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.