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

October 13, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/13/23

Infographic outlining 8 tips for a successful 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 it 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 seven tips to teach you how to prepare for a residency interview.

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Residency Interview Tips

These tips can help you expertly prepare for your residency interview.

Craft an Excellent Personal Statement

An excellent personal statement is critical. Residency programs look at personal statements before inviting applicants to interview, so ensure your essay goes beyond their expectations. 

Image outlining how to craft an excellent personal statement

Outline Your Ideas 

When crafting your statement, be concise. It’s best to outline what you want to discuss before writing it. Because admissions committees read hundreds of personal statements, you should consider what programs want to see in students. 

Think of your experiences and how they’ve 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. 

Start Writing Early

Don’t wait until the last minute to write your personal statement. Personal statements often require multiple revisions; don’t expect yours to be perfect the first time you write it. 

Proofread Your Work

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

Be Ready to Talk About Your Application

Image outlining the importance of being ready to talk about your residency application.

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

It contains your: 

If you’re invited to interview, the interviewers will likely ask questions about your application. Therefore, you want to know your application inside and out. 

Don’t lie on your application. Interviewers can sense dishonesty. This can lead to you being denied into the residency program. In short, it’s not worth it, so be honest.  

Research Commonly Asked Questions

Interviewers ask many questions on a range of topics. They may ask about your application, personality, or anything else they feel is essential. 

Image outlining the commonly asked questions for a residency interview

Some questions may ask about your personality, like the “tell me about yourself” residency interview question. These help interviewers better understand who you are beyond your scores and numbers. Prepare for your residency interview by researching commonly asked questions.

Common Residency Interview Questions

You may be asked some of the following questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • Can you name three of your strengths and three of your weaknesses?
  • What do you do if you make a mistake?
  • What are your hobbies?

Questions like “tell me about yourself” give interviewers an idea of who you are. You should answer the residency interview “tell me about yourself” question as authentically as possible. Other commonly asked questions include:

  • Tell me a time when you demonstrated excellent leadership.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a research project in which you participated.
  • What has been the most demanding aspect of your life since entering medical school?
  • Tell us about your fourth-year elective experience.

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

Interviewers want to know why you want to join their program, why you picked your specialty, and what you hope to achieve. Your responses should display your desire to pursue medicine and how you’ll make a difference. 

Take a look at the following examples:

  • Why do you want to join this program?
  • What do you hope to achieve by joining this residency?
  • Why do you want to be a doctor?
  • Why did you choose this specialty?
  • What do you think you can contribute to this residency?

When answering any residency interview questions, ensure your responses are consistent with your application materials. 

Participate in Mock Residency Interviews

Once you’ve 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. 

Illustration outlining the importance of participating in mock residency interviews

The American National University states that mock interviews are critical to your success: “Mock interviews are like study sessions that build your ability to perform well and boost your confidence.” Mock interviews are beneficial for four key reasons.

They Provide Constructive Criticism 

Receiving criticism during a mock interview is beneficial for residency interview help because of the low-stress environment. You’ll pretend it’s the real thing and answer the mock interviewer’s questions accordingly. 

You may find that you have prominent physical ticks or movements when you interview that you didn’t know you had. An assessor also tells you where your strengths and weaknesses lie and provides ways for you to improve. 

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

They Reduce Stress and Anxiety Before the Residency Interview 

Medical residency interview practice sets you up for success. Attending mock interviews can help calm your nerves; you receive feedback and tools to improve any weaknesses. 

When it’s time for the residency interview, you’ll enter with a better idea of what to expect, which can greatly reduce stress and anxiety. 

They Boost Your Confidence

When you’re prepared, you feel more confident. 

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

You Practice with Specialists from That Career Path 

Specialists conduct mock interviews in the career path you’ve chosen. Getting feedback from an expert helps you gain insider tips to perform your best. We highly recommend participating in mock interviews. Practicing as much as possible before interview day gives you a competitive edge.

Understand the Structure of the Residency Program

Research the structure of the residency programs you’re applying to.

Image outlining the importance of understanding the structure of the residency program you are applying to.

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. 

Identify which elements make a particular program stand out to you: interviewers will ask why you wish to join their program. By highlighting certain aspects like program structure, you demonstrate that you know what’s involved. 

Know the Residency Interview Format

Residency interviews can be conducted in various formats. You want to know the different methods, as each format will provide different residency interview experiences. 

Image outlining the different residency interview formats

One-on-One Interviews

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

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

Panel Interviews

A panel interview is another common format. Candidates are asked questions from a group of interviewers during a single interview. 

Unlike one-on-one interviews, you can make an impression on multiple admissions committee members. Panel interviews can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on the program. 

MMI Format 

The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format consists of numerous mini-interviews, each focusing on a specific topic or scenario. You’ll go through a set of short interviews 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 in real-time, such as problem-solving and critical thinking skills. 

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

Video Interviews

Video interviews are becoming a popular interview format. Candidates are interviewed virtually through platforms like Skype and Zoom. If you’re doing a video interview, it’s crucial to: 

  • Secure a private, quiet space 
  • Set up your equipment in a brightly lit, plain area 
  • Ensure your device is plugged in and fully charged

You must dress professionally from head to toe — yes, including bottoms. If you had to stand up for some reason, you don’t want your interviewers to see pajama pants!

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, giving students a chance to display their abilities in different areas. 

Our advice is to determine the format and practice within that method. 

Dress to Impress 

image outlining the standard attire for a residency interview

Whether the residency interview is conducted in-person or virtually, you must dress the part. Business professional attire is a standard requirement when you’re 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: 

chart from the University of North Texas Health Science Center comparing business casual and business professional attire for men and women

Source: University of North Texas Health Science Center

Business professional attire consists of neutral colors, a nice shirt or blouse, and dress pants or pencil skirts. Keep your hair well-maintained and clean. Dressing to impress in the best attire for your interview goes a long way.

Have Questions for the Interviewers

At the end of the interview, the interviewers will ask if you have questions for them. Ensure you have some! Don’t ask anything that can be answered from a quick search online. Instead, have thoughtful, researched questions prepared. 

image saying to have thoughtful questions for the interviewers

Questions You Should Ask 

Here are some questions you can ask during residency interviews:

  • How often are residents evaluated?
  • What percentage of your residents complete the program?
  • Are there any plans to change the program's size or structure?
  • Are there formal mentoring programs for new residents?
  • How does the resident’s autonomy change as they progress through the program?

These questions convey your interest and display thoughtfulness: they can’t be searched online.

Questions You Should Not Ask 

The following are examples of residency interview questions you shouldn’t ask during your residency interview (because you can probably find the answers online): 

  • What is the tuition for this residency program?
  • How long does the program take to complete?
  • When should I expect to hear back from the program?

You’re likely to attend multiple residency interviews; use your time wisely and ask questions that help you rank programs. It can be more difficult to determine your favorite programs if you don't ask questions.

Other Things to Know About Residency Interview Prep 

These are other things you should know to effectively prep for your interview.

Interview Length 

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

You’re also usually provided informal time to communicate with residents, faculty, and staff. This time can include events like a group dinner or a teamwork exercise. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that you’ll 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:

“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 having several essential items with you is handy. Bring a notebook and pens, a water bottle, your wallet, and anything else you need to feel confident and comfortable. 

Be Courteous

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

Interacting poorly with anyone associated with your desired residency program can jeopardize your chances of matching. 

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 

Sending a thank-you note is a great way to acknowledge the time your interviewer spent speaking to you. Don’t be generic; take time to craft an individualized note. Send your response soon after your interview while the experience is still fresh. 

Some programs may ask you not to follow up after your interview or inform you they won’t respond to a thank-you note. In that case, don’t send them anything. If you’re unsure, 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. To help, we’ve compiled several answers to help you prepare for your residency interview.

1. How Long Are Residency Interviews?

Residency interviews can take up to several hours or be split over a few days. 

2. What Questions Should You Ask During Residency Interviews? 

You should prepare several medical school residency interview questions that cannot be answered online. Ensure your questions are insightful and indicate you’ve done your research. 

3. What Does the Residency Interview 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. Are Residency Interviews Virtual? 

There is no standard process for residency interviews, so your interview can be remote or in-person. However, virtual interviews will likely remain a normal part of the match interview process for the foreseeable future. Contact your residency program if you’re unsure whether your interview will be conducted virtually, 

5. 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. Ensure you have researched the specialty and can confidently ask questions about it.  

6. How Do I Ace a Residency Interview?

Preparation for your residency interview includes researching your program, understanding what questions you may be asked, and showing professionalism. Participating in mock interviews can help you ace your interview.

7. What Questions Do They Ask in Residency Interviews?

Common residency interview questions revolve around your work experiences, personality, motivation to pursue medicine, specific residency, and more. 

8. What Should You Not Say in a Residency Interview?

Don’t use slang or overly casual language. Remember to be respectful and professional, and don’t say anything overly negative or critical. 

Get Ready for Your Future by Preparing for Your Residency Interview

Your residency interview is crucial to your success. Do your research and practice as much as possible. Know your application like the back of your hand, and ensure you convey your interest in becoming a doctor. 

Following this guide will prepare you for your residency interview and be one step closer to joining the program of your dreams. 

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