, I wouldn't be able to live life with the type of serenity I've earned by learning from my past mistakes. Setting aside the specific lessons I've mentioned above, it bears repeating that I did well when I showed enthusiasm and excitement. As for residency interview thank-you letters, yes, write them. Some programs will give you a preference on whether to do thank you note after residency interview electronically via email or by hand.

3. Dr. Sean, matched into emergency medicine

(Read full story here)

Receiving Interviews

After application submission the next few months were the most anxiety inducing days of my life, well maybe second most, just behind Step 1/Level 1 preparation and examination. During this time, I was constantly refreshing my emails, hoping to be the first to schedule an interview. Thankfully, several EM residencies decided to go for a unified release date, where they sent their first waves of interview invitations all on one day. However, there were many that did not. It seemed like a free-for-all much of the time, and whoever just so happened to be on their phone at the right time would get their pick of interview times. It was difficult because there are many services that residencies use to schedule interviews, thalamus, ERAS, interview broker, and even their own proprietary calendars. To keep them straight I would just use my personal calendar and put them in immediately as soon as I got them. A few times I was able to switch around interviews around so I could accommodate other interviews that had less dates. It was stressful, and it felt a slow trickle.

I received 5 interviews relatively quickly and slowly over the months I got up to 10 interviews (for just EM). Eventually I reached out to a few of my top choices and sent interest emails in late October and Early November. It may have been early for some, but I made it clear I just wanted to be sure I would be considered since I really loved their program, specifically mentioning aspects of the program, and/or faculty that I had met that drove me to applying to their program. I sent a total of 4 interest emails and received 2 interviews off of those emails. All but 1 email was responded to, and I made sure to send each to the program coordinator and the program director themselves (often after some hunting on their websites or googling). Ultimately one did end up in a rejection, but after many months of hopeful waiting. A realization I’m just having now after going back through my spreadsheet is that 10 of the programs I applied to did not send me anything, not even a rejection email, even though I spent hundreds of dollars applying to them. That is the process though, it seems unfair, but it is what it is. For my dual applications I had an additional 9 interviews, 6 of which were for 6 EM/IM programs, and 3 of which were for 2 EM/FM programs, as one had me interview once for FM and once for EM.

Interviewing

Many people told me this advice, and despite of how much imposter syndrome I had about interviewing, especially at some big names, I made it my mantra; the advice is that you are interviewing the program as much as they are interviewing you. Get a sense for the resident-faculty interaction. Ask questions about the gaps in your excel spreadsheet. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions to PDs or faculty. They want to make sure you’ll fit in, and you want to make sure this is somewhere you can call home for at least 3 years. It took about half through the interview season for that nugget of truth to hit home. You want to be on your A-game, so I recommend setting aside 1.5-2 hours the day before to just go through all the information/videos each residency sent you and formulate any questions you may have. This is the perfect opportunity to decide your answer to the most asked question you will get, no matter the program. You will get the “So why here?” question everywhere you interview. Your answer becomes more important if you don’t have geographical ties. You should have not just one reason but multiple, and be ready to discuss them at length, as well as ask clarifying questions to help bolster your response. This leads to the number two most asked question, the dreaded “Do you have any questions?”. This one can be tough, because your days will often have several interviews with faculty members and staff, and the need to have questions is important, it shows interest, and that you’ve done your homework. However, by interview 12, getting asked that questions at least 3 times per interview, it can seem daunting and you may feel burnt out of asking questions. That’s why it’s important to do your homework before hand and have a few good questions up your sleeve.

I would often resort to turning the most asked interview question around “So why did you choose here?” especially if they came from another residency previously. I liked the question, because the answer was different for many, one PD just said, “I’m not sure, I was asked to come here, never really had high aspirations to be a PD, but decided what the heck, why not!” which, for me, didn’t inspire hope; although I was impressed by the frank honesty. I liked asking that question, because it got to the ultimate criterion for me, which was fit. Do I identify with their response? Could I be friends with this person? It didn’t need to be a resounding yes for everyone, but if it was a “no” for all interviewers that was a red flag for me. That said, questions I asked to residents differed from those I asked to faculty. I would still ask the “Why here?” question, but more often I would ask about camaraderie, how the program has stood up for its residents and about various perks/amenities in the area or at the hospital (health insurance, food, gym, things to do nearby etc.).

Similarly, you need to be able to talk about your entire application, as stated earlier. I was greeted by a fellow brother from Alpha Chi Sigma (the Co-ed professional chemistry fraternity (I know, I’m a giant nerd)) with the requisite greeting at the beginning of one of my interviews; it was something I had almost forgot was on my application since it was only brought up once, during an early interview on an audition rotation. Also, I was lightly ribbed about my sports team allegiance (Go Patriots!) as I listed that on the bottom of my hobbies section (definitely list everything that makes you, you). All poster presentations, all accolades the large and the small were asked about, by one residency or another. Interviewing is tough and a skill you should develop. Use friends, family or interview prep service(my school paid for Big Interview Medical) to help aide you. I had faith in my own abilities and thought I interviewed well enough that I didn’t need extra help, so I only did my own research for preparation. It worked for me, but if you are someone who knows they don’t interview well, build those skills now, it will pay dividends in the future.

One thing I did when presented with a difficult question or one that took me off guard, was to first compliment the question, then ask for a second to think. For example, “Wow, that’s a great question and something I’ve never thought about, could I take second to think about that briefly?”. There is a lot pressure to just off-the-cuff answer a question but be sure that it is a favorable response. Taking a moment to compose yourself, and to think shows maturity, plus it allows you to quickly brainstorm a better answer. However, that can be seen as a negative, especially in emergency medicine, where you have to respond quickly to difficult situations. So, ensure that you only pause for a moment, and then continue.

A strange interview that I encountered was when there was a group of us interviewees, and we were presented with a scenario, and the APD and chief resident took notes on our interaction. It was about a consultant/admitting service being rude to a co-resident when they called them on the phone and how we would handle that situation. This was tough, because we all wanted to give a good answer, but we all also wanted to allow space for the other interviewees to comment. In that event, I let a few other interviewees offer response before I did, so as to not seem too eager. It was difficult because the other residents gave what I thought was the correct answer on how to respond, so I needed to come up with another angle to have an insightful response. I stated how I could empathize with the angry resident at getting yelled at by the consultant, and then what I might do in the situation as the resident. But I also stated how I might just be looking for my co-resident as a sounding board for me venting before I went through the proper channels to get the patient admitted. I thought it was a good answer because I felt the correct answer had been said (which I had commended before), and it allowed me to showcase empathy, and that just because a co-resident is upset doesn’t someone has to come in to save them, they might just be venting. We can ask if they need help, but by stepping in to do the correct thing you might be interfering with their autonomy, which was a nuance lost in other responses.

One thing I didn’t realize, even for me, a mostly extraverted person, was how draining 4 hours of zoom interviews could be. Sitting in a suit, in front of your computer, playing up your attentive listening skills so it could translate via zoom (felt like I was a bobble head with all the nodding and smiling I did) sounds like breeze, but it can be very emotionally taxing when you’re on edge that whole time. Also, what makes interviewing so taxing is not just the interview, but the zoom meet and greets the night before, or after the interview which can be hours long as well. You’re just constantly in front of your laptop or computer trying to take in information, and walking the narrow line of interacting enough to seem engaged but not too much that you become an annoyance. I also noticed the fatigue comes from the excitement; I have an activity watch, while my resting heart rate is in the 50-60s. during interviews I could spike into the low 110s. It was exciting, but I was definitely very happy to be done with my final interview in January. Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint. I recommend 2-3 interviews a week maximum and try not to make them back-to-back in the same day. I felt the best and most excited earliest on in the interview process, so try and stack your preliminarily highest interviews towards the front, that way if/when you get burnt out it will be on interviews that are less coveted by you. You want time to decompress after each interview, as well as write down any feelings you have. I spoke with a different friend after each interview, I then went back later and asked them how I sounded about the program after. It made creating a rank list a bit easier, especially when I could have data from outside myself be a guiding factor.

Two small things about your interviewing, find a place that will be quiet, and will have speedy internet access. The last thing you want to do is fail to interview well because your internet is spotty. I purchased a long ethernet cable and plugged that into my router and laptop to ensure that my WIFI wouldn’t be responsible for any glitching or slowing of my connection. Similarly, if doing this at home, curate a background that isn’t distracting, will be good at all times (not bright with sunlight behind you) and potentially have things to accentuate or talk about behind you. I had my bike, since I would bike to work often, and I had a hanging plant. Both were asked about often, and honestly by your last interview, silence during an interview can feel deafening, so having something easy in the background to talk about is a great talking point for the interviewer looking to fill time.

Rank order list decision (Read here)