The Most Frequent and Important Residency Interview Questions – Medical Institution

Residency Interview Questions:

The residency interview process is perhaps the most stressful aspect of the residency application process, but it is one the most important aspects as well so it is important to be ready to answer residency interview questions. The reason residency interview is so important is because it serves as a means for a program to find out about you and whether they believe you would be a good fit into their residency. However, and perhaps more importantly, it is an essential way for you to get to know a program, its strengths and weaknesses, and culture, and whether it is a place you feel would be the best ‘match’ to spend (at least) the next three years of your life.

Although interview day schedules vary somewhat between institutions, there are several activities that are common to most. Some programs offer pre- (or post-) interview dinners or other social activities with residents intended to provide an opportunity to interact with current house staff outside of the formal interview process. The actual interview day typically begins with an orientation to the institution and residency, with discussion of the educational program and more practical matters such as salary, benefits, and support services. A tour of patient care and educational areas where you would be training and learning is almost always included.

Some programs provide an opportunity to participate on rounds with an inpatient team or with residents in an ambulatory clinic. Most programs offer between two to five interviews with staff, residents, or both. Finally, there is usually an exit interview at the end of the interview day with someone from the program leadership (such as the program director, an associate program director, or chief resident). Interview days tend to be long and exhausting, particularly if travel to and from the program is distant and you participate in any pre- or post-interview activities; this needs to be considered when planning your interview schedule.

Although many applicants do not look forward to residency interviews, remember that much of what you get out of your interviews depends on your attitude toward the process and what you seek to accomplish through the experience. Remember that the interview process is the one (and possibly the only) opportunity you have to actually see and experience what a program is like – important information for making a major life decision!

 

Tips for the First Residency Interview

The interview is an opportunity to “sell” yourself and learn about the practice. It’s a crucial step in acquiring a position, and one of the best opportunities to determine if you are making the best, or worst, decision of your career.

First, some general rules for the interview. You’ll need to dress and act in a manner that exudes confidence and professionalism. Arrive rested and leave plenty of time to get to the interview; never schedule an interview after you have been on call. Dress professionally preferably in a clean, pressed suit. Avoid using overpowering perfumes or colognes. Bring extra copies of your CV, carrying it and your other papers in a folder or briefcase; leave the backpack at home.

Prepare yourself for the interview ahead of time. Take the time to do background research about the practice, its affiliated hospitals and the providers you may be working with. Prepare a list of answers to questions you might be asked. Increase the aura of confidence about you by having well thought-out answers to commonly asked Residency Interview Questions. Anticipate inquiries like “Why do you want to join our practice? What makes you think you’ll fit in here? What experience have you had in…? Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?” Responding to questions about one’s weaknesses is always tricky. Our advice is to be honest and select a real weakness you have but be prepared to discuss your plan to overcome the weakness. Remember everyone has areas of strength and weakness and being able to identify and address weak areas is an essential skill for a clinician.

Be prepared to ask questions. Despite the fact you may be very well informed about the practice from previous phone conversations, internet research, correspondence, and personal knowledge, asking intelligent questions denotes interest and enthusiasm. Generally speaking, unless brought up by the interviewer, the first interview is not the time to discuss salary, benefits and working hours. Your job at this interview is twofold: make them want to hire you and determine if you will like working with the group. Carefully consider your ability to fit comfortably into their style of practice, and if you’ll be treated as a valued and valuable colleague. Additionally, you’ll need to collect enough information to determine if this opportunity has a high probability of providing career satisfaction.

Organize your thoughts into a systematic review of information you need to answer these questions. Don’t hesitate to write your questions down, and bring the list with you to the interview. You may wish to gather information about practice philosophy, a typical working day, anticipated responsibilities, medical student and resident teaching, and opportunities for practice growth. You may wish to learn about your expected role in the practice, and what will be done by the practice to help make you successful. Getting an idea of staff, including physician, turnover, and length of employment can reveal much about the workplace atmosphere. If physicians have recently left the practice, try to find out why and make an effort to speak to them directly about their experience.

Before starting the interview, place your cell phone and pager on silent mode. At the beginning of the interview, greet the interviewer with a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, and use the interviewer’s name early and frequently. Memorize the names of the other associates and staff you have met or communicated with, and use their names during the conversation. Maintain your focus. When asked a question, despite the fact you have previously thought out answers to common questions, answer what is asked without digressing into areas unrelated to the question. Concentrate on making your points concisely and coherently. Be careful not to talk too much or dominate the conversation. If you think you are talking too much you probably are.

By the end of the interview day, make sure you have met all members of the practice. If you have not, insist, politely but firmly, that you need to meet with the remaining members at some time in the near future. Be polite and professional with all of the practice staff and ask if any of them might be interested in meeting with you. Before you leave, establish a clear understanding of follow-up expectations. If you have a timeline by which you need to make a decision or another offer that is pending be sure to communicate the information directly. Will you contact them if you remain interested, or will they contact you? If they will contact you, determine when that will happen. What more information do they need from you, or you need from them? How and when will this information be forthcoming?

Finally, the first interview should include some information about the surrounding area. Many practices can provide you with information about housing costs, school systems, cultural activities, and entertainment. A short tour of the area can be included, if you ask. If you are invited back for a second interview, ask that your spouse or significant other be invited. Most practices will support this additional expense.

by Cynthia Smith, MD, FACP
Director, Clinical Program Development

Important Things to Know About Residency Interviews

Residency interviews tend to be more like a job interview than an application to a school. Although many residency programs are affiliated with medical schools, they are looking for trainees who are willing and able to take on the clinical care of a large portion of their institution’s most complex patients as part of the educational process. Therefore, they want not only competent ‘students’, but also people who will be able to effectively manage the responsibilities associated with patient care. Or, in other words, they are looking for individuals who will be their professional colleagues in the teaching, learning, and patient care process. Consequently, the nature of the interviews tends to be more conversational and collegial as they try to find out about you and see if you would be a good fit for their program. Very few (if any) residency interviews are confrontational or intimidating; interviewers might ask some challenging residency interview questions, but these really do not differ from those that might be asked in the course of an interview for any professional job (see sample Residency Interview Questions below). Also keep in mind that most programs are looking at you with a longer time horizon than you may think. As opposed to medical school where it is expected you will complete your studies in four years and leave, residency programs are looking to see if you may be someone they eventually might want to ask to be a chief resident, fellowship trainee, or faculty member, similarly to someone applying for a permanent position.

In residency interviews, expressing who you are is as important as what you know. Virtually everyone applying to residency is smart, and program directors can glean this information fairly easily from your transcripts, exam scores, and letters of recommendation. The fact that you were offered an interview means that you are a reasonable candidate based on your medical school accomplishments and recommendations. What is more difficult for programs to understand is what kind of person you really are – your values, the motives that have led you to pursue a career in medicine, how you view caring for patients and interacting with others, your professional hopes and dreams, etc. Because of this, it is important that you be prepared to help them see you for who you are. This can be done through your curriculum vitae and personal statement, but the interview is a way that programs seek to discover the person behind the application materials.

Residency interviews are an extremely important part of the process. Students frequently comment that interviews seem like a time consuming and burdensome part of the residency application process, and the significance of the specific information they take away from interviews is unclear. Many students find interviews on the surface to be minimally helpful – the curriculum seems to be the same everywhere (which it pretty much is), you are told how strong the educational program and commitment to teaching is (without being able to know if this is true), and the tour is fairly programmed (since most hospitals and clinics look the same), etc. However, what you get from visiting a program is invaluable in helping you decide on whether to rank a program and at what level. Actually seeing and experiencing the educational, clinical, and social atmosphere of a place is worth more than any brochure or website can relate. And, assessing whether a place “feels right” and whether you can envision yourself working there next year and beyond may be one of the most helpful pieces of information you can have in making your final rank list choices.

General Guidelines for the Interview Process

Be respectful and courteous to the administrative staff, including when you are scheduling your interviews. The residency administrative staff put tremendous effort into working with applicants and usually try to accommodate reasonable requests and assist you in the interviewing process as much as possible. You should respect these efforts and make sure your interaction with these important individuals is professional and collegial as this may also be reflected as a component of your application.
If you either must or decide to cancel an interview, it is important to let the program know, even if your cancelation is at the last minute. Programs put considerable effort into the interview process (such as arranging for individual interviews and ordering food), and letting them know that you will not be keeping an interview date for whatever reason is a matter of courtesy and professionalism.
Dress appropriately – Conservative is always appropriate, and good grooming is essential. Remember that you are interviewing for a position in which you will be interacting with patients, their families, and other professional colleagues, and you should dress in a manner that is appropriate for this role.
Be on time – You should have to wait for them, they should not wait for you.
Demeanor is important – Be attentive, honest, and as much as possible, relaxed. Interview days tend to be long and intense and you will get exhausted, but try your best to always be cordial and appear interested. Remember that the people you interact with on your interview day will be paying attention to your interpersonal skills and professionalism, even in this highly compressed time frame.
Attend pre- or post- interview dinners if you can. This is an excellent opportunity for you to meet with the current residents and talk about life in the program, and can help greatly in your rank list deliberations. However, remember that your behavior and actions during these events should be appropriate and this time interacting with the residents should be considered a part of your interview.
Review your personal statement and curriculum vitae prior to the interview. Interviewers may ask you to expound on or otherwise explain a portion of your application and you should be prepared to do this.
Know something about the program before your interview day. Although you will likely not know with whom you will be interviewing, it is helpful to know major facts about a program and institution (such as clinical or academic areas of focus); this may facilitate knowledgeable discussion in your interviews with faculty and staff.
Questions – You should be prepared to answer, as well as ask questions. A list of questions commonly asked by faculty interviewers can be found in the section below, and thinking about these question topics ahead of your interview day may be helpful.

Commonly asked Residency Interview Questions

  • Tell us about yourself.*
  • We have many good applicants. Why should we choose you?
  • Why did you choose to apply to this program?
  • What do you feel you could add to our program?
  • What have you learned about yourself from previous jobs?
  • How do I know you can show initiative and are willing to work?
  • What are your interests outside of medicine?
  • What are your major strengths?*
  • What are your major weaknesses?*
  • Why did you choose this specialty?
  • Tell me about your medical education?
  • Tell me about your previous clinical experience in (specialty name)?
  • Why are you so sure (specialty) is right for you?
  • Tell me about your experience with the USMLE exam(s)? (if candidate has so-so score(s) or failed attempts)?
  • Have you ever worked in an ICU (or other unit common to the specialty)?
  • Have you ever worked in an American hospital? Tell me about that experience.
  • How do you get along with nurses?
  • Have you ever taught other medical students?
  • Do you have any publications?
  • Are you interested in research activity? Please elaborate.
  • Have you ever made any presentations before a professional group?
  • Have you assisted in surgery? On what procedures? Tell me how you were Involved.
  • What are your long term goals?*
  • Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years’ time?*
  • What are you looking for in a training program?
  • What books have you read lately? Tell me about that (book, article).
  • Do you plan to practice in (program’s area or state)?
  • Tell me about the latest treatment for XXXX (a common disease treated by the specialty). (This is often called “pumping an applicant” and is not as common as it once was.)
  • How would you describe your decision-making style?
  • Describe the most difficult decision you have ever had to make. How did you go about it?
  • Describe the worst or most disappointing clinical experience you’ve had so far.
  • What will you do if you don’t match in (specialty)?
  • To what other (programs or specialty areas) have you applied?
  • What is your visa status (only if you are a foreign IMG)?
  • Describe a difficult time in your life and how you dealt with it?
  • Do you have any beliefs or convictions that might interfere with you willingness to deal with the kind of clinical situations you are likely to be presented with in residency training? (Usually asked if program director fears religious beliefs may prevent applicant from performing abortions, birth control, etc.)
  • What do you do to cope with stress?
  • Have you taken any CME courses? If not why not? (Asked to measure applicant’s initiative in seeking exposure to US-style of health care delivery)
  • Have you held any leadership roles? Elaborate.
  • What factors would lead you to rank a program very highly?
  • What factors would lead you to lower your ranking of a program?
  • What kind of personally traits do you find most difficult to deal with in co-workers?
  • What challenges do you foresee that will potentially affect this specialty in the next ten years?
  • What kind of patient do you find it most difficult to relate to? What tactics would you use to establish optimal rapport with such a patient?
  • What would you like to know about our program?
  • Do you have any questions about our program?*

Some of these residency interview questions are rarely asked but you should still be prepared for them. The best thing to do is to practice these residency interview questions with someone until you are confident.

Residency Interview Questions You Should Ask the Current Residents

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
  • Is there anything you would change about the program?
  • Do you feel that your program is preparing you for the boards?
  • Would you consider the same program if you were to apply again?
  • Why did you consider this program?
  • Is there an appropriate balance between service obligations and the educational program?
  • What has changed since you came to the program?
  • Is the program responsive to suggestions for change?
  • How accessible are the faculty?
  • How is the relationship between the faculty and the residents?
  • Do the residents get along with one another?
  • In what activities are you involved outside of the program?
  • How does your spouse/significant other like the city/area?

 

The bottom line is that at the end of the day you should be enough prepared to answer all the residency interview questions. The interviewers may pick something on your curriculum vitae (i.e. extra-curricular activities, work experiences, research project, etc.), personal statement, ERAS application, etc. to ask you about. Remember what you wrote; review these documents prior to interviewing so you are not caught off guard by these questions.

 

References for The Most Important Residency Interview Questions:



Recommended Books for Residency Interview Questions:

The Residency Interview

How to Answer Interview Questions

Interviewing

The Successful Match

First Aid for the Match

Tips for the Residency Match





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Residency Interview Questions. Most popular Residency Interview Questions, Residency Interview Questions list,

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