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One of the most exciting, exhilarating, and expensive endeavors of fourth year is the interview trail, in which aspiring residents will visit countless programs across the country in order to demonstrate their merit as a potential incoming intern. The interview is not only a chance to demonstrate that you are in fact as good as or better than your paper application, but also an opportunity to determine fit – do you fit in with the program and does the program’s philosophy fit your aspirations?

Although the interview process will seemingly become easier as you progress along the trail, it will also become repetitive. You’ll be faced with the same standard questions: “tell me about yourself,” “why do you want to be a(n) [insert specialty of choice here],” “tell me about your research,” “tell me about a time when [insert ethical scenario here],” “why do you want to come to our program,” and “what questions do you have for me?” If you’re like me, you’ll likely have difficulty with that last question because there is so much to ask, so much that I wanted to know about a program, yet so little understanding of a good question to ask.

It's important to remember that, once you are invited for the interview, you are qualified for the position. You have passed the screening process, and you have what it takes to be a resident at that program. Yet, just because you qualified does not mean that you will be a perfect fit at that program or that the program will be a good fit for you. In this case, I'll use the word "fit" to denote your ability to excel in a specific program, and for that specific program to provide the environment and tools necessary for you to excel. Determining a mutual fit is arguably the most important part of the interview process. If the program is a good fit for you, you and the program will recognize it, and you will have a higher chance of matching. The program may determine fit by asking questions such as “tell me about yourself,” “what got you interested in [insert specialty here],” and “why do you want to come to our program?”

Out of all of the questions they may ask, one of the most important aspects of your residency interview follows the question: "What questions do you have for me?” 

Most medical students have the luxury of visiting 2-3 programs on away rotations prior to interviews, but chances are, you will interview at and match at a program that you did not rotate at. Your ensuing questions should demonstrate that, yes, you have done research about the program — by talking to current residents, reading the program’s website, and possibly connecting with medical students who rotated at that program. Because the program does not know you outside of your paper application, asking insightful, open ended questions enables you to demonstrate to the program that you are interested and that you and the program are a mutual fit.  Determining this fit from your perspective, is best done by demonstrating your enthusiasm, aspirations, and desires by asking questions that convey these qualities.

The interviewer will likely determine fit also by the questions you ask.

Your interests say more about you than your qualifications. So asking questions that you want the answer to and that demonstrate your enthusiasm and aspirations is crucial to identifying fit. For example, if you’re curious about opportunities to practice procedures outside of the operating room, ask an open ended question such as:

 “What opportunities would exist for me to improve upon my surgical technique outside of the operating room? I find that I learn best from my mistakes, and I would rather make these mistakes in a no-risk environment than in an environment that could potentially harm a patient.”

By asking a qualified, open ended question like this one, you can convey your desire to put in work beyond the requirements, recognize your limitations, and improve upon your weaknesses. 

Other good questions to consider asking are:

  • “I saw on your website that residents have a dedicated 2 month research period. I have experience in [insert research here] but I would love to learn more about _____ .” 
  • “I’d love to continue to expand my knowledge through original research. What opportunities exist and what resources are available at resident disposal?”
  • “I envision taking care of community sports teams. What opportunities exist for residents to cover local, collegiate, and professional sporting events?”

Keep in mind that if you think it sucks to be asked the same thing over and over again (which you will by interview 3 or 4), your interviewer does as well, so mix up your questions, make them personal, and make them meaningful.

Interview practice makes perfect.

Prior to actually getting to your interview, it is important to practice. Practice makes perfect by elucidating mistakes and enabling improvement under little to no risk. Host mock interview sessions with your friends so you can role play as both the interviewer and the interviewee. That way you can gain an appreciation for the person sitting across the table from you at your residency interview.

Make sure you have a good, firm handshake (think solid connection, not death grip or limp fish), look your interview in the eye, introduce yourself with confidence, repeat your interviewer’s name i.e. “It’s nice to meet you Dr. Smith”, and thank the interviewer for taking time out of his/her busy schedule to meet with you. Keep in mind that a good interview is one in which the interviewer and interviewee split time talking avoid awkward pauses. Practice early and often. Prepare for your interview and have a list of questions written that you would like to ask. You’ve made it to the interview and you’re qualified to be a resident — now it’s time to determine your fit.

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Joshua Shapiro

Joshua Shapiro

Josh completed his medical education at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is now a third year resident in orthopaedic surgery at UNC - Chapel Hill. Josh has a strong record in standardized examinations, including a score of 268 on USMLE Step 1 and 264 on USMLE Step 2CK. Prior to joining the Med School Tutors family, Josh had been a tutor for USMLE Step 1, basic science coursework, and NBME shelf examinations. Josh is an avid teacher with a commitment to excellence and aims to achieve excellence with all of his students.
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