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

June 6, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 6/6/24

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about prepping for residency interviews. 

After finishing medical school and the USMLE, securing a residency is your next step toward becoming a practicing physician. You'll need to stand out among other candidates vying for a spot in your chosen program.

The residency interview is your chance to distinguish yourself and show the admissions committee that you're ready to be a physician. It shares similarities with medical school interviews but includes unique challenges. Follow our seven essential tips to prepare effectively.

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Common Interview Questions for Applicants

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has put together a list of typical interview questions for residency program applicants. These are aimed at evaluating your fit and readiness for a career in medicine.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you become a doctor?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why are you interested in our program?
  • What are you looking for in a program?
  • Why should we choose you?
  • Can you tell me about this deficiency on your record?
  • Why are you interested in this specialty?
  • Tell us about your research experience.
  • If you could not be a physician, what career would you choose?
  • What do you see yourself doing in the future?
  • What leadership roles have you held?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What was your favorite course in medical school?
  • Why did you choose this specialty?
  • What are your goals?
  • Are you interested in academic or clinical medicine?
  • Do you want to do research?
  • What was the most interesting case that you have been involved in?
  • Do you plan to do a fellowship?
  • What is your most important accomplishment? 
  • What motivates you?
  • What will be the toughest aspect of this specialty for you?
  • If you could do medical school over again, what would you change?
  • What do you think you can contribute to this program?
  • Do you see any problems managing a professional and personal life?
  • Are you prepared for the rigors of residency?
  • How much did lifestyle considerations fit into your choice of specialty?
  • Describe the best/worst attending with whom you have ever worked.
  • What is the greatest sacrifice you have already made to get to where you are?
  • What problems will our specialty face in the next 5-10 years?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • List three abilities you have that will make you valuable as a resident in this specialty.
  • Describe a particularly satisfying or meaningful experience during your medical training. Why was it meaningful?
  • What is one event you are proudest of in your life?
  • What was the most difficult situation you encountered in medical school?
  • What clinical experiences have you had in this specialty?
  • How well do you take criticism?
  • What questions do you have for me?

These questions help programs understand both your professional skills and personal qualities. Preparing thoughtful responses can really show how you stand out as a candidate and what you’ll bring to their program. To learn more, check out what Michael has to say about it. 

Michael, Admissions Consultant at Rush University Medical Center, offers these tips for mastering medical school interviews:

"Have some patient stories kind of rehearsed or saved inside your mind that you can use for those behavioral type questions. For example, if asked about your working style with patients, you can share a memorable encounter where you went above and beyond, demonstrating your dedication and communication skills."
"It's important to have an outline for questions like 'Tell me about yourself' and 'Why this particular specialty?' You don't want to be answering the interview questions for the first time during the interview."
"For behavioral questions, try to tell a story. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses. This helps you stay focused and makes your answers more compelling."

What Is the Cost of Interviewing for Residency

The cost of interviewing for residency typically ranges from $400 to $7,000, with the median cost around $3,000. However, the total can vary widely depending on personal choices about how many interviews to attend and how to handle travel and accommodations.

Interviewing Costs

The expenses tied to residency interviews can really add up due to travel and accommodation costs, especially if the programs are far from where you live or if your chosen specialty requires attending many interviews.

Tips for Managing Costs

To manage and potentially reduce these costs, applicants can:

  • Try to schedule multiple interviews in the same region all at once.
  • Drive instead of flying when possible.
  • Stay with friends or family if you can.
  • Be mindful about spending on meals and other incidental expenses while traveling.

Also, it's wise to check with your medical school's financial aid office to see if there are any programs to help offset some of these costs.

Couples Match

For couples participating in the Match process, the costs can effectively double. Applying to multiple programs in the same city can help manage both schedules and expenses more effectively.

Remember, while interview costs form a significant chunk of your expenses during the residency application process, don't overlook other costs like application fees and travel for other exams. Managing all these expenses wisely can help you keep your budget balanced during this critical phase of your medical career.

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. 

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 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.

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.

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) 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 submit 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: Participate in Mock Interviews

Once you have researched 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:

They provide constructive criticism. 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 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 practice and correct it. This feedback can save you from making mistakes during your residency interview.

They reduce stress and anxiety prior to the 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. 

It gives 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. 

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 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 is beneficial, and we highly recommend it. Practicing as much as possible before the big day gives you an advantage that will help you succeed.

Tip 4: Understand the Structure of the Program to Which You Are Applying

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 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 healthcare
  • 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, particularly its structure, you demonstrate that you are aware of what is involved with this residency and are prepared for it. 

Tip 5: Understand the Interview Format 

Residency interviews can be conducted in various formats, so you should be aware of the different methods used.

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 several mini-interviews, each focusing on a specific topic or scenario. Candidates are asked to complete a set of short interviews designed to gauge their 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, 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 methods, MMI and video formats are becoming increasingly popular. Our advice is to find out the interview format and practice within that method. It will better prepare you for the residency interview.

Tip 6: 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 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, professional business 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 turning 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.

Tip 7: 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 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 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 at face value. 

Your Guide to Residency Applications

Get ready for your residency interviews and more with our free 50+ page Residency Applications Guide. With over 15 years of experience, we specialize in helping future doctors match their ideal residency programs. 

This guide provides insights into the duration of residencies, the earnings of residents, and key components of the application process, including how to craft a compelling personal statement. Download your guide today by entering your name and email, and start your journey with the knowledge you need to succeed.


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. 

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