View Full Version : How to prepare for your Residency Interview

02-18-2009, 07:45 PM
Ready to ace your Interview? This information is gold.

when I was a fourth year I didn't know what to expect for residency interviews. since the 2009 interview season is over and the match process behind me i would like to share with you my experiences on the trail as well as what i've discovered from workshops and seminars. i'm also including tips and guidance classmates have contributed. you should be as prepared as possible for the interview as getting the invitation means you have about as good a chance as anyone in getting a spot on the team. once you are in the door, scores and achievements are nothing but numbers and letters on a sheet of paper - it is all up to how you are going to sell yourself!

1. Dress. this is critical because it is half of the first impression as you walk in.
Men: get tailored in a matching two piece suit with solid colors like gray, black or navy. conservative solid color shirt like white, off white or light gray, light blue are all okay. conservative tie can be solid or striped. shiny black dress shoes. no jewelry except a wedding ring if you're married and a watch. carry a leather portfolio with a notepad inside. do not carry a shoulder bag or a suitcase.
Women: conservative tailored pant suit or dress suit. simple blouse and low heeled pumps. no skirts as you can't fit into bunny suits when on tour. no jewelry except a wedding band, stud earrings if you must. no purse, attachť with a portfolio only. use make-up sparingly. if the interviewer is female, you ladies are going to have it tough because i've heard many times that women scrutinize the way other women dress and they are going to be harder on you overall. keep it clean, neat and conservative - you do not want to be remembered as the one who dressed a certain way because that is always going to be a negative point.

2. Research the program. always research the program you are interviewing at and do your homework. seek out alumni who have trail blazed at the place you are interviewing if possible, look up the department website, read up on their brochures. you are also going to base your questions to the faculty and staff off of what you find. do not ask questions that can be answered from the department website. check out the faculty and read up on their work or research interests.
if you're really gunning for a particular place, you should have done a 4 week rotation in the specialty you're applying for already. if you haven't, go the day or night before your interview and seek out the residents on call to get a better feel of the program. the more you feel prepared the more confident you will be.

3. What to bring. keep at least five copies of your CV, personal statement, MSPE/ERAS application and any research papers/abstracts you have done in your portfolio. questions you will ask the faculty/staff from your review of the program that you should have done. pen, cash for meal or parking. confidence - knowing you are as best prepared as humanly possible.

4. What to expect. faculty are looking for the three big traits: Honesty, Reliability, and Responsibility. it is up to you to sell yourself in a way that pairs those with the best personality traits you already have. they also want to see someone who is a team player and is energetic, motivated and inspires confidence - and this is how you should carry yourself in all of your interviews. you will likely find yourself being interviewed by four, five or even six faculty members and a chief resident. some programs have a panel interviewing you and some like to really grill you to see how you can handle pressure. but this is becoming increasingly rare. remember to always be nice to everyone, from the secretaries to other interviewees. this means opening doors for them, offering seats and being polite & courteous.

5. Body language. this is the other half of the first impression and too often ignored. you ever get the feeling that after meeting someone you just had a 'gut instinct' or 'intuition' that something about him/her just isn't right or you get the sense they are being dishonest? well this is the result of their body language and micro gestures betraying the words coming out of their mouth. it doesnít lie so here are a few pointers. it's important to smile and smile a lot, however don't be like Hillary - smile slowly and smile with your whole face, which means your brows move when you smile not just your lips so you don't come across as fake.
handshake is very important and will immediately reveal your personality to the interviewer. give a firm handshake with 2-3 pumps lasting 3-5 seconds as you enter and introduce yourself. this implies confidence and that you are trustworthy. do not give them the bone crusher or a dead fish. if you have sweaty hands like me keep your right hand on your hips and wipe them once across your suit before you shake. when you are asked to be seated sit up straight with a lean-in to come across as being interested. have your portfolio on your lap and your hands on top of them or on your thighs. cup your hands lightly so your palms and wrist are semi-visible. don't cross your legs, plant them on the ground and suppress the urge to tap your heels - it implies anxiety, nervousness and how much you want to run away.
smile often, keep your voice deep and low as you talk slowly. maintain eye contact when they are talking and most of the time when you are talking. try not to use too many hand gestures - use your vocabulary to illustrate yourself instead. if you want to emphasize a point with hand gestures just flash your palms and wrists to look like you've opened up about something. don't bring your hands past chest height. overall a good body language should reaffirm your words and reveal your honesty, energy, and confidence.

6. The interview. now that you have a good framework it's time to talk about the conversation. remember to be honest and never lie. you want to present yourself in the most favorable way. <see the following post for question & answer prep>

7. The interview is over, now what. time to evaluate the program. if this is your #1 pick communicate that to the program director or faculty. don't be shy, if you're absolutely certain this is where you want to end up ask their policy on prematch and explore that avenue. the worst that can happen is them telling you they don't offer a prematch. don't forget to close with everyone that has interviewed you or helped you. go to the secretary and give them thanks before you leave. that evening write the thank-you cards. you can get simple thank-you cards from any drugstore. hand write it with personalized messages. for example if you talked about a specific topic mention how much you enjoyed that. here are a few examples.

Dear Dr. xxxxxx (this faculty member has family in my hometown)
Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me during my interview on xx/xx/xx. It was a pleasure and I enjoyed hearing your perspective of the xxxxxx Residency Program at xxxxxx.
I appreciate the way you made me feel at ease with informal conversation about the program as well as the lifestyle we have both come to know so well in xxxxxx. I am certain your children will receive a top-notch education in the xxxxxx school system and be well-prepared for their future.
Your program has all the components of an excellent residency; a diverse patient base, state of the art training, research & fellowship opportunities, and residents who are team players. But most of all, I was impressed with the quality of the attending staff and their overall dedication to educating and producing top-notch xxxxxx.
I trust that during our discussion I was able to convey my desire to become a highly motivated and successful member of your house staff. I am happy to say that this program is ranked high on my list.

Dear Dr. xxxxxx,
Thank you very much for interviewing me for the xxxxxx Residency Program at xxxxxx on xx/xx/xx. I really enjoyed meeting with you and discussing my interest in the position. I appreciate you taking your time out to talk to me about my qualifications and for your perspective on fellowships and the strengths of the program.
I feel that your program offers excellent didactics with state of the art training, a diversity of clinical experiences for a well-rounded education, and the opportunity to pursue my research interests. During my xxxxxx rotation at xxxxxx, I was particularly impressed by the sense of community, camaraderie, and satisfaction of the residents. For these reasons and more, your program stands out. I am sure I would be a good fit among the team and it would be a privilege to learn and train at xxxxxx.
I am convinced that this program will provide the training I am seeking in the most desirable location. I hope to successfully match with your program and it will remain ranked as my top choice. Please let me know if you believe that a second meeting, or any other information I can give, would be helpful to you.

02-18-2009, 07:47 PM
continued from #6 above, this is the question & answer part of the interview. it is a daunting task but you must spend a few days compiling a series of answers based on your specialty and personal qualifications to ace this part of the interview. it's so important to practice this beforehand with your peers the same way you practiced for the CS exam. do it until the whole process becomes natural. keep in mind that you do not want to sound like you totally memorized an answer, because that is just boring. you want to come across as interested in what they're asking and be able to provide a dynamic answer, not a regurgitated one. make it seem like you didn't memorize it, even though you did! this list has some of the most common questions you will encounter. i have provided some sample answers based on some of my own worksheets and how i have prepared. each interview should last around 15 minutes.

if you really put the time into this your confidence level will be ridiculous at the interviews because you know you will rock it. you are going to look forward to the next interview because of how well you are prepared and you can't wait to show them whatcha' got. trust me it will happen. and any question that they may throw at you out of the blue which you weren't prepared for - you can answer anyway because of your confidence and the fact that you can pull an answer out of your butt that you have memorized for a similar question, or start piecing answers together. the disclaimer and agreement here is that you will NOT use my answers but use them as guidance in preparation. also, i've omitted and bullet pointed a lot. you should add questions and answers according to your specific specialty.

1) Tell me about yourself?
<this is where you must walk the interviewer through your CV because they seldom read everything, this question is almost always asked and can take 5 minutes to get through>
a. My hometown is in xxxxx. I attended xxxxx university where I majored in xxxxx and minored in xxxxx. I was involved in various clubs such as xxxxx, xxxxx ambulance and xxxxx student associations where I was elected to be xxxxx following my work as a xxxxx and promoter of xxxxx. Honors and awards received. <pertinent experience and research to medicine here>
b. Publication of xxxxx articles. <any research performed>
c. I studied basic sciences at the American University of the Caribbean of NA. I was an anatomy TA and participated in diabetes screenings, soup kitchens and community outreach programs as a member of xxxxx. <also mention any awards and honors received>
d. During my clinical years I rotated through many hospitals in xxxxx. Not only was I fortunate to rotate at xxxxx for xxxxx Ė I was also exposed to the field through a well organized program at xxxxx. Community service performed and presentation at xxxxx conference. <if you are ecfmg certified, say so and also list what you have been doing since you finished medical school - such as studying for step3>

2) Why choose xxxxx specialty? Why this program? What can you do for us?
a. A lot of xxxxx is hands-on work, which requires skill thatís developed over time. I will excel in this regard because of xxxxx; I won awards for my work during xxxxx. I mention that because xxxxx will be the foundation in which intubations, spinals, epidurals and other invasive procedures will be built upon. <give example>
b. xxxxx today is a rapidly progressing field that is aided by technological advancements. With a background in xxxxx and being a xxxxx I feel at ease integrating medicine with technology and can appreciate this bridge with what I predict to be a very technical field in the future. I believe my personality is best matched with this field. <see 3> Ultimately xxxxx is a field that I love best and believe I can do the best in.
d. I picked this program because of the wide-spectrum patient base, foundation in academics and research, fellowship opportunities in xxxxx, xxxxx and xxxxx. When I rotated here I got the opportunity to see some of the workshops your program offers and was very impressed.
e. Iím a team-player with a friendly personality. I put otherís needs in front of mine, I have a strong sense of tact and diplomacy and believe I can bring a strong sense of community and cohesiveness to the team.

3) Why should we pick you? What makes a good xxxxx? What are your strengths?
a. Iím a very organized, careful person. I donít rush into a problem but rather approach it methodically and be sure I have all bases covered. A good xxxxx would be vigilant, cautious (primum non nocere), caring for the anxious patients who have lots of questions, and empathetic to those who fear losing control and not xxxxx.
c. My experience so far is that good xxxxx not only have a vast working knowledge of human physiology, skilled manual dexterity and the clinical acumen to pick out minute problems as they occur but most importantly calmness and the presence of mind to apply those traits and the authority to get people around them to help. Apart from the problem at hand, they also have the ability to focus on xxxxx and what is the best next step.
d. My strengths are my attitude, my honesty, diplomacy and tact. I believe the right attitude towards patients, colleagues and superiors go a long way where the wrong attitude will just hinder progress and can prove lethal for a patient. I donít believe in making unrealistic promises Ė if I donít know something I know I will ask for help. Iím non-confrontational and respectful of my peers and superiors and I think this comes in handy when dealing with patients, patientsí relatives or difficult colleagues.

4) What do you think are the positive and negative aspects of this specialty?
a. Positives Ė deep understanding of physiology. Composure and calmness in the face of chaos. Bridging and integration of medicine and technology. Intellectually stimulating. We are the ones behind the curtain.
b. Negative aspects are the chances that something might go wrong during xxxxx. While some of the drugs we use are inherently volatile, perhaps the most serious consequences of xxxxx are the result of human error, whether it is from inattention, fatigue, information overload, incorrect drug dose, or wrong drug given. I believe no amount of monitoring can make up for poor clinical judgment and carelessness. A methodical and meticulous approach is essential.
c. <you want to show that you understand everything about the specialty you're applying for>

5) What problems do you think the specialty faces?
a. I think that with recent history, itís shown that the role of xxxxx will remain a doctorís province. Medicine is a high stakes endeavor and ultimately, from what Iíve read, more people and hospitals simply prefer it left to xxxxx.
b. I think some challenges the field will face in the future is how to manage the advanced xxxxx of tomorrow which will not only automate xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx patient database distribution, and telemedicine. I also believe the role of xxxxx will broaden as newer techniques develop. We may be treating xxxxx in the future or different types of xxxxx. There will be a wide range of therapeutic potential for xxxxx in the future.

6) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
a. I see myself actively participating in xxxxx, research, involved in xxxxx at a University program.
b. <list your career and personal goals>

7) Do you plan to do a fellowship?
a. Iím interested in xxxxx and xxxxx. <explain why, give examples>

8) What other specialties did you consider?
a. I considered xxxxx with the possibility of a fellowship in xxxxx. xxxxx because of the vast amount of knowledge, very intellectually stimulating, but ultimately Iíd rather go with learning xxxxx. xxxxx because itís very hands-on.

9) What do you think about managed care and role of insurance companies? How do you see the delivery of health care evolving in the 21st century?
a. I think back in the 80s with Reagan it subdued medical inflation and helped the industry become more competitive and efficient. But their rapid proliferation drew a lot of critics because they are provided by ďfor-profitĒ companies. So the perception is that theyíre more interested in saving money and making profit than actually providing health care.
b. But the fact is, between Nixon and now, health expenditures paid by out-of-pocket US consumers actually fell from 40 to 15%. Although consumers pay rising premiums compared to before, the lower out-of-pocket costs actually encouraged patients to use more health care and leading to expenditure growth.
c. I donít see Congress enacting any kind of reform in the near future, but I do see restructuring of acute health care in that doctors, hospitals, billing and data-basing into single ownership. What would be interesting to see is a hybrid model of managed care alongside socialist medicine. When you look at the facts, data and logic it is not a bad option to consider. <this answer is my totally my personal opinion, don't use it for yours>

10) Present an interesting case that you have had?
a. <this is a griller, hope you won't be asked this>

11) How do you make important decisions?
a. Overall I tend to approach problems rationally. I tend to look at the facts thatís necessary for me to approach the problem given the situation, then I try to simulate the dynamics of the situation and think of the possible outcomes. Lastly I ask myself if I have the full understanding of the problem at hand in order to make the decision and whether I may want to defer and consult others first.

12) Are you prepared for residency? What do you think is difficult about it?
a. Yes, residency is will be difficult because you are no longer the passive participant but the active participant. Thereís responsibility, patientís lives are at stake, thereís the long hours, the high stress, and what we are expected to know at that point.

13) What makes you angry?
a. <rare question, face this potentially negative question with a positive answer>

14) How could your education have been better?
a. It was the structure, not content of my medical learning that could have been better. Because our school is located in St Marten for the first 2 years, and the central office in Florida with clinical rotation sites all over the country, the inherent problems were communication and support. I didnít have an advisor or a councilor throughout my medical education and think that it would have really helped. Many times students had little idea what to do after xxxxx because we relied too heavily on a few select individuals who seemed to be overloaded with work. We had to learn how to adapt and rely on ourselves.
b. <whatever your answer, turn it into something positive, or something that made you stronger because of it>

15) Tell me a joke?
a. <rare question>

16) What are your weaknesses?
a. I can be very detail oriented. I like to plan things out in advance and approach a given task with a lot of preparation before I start it. I understand that it might sometimes be impossible to do things that way given time or resource constraints so I will find a balance.
b. I can be soft-spoken, some faculty may not like this, but I believe at the end of the day itís about the patient and I know they appreciate someone who isnít overbearing and someone with a softer tonality which can help them feel at ease.
c. <whatever your answer turn it into a positive trait that is NOT a real weakness>

17) What are your accomplishments?
a. <great opportunity to sell yourself, list your awards, honors, publications, research and presentation experience here as well as accomplishments non-medical related>

18) What research have you done?
a. <abstracts, presentations, publications and case reports>

19) What do you want in this xxxxx program?
a. <tailor your answer with the research you have done on the program you're interviewing>

20) Why did you pick medicine in the first place?
a. To be a physician is the highest honor. Health is the most important asset a human being can have, and to be the caretaker and guardian of it gives a sense of dignity other professions could not offer. The kind of appreciation one gets when he gives his services is heartwarming. I also feel it was the best match for my personality and it is an outlet for my talents.
b. My decision was reaffirmed when I was in medical school, having witnessed just how great the power of medicine is: to own the ability to cure is to possess the capacity of considerably improving the quality of someoneís life.

21) What do you like to do in your free time?
a. <list your hobbies and interests only, if you mention anything medical related it's game-over because everyone knows that's b.s.>

22) If you could be any cell in the human body, what and why?
a. <i never got asked this>

23) Teach me something in five minutes?
a. <rare question, but it can be anything non-medical>

24) What would be the most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspect of residency?
a. Most enjoyable would not necessarily be the satisfaction of on-the-job dynamics, but rather the sense of community, support, and camaraderie shared by my peers and team mates.
b. Least enjoyable would likely be when i'm hungry and Iím too busy or caught up to take a lunch break.

25) What type of people do you enjoy working with and vice versa?
a. All types of people. Growing up in different countries and having the opportunity to travel to different places has helped me develop a very open mind and welcoming personality to people in all walks of life.
b. I find it difficult working with people who either have a pre-conceived prejudice about you or are too close-minded and narrow-visioned. In either case no matter what you say they are not going to listen to you, which is unfortunate.

26) Who are your heroes?
a. <rare question - no politics / religion is to be discussed at any time so don't pick someone who is involved in either>

27) What would your best friend say about you?
a. Someone who is friendly, down to earth, easy going. Also loyal, diplomatic, and first person to call in an emergency because Iíve been told my best attribute is dependability.

28) How do you explain xxxxx low grades? Absence?
a. <try to turn your answers into something with a positive outcome, that you have overcome low grades and bad evaluations>

29) Have you ever done the best work of which you are capable?
a. Yes, doing my best with a realistic goal absolutely. <example>

30) What was the biggest mistake you made when dealing with a patient? Patient with whom you learned the most?
a. <another griller>

Questions for the interviewer:
<it is imperative to ask questions at the end of every interview, you should have a list from your research into the program, but here are some examples>

a. What brought the interviewer to this program?
b. What does the interviewer want to change about this program?
c. What is this program's biggest strength? Weakness?
d. Which electives are offered, and at what periods during the program?
e. What plans does the interviewer have for the programs future? What is the financial situation of the program?
f. Does the program allow for research by the housestaff? If so, does the department fund it? Is there an elective time in which to do it?
g. What subspecialty rotations are included in the program?
h. Are residents permitted or encouraged to attend regional or national medical conferences?
i. Is most of the program conducted in the major hospital?
j. Have any graduates of the program ever failed to do well on the certifying exams and if so, why?
k. Has the program or institution ever been put on probation or been denied accreditation for any reason?
l. What were the results of the most recent in-training exam? Is a minimum score required to progress to the subsequent year?

Questions for the housestaff on tour or at lunch:
<blend in and be humble, always smile and be pleasant around residents - if you come across as pushy or arrogant they will remember you and it will be game-over>

a. General opinion of the program?
b. Is there an adequate visiting professor program with other institutions?
c. How valuable are the conferences?
d. Are meals provided free or at a discount for housestaff? Is there an evening meal? Is food available/provided at all hours?
e. What is the general atmosphere of the hospital? Is it a pleasant place to work?
f. How many patients are assigned to a resident? What is the clinic schedule?
g. What does the housestaff officer think of the chair? What is the chair's background and reputation?
h. Are meals provided free or at a discount for housestaff? Is there an evening meal? Is food available/provided at all hours?
i. When do rounds begin in the morning and at what time does the normal day end?
j. What is the on-call schedule? Does it change during the senior or chief year?
k. Is moonlighting permitted and is it available in the community?
l. What is the availability of housing and its average cost? Where do most staff live? What is the average commute time?
m. What is the housestaff officer's opinion of programs at various institutions?

02-18-2009, 08:44 PM
Nice info... didn't need the Hillary comment though.

02-18-2009, 08:47 PM
Wow you put a lot of work into this, I find this very insightful and helpful.

Thank You

02-18-2009, 09:12 PM
Perhaps the most interesting question(s) I was asked:

Did they take you down to morning report? How many cases were presented? Present them back to me please and what did you learn?

02-18-2009, 09:17 PM
Fantastic posts. Still a couple years away, but hopefully I'll find this again when the time comes.

I liked the Hillary comment, please ignore those with no sense of humor!

03-14-2009, 12:54 PM
Fantastic posts. Still a couple years away, but hopefully I'll find this again when the time comes.

A great resource is "Iserson's getting into residency" for those that may not find this post in a few years. It has all this information in it.

It is very important to make a list of possible questions..even the weird ones like "if you could be any kitchen utensil/cell which one would you be?" and have the answers to them written out. Go over those so that you know what you wnat to say. B/c once you are in that interview and you are nervous sometimes things may not come out of your mouth the way you wanted them to so definitely practice them. At one interview for me, i was asked a medical question but as the questions progressed I figured out that what he really wanted to know was how I deal with conflict...reading through iserson's helped me realize how I was supposed to answer that question and what they wanted to know.

03-14-2009, 03:00 PM
If anyone was asked a question not listed above that you think might help others prepare please post. Also include your specialty and how you handled it, if you want. :)

03-14-2009, 04:20 PM
I was asked "How do you keep all the labs /vitals of patients you care for organized?"

I interviewed for peds and those interviews are so laid back, they mostly just want to see what kind of a person you are and if you would fit in with their current group of residents. Like in an earlier post I was only asked 2 medical question out of all my interviews and one was basically set up as "how do you deal with conflict?"- pt X comes in with problem x what do you do? Your senior resident disagrees with you what do you do then? B/c you disagreed with your resident they make you do extra calls, what do you do then?

03-14-2009, 05:33 PM
"How are you going to find a wife if you match here?" I never really had a good answer for that one.. and the discussions about it at lunch didn't much help either.

10-26-2009, 02:02 PM
I was asked "How do you keep all the labs /vitals of patients you care for organized?"

I interviewed for peds and those interviews are so laid back, they mostly just want to see what kind of a person you are and if you would fit in with their current group of residents. Like in an earlier post I was only asked 2 medical question out of all my interviews and one was basically set up as "how do you deal with conflict?"- pt X comes in with problem x what do you do? Your senior resident disagrees with you what do you do then? B/c you disagreed with your resident they make you do extra calls, what do you do then?

Hi, I've just read the comments you posted in March. Are you med. resident in Buffalo? My interview is scheduled for Peds in Buffalo and I would highly appreciate your advice on how to prepare, possible questions and what to expect during interview.

01-08-2010, 10:30 PM
Nice thread..Try not to use too many hand gestures - use your vocabulary to illustrate yourself instead.

05-15-2010, 01:35 PM
great info. very helpful.
Thank you!

11-25-2010, 08:28 AM
Great info, thanks a lot!

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