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.
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. When crafting your statement, be sure to 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 attributed 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.
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. 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 can provide suggestions on how and where you can improve your personal statement.
Like with medical school, residency programs have an application you must complete. The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) is an 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 (i.e., 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.
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. 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.
Some questions may ask about your personality. These help interviewers gain a better sense of who you are as a person, beyond your scores and numbers. 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?
While these questions give interviewers an idea of who you are as a person, assessors also ask questions to help them determine if you are a good fit for their program. For example, you may be asked about a time where you demonstrate the quality of their choice. Questions may also be directed towards working as a team or how your experience was in medical school. Some commonly asked questions include:
- Tell me a time when you demonstrated excellent leadership.
- Tell me about a time where 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 4th-year elective experience.
The most important questions that are asked involve your pursuit of a career in medicine. Interviewers want to know why you want to join their program, your interested specialty, and what you hope to achieve. While all your responses should display your desire to pursue medicine, these questions will be direct and will give you a chance to explain why you chose a career in medicine and how you will 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 did you become a doctor?
- Why did you choose this specialty?
- What do you think you can contribute to this residency?
Review commonly asked questions to help you better prepare your responses. When answering any of the above mentioned or other interview questions, be sure your responses are consistent with your application materials. In addition, be concise when delivering your answers and answer all parts of the question.
Once you have research commonly asked questions and have a sense of how you will respond, participate in mock interviews. The 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.” This is a great way to practice for the residency interview and get feedback on where you could improve and where you are doing well. Mock interviews are beneficial for four key reasons:
Receiving criticism during a mock interview is beneficial 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 for improving 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 practice and correct it. This feedback can save you from making mistakes during your residency interview.
Practicing gives you a better chance of succeeding in the residency 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 walk in with a better idea of what to expect, and this will reduce a great deal of stress and anxiety.
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.
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 and practicing from someone specializing in medicine and being successful in their residency interview 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 are beneficial, and we highly recommend it. Practicing as much as possible before the big day gives you an advantage that will help you succeed.
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 specialities which 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 centers around developing the following:
- General ambulatory and inpatient internal medicine
- Appropriate subspecialty competencies (e.g. dermatology, orthopedics, women's health, geriatrics)
- Evidence-based medical decision making
- Communication skills
- Practice management (clinical and business)
- Information management
- Population approach to health care
- Quality improvement in health care (including working in teams)
- Assessing and meeting community health needs
- Lifelong learning
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 about how they are structured and what they should expect. Interviewers will ask you why you wish to join their program, and by highlighting certain aspects, with particular mention of its structure, you demonstrate that you are aware of what is involved with this residency and are prepared for it.
Residency interviews can be conducted in various formats, so you want to be aware of the different methods in which you may be interviewed.
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. Therefore, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Interviewers will ask various questions about you, your education, work experiences, etc. You will want to go in prepared to answer any question or scenario presented.
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.
The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) format consists of a number of mini-interviews, each focusing on a specific topic or scenario. Candidates 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 they didn’t do well on one question, you have a chance to redeem yourself with the next Interviewer.
Video interviews are also becoming a more popular interview format. Candidates are interviewed virtually through platforms such as Skype and Zoom. Prepare a space ahead of time where you will not be disturbed, and make sure to maintain your privacy for the duration of the interview. It should be in a brightly-lit area so the interviewers can see you clearly. 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. Also, 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.
There is also a multi-format interview style where 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. Our advice is to find out the interview format and practice within that method. It better prepares you for the residency interview.
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 the chart from the University of North Texas Health Science Center comparing business casual and business professional attire for men and women:
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, and dressing to impress goes a long way.
At the end of the interview, the interviewers will ask if you have any questions for them. Make sure you have questions ready for them. Do not ask anything that can be answered from a quick search online. Instead, have thoughtful, researched questions prepared. Here are some questions you may consider asking interviewers during your residency interview:
- 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 in the program because you are asking things that can’t just be found with a quick search online. Instead, these are types of questions that can be answered best by those who are part of the community. They are questions serious residency applications would ask. The following are examples of questions you should not asking during your residency interview:
- What is the tuition for this residency program?
- How long does the program take to complete?
- Can you tell me about the program for which I am applying?
- What type of rotations are offered in this program?
- When should I expect to hear back from the program?
You should ask any questions you want answered during this time of the interview. 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 afterwards, 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 assures them your interest is not just at face value.
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 your resources, you will be prepared for your residency interview and are one step closer to joining a residency program and becoming a physician.