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How to Prepare for a Residency Interview: 8 Tips for Medical Students

November 30, 2021
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IntroductionTip 1: Craft an Excellent Personal StatementTip 2: Be Ready to Talk About Your ApplicationTip 3: Research Commonly Asked QuestionsTip 4: Participate in Mock InterviewsTip 5: Understand the Structure of the Program to Which You Are ApplyingTip 6: Understand the Interview Format Tip 7: Dress to ImpressTip 8: Have Questions for the InterviewersOther Things to Know About Residency Interview Prep Residency Interview Preparation FAQsPrepare for Your Future by Preparing for Your Residency Interview

You have made it into medical school, completed your United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and can see a residency within your grasp. Once you complete this, and your qualifying exams, you are officially a practicing physician. 

Obtaining a residency is not as complicated as getting into medical school, but you are still competing against other candidates to secure a spot in the program of your choice. The residency interview is your chance to shine above the rest and prove to the admissions committee that you are ready for the final step of becoming a physician. 

While this process is similar in some ways to a medical school interview, residency interviews do have a few aspects that may surprise you. To ensure your chances of succeeding, we have eight tips to teach you how to prepare for a residency interview.

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Tip 1: Craft an Excellent Personal Statement

Having a good personal statement is critical. Residency programs look at personal statements before inviting applicants to interview, so make sure your essay goes beyond their expectations. 

Outline Your Ideas 

When crafting your statement, be clear and to the point. It is best to outline what you want to talk about prior to writing it. Because the admissions committees read hundreds of personal statements, consider what residency programs want to see in their students. 

Think of your experiences and how they have contributed to the qualities that would make you a great physician. For example, you may have had a clinical experience that developed your compassion and empathy in a way you hadn’t experienced before medical school. 

It may have challenged your leadership abilities, but it only made you realize how much you wanted to pursue a career in medicine. That is an experience that would be great to discuss in your personal statement. It challenged you but also taught you new qualities and deepened your passion for medicine.

Start Writing Early

Do not wait until the last minute to write your personal statement. Because of its importance, you want to ensure you are thoroughly satisfied with what you have written. Personal statements often require multiple revisions; you should not expect them to be perfect the first time you write them. 

Proofread Your Work

Give yourself time to review and revise as necessary, and have someone else read it and provide you with feedback. A fresh set of eyes can catch any mistakes you don’t see and suggest how and where you can improve your statement.

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Tip 2: Be Ready to Talk About Your Application

Like with medical school, residency programs have an application you must complete; the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). This is the online application service you use to submit your application and supporting documents to residency programs. 

It contains your application, letters of recommendation, personal statement, your USMLE scores, and a list of any experiences or activities pertaining to your commitment to medicine (e.g., clinical experience, rotations, etc.).

If you are invited to interview, the interviewers will likely ask questions about your application. That means anything you submitted through ERAS is fair game. Therefore, you want to know your application inside and out. 

Do not lie on your application. Interviewers know when an applicant is not honest on their application, and if they don’t, they will find out. This can lead to you being denied into the residency program. In short, it is not worth it, so be honest.

Tip 3: Research Commonly Asked Questions

Interviewers ask an array of questions from a range of topics. They may ask about your application, personality, or anything else they feel is essential to ask. 

Some questions may ask about your personality, like the “tell me about yourself” residency interview question. These help interviewers gain a better sense of who you are as a person, beyond your scores and numbers. 

Prepare for your residency interview by researching commonly asked questions. This gives you a better idea of what questions to expect and how to prepare your responses. 

What Are the Most Commonly Asked Residency Interview Questions?

You may be asked some of the following questions:

Questions like the “tell me about yourself” residency interview question give interviewers an idea of who you are as a person. You should answer the residency interview  “tell me about yourself” question as honestly and authentically as possible. 

Assessors also ask questions to determine whether you are a good fit for their program. For example, you may be asked about a time you demonstrated the quality of their choice. 

Questions may also be directed toward working as a team or how your experience was in medical school. Some commonly asked questions include:

The most important questions involve your pursuit of a career in medicine.

Interviewers want to know why you want to join their program, your specialty of interest, and what you hope to achieve. All your responses should display your desire to pursue medicine and how you will make a difference. 

Take a look at the following examples:

When answering any residency interview questions, ensure your responses are consistent with your application materials. In addition, be concise when delivering your answers and answer all parts of the question.

Tip 4: Participate in Mock Residency Interviews

Once you have researched commonly asked questions and have a sense of how you will respond, participate in mock interviews. Engaging in mock interviews is one of the best ways to learn how to prepare for a residency interview. 

American National University states that mock interviews are critical to be successful: “Mock interviews are like study sessions that build your ability to perform well and boost your confidence.” 

Mock interviews are brilliant medical residency interview practice; they give feedback on where you could improve and where you are doing well. Mock interviews are beneficial for four key reasons:

1. They Provide Constructive Criticism 

Receiving criticism during a mock interview is beneficial for residency interview help because of the low-stress environment. You want to pretend that this is the residency interview and answer the mock interviewer’s questions accordingly. 

You may find that you have physical ticks that are more prominent during an interview, and you didn’t know you had them until the interviewers mentioned it. An assessor will also tell you where your strengths and weaknesses lie and provide ways to improve areas where you struggled. 

Let’s say you have completed a mock interview and felt very confident that you did well. However, the interviewer tells you that there are questions you didn’t fully answer, which can be detrimental during your residency interview. 

Had this been the actual interview, it could have affected your admission. But because you attended a mock interview, you are now aware of your mistake and have time to correct it. 

This feedback can save you from making mistakes during your residency interview and is a great way to get residency interview help and discover how to prepare for a residency interview. 

2. They Reduce Stress and Anxiety Prior to the Residency Interview 

Medical residency interview practice gives you a better chance of succeeding in the actual interview. Attending mock interviews is a great way to calm your nerves; you are given feedback and work with the interviewers to improve in any of your weaker areas. 

When it is time for the residency interview, you will walk in with a better idea of what to expect, which will reduce a great deal of stress and anxiety. 

3. They Give You a Confidence Boost 

When you are prepared, you feel more confident. 

Attending mock interviews gives you the confidence you need for the big day of the residency interview. You have practiced, been given feedback, and worked hard to make your responses powerful, casting you as an ideal residency candidate. 

4. You Practice with Specialists from That Career Path 

Specialists conduct mock interviews in the career path you have chosen. Therefore, they know what to expect because they may have been in your position at one point in time. 

Getting feedback from and practicing with someone specializing in medicine prepares you for the big day more than it would if you went in without attending mock interviews. 

If you are serious about your residency interview, attending mock interviews is beneficial. We highly recommend it. Practicing as much as possible before the big day gives you an advantage that will help you succeed.

Tip 5: Understand the Structure of the Residency Program

Research the structure of the residency program for which you are applying. You cannot assume that one program is the same as another.

According to the American College of Physicians (ACP), over half of the country’s internal medicine residents choose to practice general internal medicine. However, there are other specialties that you can pursue, such as cardiology and nephrology. 

By the time you have reached your residency, you know which area you want to specialize in, so it is important to know the structure of the program.

For example, the residency program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock has a Primary Care Track (PCT) curriculum that develops knowledge and skills in several areas, including the following: 

Under the PCT curriculum, residents are involved in ambulatory electives, longitudinal clinical experiences, and community-based block rotations. 

Potential residents at Dartmouth-Hitchcock should research information about the clinical experiences and rotations. Specifically, you should look at how they are structured and what you should expect. 

Interviewers will ask you why you wish to join their program, and by highlighting certain aspects, with particular mention of their structure, you demonstrate that you are aware of what is involved with this residency and are prepared for it.

Tip 6: Know the Residency Interview Format

Residency interviews can be conducted in various formats. You want to be aware of the different methods in which you may be interviewed, as each format will provide different residency interview experiences. 

One-on-one Format

The one-on-one format is a traditional interview style and is one of the most common. Candidates will have one interview with a single interviewer, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to conduct. 

You only have one chance to make a first impression. Interviewers will ask various questions, including ones about you, your education, and your work experiences. You will want to go in prepared to answer any question or scenario presented.

Panel Interview 

A panel interview is another common medical school interview format. Candidates will be asked questions from a group of interviewers during a single interview. 

Unlike one-on-one interviews, you have one chance to make a first impression on multiple members of the admissions committee. Panel interviews can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the residency program. 

MMI Format 

The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format consists of a number of mini-interviews, each focusing on a specific topic or scenario. You will be asked to go through a set of short interviews that are designed to gauge your verbal and nonverbal communication skills. 

Each interview is conducted at separate “stations.” The goal of the MMI format is to assess abilities interviewers can’t receive from an application, such as problem-solving skills and critical thinking. 

Unlike one-on-one interviews, the MMI format allows candidates to make multiple first impressions. Therefore, if you feel it didn’t do well on one question, you have a chance to redeem yourself with the next interviewer. 

Video Interviews

Video interviews are also becoming a more popular interview format. Candidates are interviewed virtually through platforms like Skype and Zoom. 

Ahead of time, secure a space where you will not be disturbed, and make sure to maintain your privacy during the entire interview. It should be in a brightly lit area so the interviewers can see you clearly. 

Make sure your device is plugged in and fully charged. Interviewers are not likely to offer a second interview if your device dies in the middle of the interview.  

While not in-person, you must dress professionally from head to toe — yes, including bottoms. You will want to convey yourself as you would at an in-person interview, so dressing casually is not an option. 

Multi-Format Interview 

There is also a multi-format interview style, in which you’ll be expected to participate in a combination of interviews. 

For example, you could have a panel interview and then participate in a short version of the MMI. Multi-format interviews combine different interview styles into one long interview, giving students a chance to display their abilities in different areas. 

While one-on-one and panel interviews have been the traditional method, MMI and video formats are becoming increasingly popular. Each format offers different residency interview experiences. Our advice is to find out the interview format and practice within that method. It better prepares you for the residency interview.

Tip 7: Dress to Impress

Whether the residency interview is conducted in person or virtually, you must dress for the part. Business professional attire is a standard requirement when you are invited to interview. 

Take a look at this chart from the University of North Texas Health Science Center comparing business casual and business professional attire for men and women:

Men's and women's professional attire to be worn at a residency interview

As you can see, business professional attire consists of neutral colors with dress pants or pencil skirts. Your shirt should not expose cleavage, and a blazer is a must for both men and women. Keep your hair well-maintained and clean.

Do not give interviewers a chance to doubt your professionalism as a physician. If your hair is neon or brightly colored, you should consider dying it to a more neutral color.

Visible tattoos should be covered, and facial piercings should be removed. Remember, you want to demonstrate that you are a professional physician and a good fit for their residency program. Dressing to impress in the best attire for your interview goes a long way.

Tip 8: Have Questions for the Interviewers

At the end of the interview, the interviewers will ask if you have any questions for them. Make sure you have some. Do not ask anything that can be answered from a quick search online. Instead, have thoughtful, researched questions prepared. 

Questions You Should Ask 

Here are some questions you may consider asking interviewers during your residency interview:

These questions convey your interest in the program because you are asking things that can’t just be found with a quick search online. 

Instead, these are the types of questions that can be answered best by those who are part of the community. They are questions serious residency applicants would ask. 

Questions You Should Not Ask 

The following are examples of questions you should not asking during your residency interview:

You should ask any questions you want answered but that you can’t find easily online. You are likely to attend multiple residency interviews, so asking questions is an important way to help you decide which programs you want to attend and how you’ll rank them. 

If you don’t ask questions and make notes afterward, it's very challenging to remember your favorite (and least favorite) programs. Asking questions will also convey your interest in the residency program, and your application will be taken more seriously. 

Interviewers understand you have taken the time to research the program, and the questions you ask assure them your interest is not just in passing.

Tips for a successful residency interview

Other Things to Know About Residency Interview Prep 

Interview Length 

Medical school residency interviews can take up to several hours or be split over a couple of days. This will often include an individual question-and-answer session.

Crucially, you are usually provided with informal time to communicate with residents, faculty, and staff. This informal time can include events like a group dinner or a teamwork exercise. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that you will individually “... meet with various residency faculty, staff, and the program director for at least 30 minutes each.” How you present yourself in this informal time is extremely important. 

Dr. Carmen Landrau, a cardiologist based in Houston, Texas, notes that, “Grabbing coffee or meeting the residents during lunch or dinner, while not a direct interview, is a way of letting future peers know who you are and what it may be like working with you for the next few years.”

The more interaction you have with faculty and current residents, the better! 

Residency Interviews: What to Bring 

You may have to travel long distances for your residency interview, so it’s handy to have several essential items with you: 

Be Courteous

Being courteous in an interview situation seems obvious. However, even with a brief and informal exchange with a faculty member or a current resident, you must be respectful and courteous. 

Residency interviewers and current residents look for candidates who will work well with everyone in their team. So, interacting poorly with anyone associated with your desired residency program can jeopardize your chances of receiving a residency match. 

As Michelle Caird, M.D., the director of the orthopedic surgery residency program at Michigan Medicine summarizes, “Keep it personable yet professional throughout.” 

Send a Thank-You Note 

Once you’ve completed your residency interview, your work is not done! Sending a thank-you note is a great way to acknowledge the time your interviewer spent speaking to you. 

Don’t be generic in your response; take the time to craft an individualized note. Send your response soon after your interview while the experience is still fresh in your mind. 

Some programs may ask you not to follow up with them after your interview or inform you they won’t respond to a thank-you note. In that case, don’t send them a note. If you’re unsure about their policy, ask a program representative about their program’s communication protocols.

Residency Interview Preparation FAQs

Preparing for your residency interviews is no walk in the park. However, we’ve compiled several questions and answers to help you prepare for your residency interview.

1. How long are residency interviews?

Your residency interviews can take up to several hours, or be split over a couple of days. 

2. What medical school residency interview questions should I ask my interviewer? 

You should prepare several medical school residency interview questions that cannot be answered by a quick search online. 

As mentioned above, ensure your questions are insightful and indicate you have done your research. 

3. What does the residency interviews timeline look like? 

The residency interview season usually ranges from late October to early February. However, interviews often take place between late November and mid-January. 

4. Can residency programs see where you applied? 

No. You are free to keep the names or identities of programs you apply to confidential. 

As the National Resident Matching Program explains, “A program director may not request the names, specialties, geographic location, or other identifying information about programs to which an applicant has or may apply.” 

5. Will residency interviews be virtual? 

There is no standard process for residency interviews, so your interview can be remote or in-person. However, virtual interviews are likely to remain a normal part of the Match interview process for the foreseeable future,. 

If you are unsure whether your interview will be conducted virtually, contact your residency program. 

6. How do I know what questions to ask in an internal medicine residency interview?

Understanding what questions to ask during an internal medicine residency interview is simple; you should tailor your questions to the specialty. 

As mentioned above, do not ask anything that can be answered from a quick search online. Make sure you have researched the specialty and can confidently ask questions about it.

Prepare for Your Future by Preparing for Your Residency Interview

Your residency interview is just as important as your medical school interview. Therefore, you want to know how to prepare for a residency interview. 

Do your research and practice as much as possible. Know your application like the back of your hand, and make sure you convey your interest in becoming a doctor. 

By following this guide and utilizing the resources at hand, you will be prepared for your residency interview and are one step closer to joining a residency program and becoming a physician. 

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