The Interview

The process of applying and interviewing for a residency position is frequently a stressful one.  This process involves both selling yourself to a program, as well as collecting the information that you will need in deciding how to rank the various programs.  Programs that you consider will all have different strengths and weaknesses - some of which may not be apparent by a cursory look at the program.

Preparation: It is imperative that you have questions to ask the faculty and residents on your interview inorder to make an informed decision. Every interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. It is okay to ask the same question of different interviewers.

Questions to ask faculty:

  • Where are your graduates? Where do they come from and where do they go?
  • How have the graduates done on the USMLE Step 3 and specialty boards?
  • How much didactics? Are the resident's relieved of clinical duties to attend?
  • Patient population?
  • Is attendance at national/regional conferences encouraged and funded?
  • Is this program affiliated with a medical school?
  • What teaching responsibilities for medical students are expected of residents?
  • If residents have teaching responsibilities, approximately how much time each week is spent  with students?
  • Is there formal training of residents on how to effectively teach and evaluate medical students?
  • Are the clerkship objectives for students shared with the residents?
  • Are research opportunities provided to the residents? Is this a required experience?
  • Is there a possibility of protected time for research?
  • How are resident's evaluated?
  • Are there other hospitals used for rotations or electives?
  • What type of attending backup support is available when residents are on call?
  • Are residents assisted in find a job when completed?
  • Do residents have any problems finding jobs?
  • Do residents moonlight?
  • What changes do you see in the program during the next few years?
  • Have any residents left the program recently?
  • What are the program's strengths?
  • What are the program's weaknesses?

Questions to ask residents:

  • Starting salary
  • Vacation schedule
  • What are the positive aspects (strengths) of the program?
  • What are the negative aspects (weaknesses) of the program?
  • Well prepared for boards? Time to read?
  • Electives available?
  • Relationship with the other specialties in the hospital.
  • Moonlighting? Benefits-meals, health insurance etc.
  • Patient load?
  • Didactics-taught by faculty or residents? How many resident conferences are required? Is there time to attend conferences?
  • Call-schedule, what patients are you responsible for?
  • Interaction between residents and faculty?
  • Do residents have any problems finding jobs?
  • Would you apply here again if given the chance?
  • What changes do you see in the future?
  • What is the housing situation?
  • Where do you park and is it paid for?

Answers to Questions: The following are examples of frequent questions asked applicants. Though you shouldn't memorize answers, it would be to your advantage to write out your responses so that your responses will be fluent and thought-out.

  • Tell me about the patient you learned the most from?
  • Why did you apply to this program?
  • What are you looking for in a program?
  • Why do you want to go into this specialty?
  • What do you see as the negative and positive features of this specialty?
  • What problems do you think the specialty faces?
  • How do you see the delivery of health care evolving?
  • What if you don't match?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What are your plans for a family?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Can I be happy working in this program and with these people?
  • Are there factors that make this city an attractive place for me to live during my residency?

Presenting Yourself: Dr. Iverson lists in his book Getting Into a Residency, A Guide for Medical Students, five reasons why interviews fail.

  1. Inadequate preparation.
  2. Applicant does not listen to the questions being asked.
  3. Interviewers may get annoyed by having questions answered that were not asked.
  4. Rambling, providing superfluous information.
  5. Applicant inadvertently gives warning signals to the interviewer (inconsistent answers, abrasiveness, evasiveness, blaming others for applicant's problems, dullness).

The bottom line in the interview is that you have to sell yourself. Key personality traits sought by interviewers to keep in mind: drive, motivation, communication skills, energy, determination, confidence, reliability, honesty/integrity, pride, dedication, analytical skills, listening skills. You can include these "key words" into your personal statement and in your responses during the interview.

Interview attire: "In your town, your reputation counts; in another, your clothes do." Talmud, Shabboth. Appropriate dress is an essential part of any interview. Keep in mind that most interviewers are conservative. Above all, dress neatly. Men: two piece suits in a solid color (gray, black or navy). Does not need to be expensive, but it should be well-cut and tailored. If you don't have or cannot afford a suit, wear a navy blue sport jacket with matching pants. The shirt should be plain white long sleeve with a conservative tie. Be sure your shoes are well polished. Carry a notepad, preferably in a leather-like portfolio to take notes. Besides, it looks good.... Women: two piece suit or a well tailored dress. Simple blouse (watch the neck line...). Shoes should be simple pumps, low heeled in a dark or neutral color. The less jewelry you wear the better. Carrying a purse is debatable. Some say to never carry one. If you have an attache case, place all your stuff in that as well as a notepad (portfolio style as above). If you can get away with it, just carry a notepad-it will be easier on you.

Materials To Bring On Interview:

  • Copies of CV, Personal Statement, application, board scores, extra picture.
  • Materials from the program to review the night before.
  • Notepad portfolio to take notes on. It is okay, and probably shows organization and interest, to take notes during the presentations. You especially need to write down impressions immediately after the interview because you will soon forget all that you heard. Write down the interviewers names, the residents who took you out to lunch etc. so that you can thank them by name in the follow-up letter.
  • Pen (a nice one).
  • Money-in case you have to pay for parking or lunch.
  • Parking ticket to have validated by the secretary.

Program Evaluation (rate the following as Good, Average or Poor):

  • Area surrounding hospital: safe, well lit, parking close
  • Diverse socio-economic patient population
  • Residents are happy
  • Location acceptable
  • Cost of living managable
  • Accreditation of program unquestionable
  • Number of hospitals in rotation
  • How far away are rotations
  • Job opportunities upon completion
  • Acceptable salary
  • Vacation benefits
  • Insurance coverage
  • Impression of faculty
  • Impression of residents
  • Overall program rating

 

FOLLOW-UP

Type follow-up letters promptly after interviewing, thanking the program director for the opportunity to interview and for any lodging and meals they provided. Be sure to mention the interviewers and the residents by name in your letter. Also, at this time or definitely after the match, write a letter to those faculty members who wrote your letters of recommendation thanking them and informing them of your match.

EVALUATE THE PROGRAM

After the interview use this form to evaluate the program.

Download Residency Program Evaluation Guide

HOW AM I GOING TO PAY FOR MY INTERVIEWING TRIPS?

There are several loans that are available to help with the expenses you will incur.  Follow this link to those resources - Residency Loans

HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE SELECTION COMMITTEES:
TIPS ON SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEWING

The interview process is an aspect of residency application which is of primary importance to the prospective house officer. The investments involved in this venture usually include a month of the applicant's time and a monetary expenditure in quadruple digits. The outcome of the interview process will have a major effect on the residency program finally selected, and can have implications for the future medical career of the applicant. Because the stakes of this game are so high, it is of vital interest to the interviewee that he or she derive the maximum benefit from the investment made.

The applicant should strive to achieve two basic goals at each institution he visits: first, to gather information to help determine the merit of a given residency program and second, to achieve a successful interview such that the selection committee will realize the merit of the applicant. The time allowed for the latter is limited by protocol; the

time for the former, however, is determined by the applicant and should by no means be limited to the formal arrangements made in advance by the interview committee.

The applicant should thoroughly familiarize himself with all prepared information such as brochures, etc. prior to visiting each institution. Before ever leaving home, the applicant should seek out all faculty and housestaff at KU who have had personal experience with the residency programs in question. These individuals can be excellent sources of information, since they are in a position to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a given training program from the same perspective as the applicant. For the same reason, the applicant should attempt to meet with any faculty or housestaff at each institution he visits who received some part of their training at KU.

Of course, the best sources of information for the prospective house officer are the interns and residents who make up each training program. For the most part, these people are quite candid and willing to discuss any aspect of their residency program. It is to these individuals that the pragmatic questions should be addressed, such as salary, call schedules, moonlighting, etc. Questions pertaining to the strengths and weaknesses of the program are also best directed to these people, as some faculty are offended by such inquiries. Most importantly, the applicant should attempt to determine the general happiness of the housestaff, and whether he would be happy in the same situation. The applicant should also make observations concerning the esprit de corps and whether he would fit in well with the existing group of house officers. A complete list of the type of information which should be obtained will not be undertaken here, as this has been done quite thoroughly elsewhere (N.Engl.J.Med. 291:601-605,1974). Most interview schedules allot at least one hour for the applicant to interact with the current housestaff for the procurement of such information. Often this time is inadequate, however, especially if the ratio of applicants to house officers is high. A seldom utilized but highly recommended practice is that of visiting the hospital the evening before the scheduled interview. If not too busy, the house officers on call are usually more than willing to discuss their residency program at length, and tend to be more candid in this setting. In addition, the applicant may have the opportunity to see parts of the hospital and gain insights into the actual day to day realities of the training program that are not available to the average interviewee. The importance of the night-before visit and its potential yield of information cannot be over-emphasized.

Other very -important sources of information included the institution's faculty and medical students, especially senior students interested in the same specialty. Discussions with applicants from other medical schools who are interviewing at the same time can also be very informative, especially if they are personally familiar with any of the hospitals to which you are applying.

Because there is no hard data available by which one can evaluate the various training programs, the applicant must base his decisions on personal observations and word-of mouth information obtained from the sources discussed above. Because much of this type of data is subjective, the applicant must attempt to base his conclusions on the largest possible data base. In each instance, of course, the source of information must be considered. While it is not mandatory that each intern be overjoyed with his current lot in life, he should be able to smile and to say positive things concerning his training program. It is probably a good idea to make an attempt to convert subjective observations into objective data by means of some scoring system following your visit to each institution. Each applicant must determine beforehand the aspects of a training program which are important to him, and then grade on a scale of I to 5, for example, how every program fulfills each of the requirements. If this is not done, it is sometimes difficult at the end of a long interview trip to recall the positive and negative attributes of each residency program.

In the final analysis, you will find that your ultimate decision on how to rank the programs to which you have applied will be based largely on intangible factors. You will like or dislike the various training programs for reasons that you cannot easily identify. The more exposure an applicant has to each institution he visits, both in terms of personal observation and word-of-mouth testimonials, the more likely it will be that his gut feelings about that training program are accurate.

All of the effort in the foregoing discussion is wasted if the applicant fails to make a favorable impression upon the selection committee of the desired residency program. In order to achieve a successful interview, it is first important to identify the goals of the interviewer. Almost universally now, the intense grill session is a thing of the past. Selection committees now tend to rely on medical school grades, Dean's letters and letters of recommendation to base their evaluation of each applicant's medical competence. The purpose of the interview is for the selection committee to identify the personal characteristics of each applicant which may determine how he will function as a house officer. These attributes are not easy to specify, but include interpersonal skills and abilities to interact with superiors, peers, and subordinates. The interviewer will need to evaluate how he thinks the applicant will fit in with the existing housestaff. Some of the more skilled interviewers will make an attempt to judge how the applicant handles pressure and responds to adversity, as this is certainly a valid concern of the selection committee. Thus it is important not only to identify what the interviewer is asking, but why he is asking it. Selection committees are seeking integrity and dependability in their house officers; questions should be answered honestly and sincerely.

There are certain questions which an applicant can anticipate and should be prepared to answer. These include why you have chosen this particular specialty, what your future plans are, what you consider important in a training program and why you have applied to this one in particular, how you have done in medical school, what you consider your personal strong and weak points, and what qualifications you have that set you apart from your fellow applicants. On the other hand, an applicant should also have some questions which he has prepared to ask of the interviewer. Although physicians by profession should be excellent interviewers, an applicant will inevitably run across someone who does not know how to conduct a proper interview and will instead leave it up to the applicant to carry the interaction. In this case, it is the applicant's responsibility to ask intelligent, appropriate questions to occupy the duration of the interview. If the staff physician believes he has carried out a good interview, he is very likely to make a favorable report to the selection committee.

The only vestige of the grill session which remains popular among some interviewers is that of having the applicant present an interesting case. Although even this is uncommon today, each applicant should probably be prepared to make a brief two to three minute presentation and to intelligently discuss the pathophysiology and differential diagnosis of the case presented.

Just as the applicant finds many intangible factors influencing his evaluation of each residency program, so the interviewer will base his evaluation of each applicant on perceptions not easily identified. A firm handshake, confident manner, and good eye contact can go a long way in this respect. It is certainly important that the applicant be himself, but he must do so in a way that puts his best foot forward. Thus, the interviewer will not only be judging what an applicant says, but how he says it as well.

The interview process today in general takes the form of a relaxed, low-pressure conversation, and can be quite enjoyable to the applicant and interviewer alike. The prepared applicant who well understands the purpose of the interview process will find that he can quite favorab.ly affect his chances of being selected for the residency program of his choice.

The latest addition to the interview process which has become popular recently is that of the follow-up letter. Although this practice is viewed differently by the various people involved in the selection of housestaff, it is probably appropriate upon your return home to send a letter to each institution thanking them for their hospitality. Of less certain propriety is the practice by which applicants inform their most favored residency programs of their ranking intentions, as this is viewed with distrust by many selection committees. The effect of such a letter on one's chances of being selected are questionable, and in any case such letters would be appropriate only for the institutions at the top of one's ranking order.

If one thing should be added to the foregoing discussion, it is that the entire interview process should be initiated as early as possible. Requests for prepared information from each program can be sent as early as June, and requests for letters of recommendation should be made in August. If one plans on interviewing during the month of November, applications should be received by the residency program in late August or early September, so that the interview date of choice can be arranged. The applicant who makes his plans well in advance is viewed by the selection committee as a responsible, prepared individual who is certain of his goals and how to achieve them.

Good luck and good hunting.

Last modified: Apr 21, 2014
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