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Medical Student Perspectives: Acing the Residency Interview

We all remember our medical school interview. Nothing quite compares to the horror of having your entire future hanging in the balance. Fortunately, the hard part is over. The interview process for residency is, with few exceptions, a much friendlier experience.

Interviewing for residency can actually be legitimately fun if you approach it with the right perspective. As an applicant, you will find the residency interview is an opportunity to learn more about each individual program. In general, it is not necessary to convince the powers that be that you belong. There is a detailed review process that every program conducts with each application, and programs only offer interviews to applicants they feel are qualified to match there. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to be yourself. Your interviewers only know you as an application file. The interview is an opportunity for them to get to know the real you. Show them who you are. Have a conversation and answer their questions candidly. Be prepared when they ask you if you have any questions. You should definitely have a list of questions prepared, and do not be afraid to ask the same question many times over to different people in a residency program. If you receive several inconsistent responses to the same question, that may be a red flag. Ask about didactic sessions, resident pass rates on the boards, procedural training, research opportunities, and fellowship success rates. Most important, ask questions relevant to your interests and show them that you are critically analyzing the program.

Probably the most valuable time you will spend during a residency interview is time with the residents. The residents are a barometer of life in that residency program. Are they happy? Can they barely stay awake enough to answer your questions? Do they have a life outside of residency? Pay attention to what they say and how they act. You will get no better insight into what it is like to be a resident at a given program. Remember that your ultimate goal as you interview is to determine where each program will fall on your rank order list in February. Find a place where you can be happy and where your personality fits in with the other residents.

The structure of the interview day itself varies by program and specialty, but there tends to be a general theme to most residency interviews. There will probably be a display of their didactic presentations, which will involve sitting through a morning report or noon conference. Pay attention to the interaction between residents and attendings. This is one of your few opportunities to see this interaction during the course of a typical interview day. Perhaps most important, no matter how boring the lecture do NOT fall asleep! Believe it or not, this actually happens! There will be anywhere between two to five interviews with staff, residents, or both. Interviews with residents offer an opportunity to ask questions about resident life, call schedules, or things to do around town. There will be the dreaded tour, which comes with more opportunities to ask questions of the residents. Most interviews will also include a discussion of benefits, including vacation time, maternity/paternity leave, and health benefits.

Dress professionally. Men should wear a suit and tie, and get a garment bag. You certainly do not want to show up in a hopelessly wrinkled suit. Women should wear a suit with a jacket and either slacks or a longer skirt. Dress conservatively. Your goal for dress should be blending in, not standing out.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to interviewing for residency is determining how to communicate your level of interest in the program. The best advice is to be honest. If you know you are going to rank a program first and you want them to know it, tell them. If you know a program is among your favorites, you can tell them that too. However, do not tell ten different programs they are your top choice. Program directors tend to know one another, and they may have conversations about prospective residents. Be professional and try to be honest when you discuss your level of interest in a given program.

As you prepare for your residency interviews, the following are the most important tips to remember: Have fun, be yourself, watch the residents carefully, and bring a list of questions. Remember the final product of the interview process will be a rank order list, where you will determine which programs fit you best. If you approach each interview with these thoughts in mind you will have great success.

Brian Freeman, MD
Third Year Internal Medicine Resident, University of Iowa – Des Moines
Council of Associates Representative, Midwestern Region
E-mail: brian-freeman@uiowa.edu

Back to October 2007 Issue of IMpact

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