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Dr. Leila Javidi and Dr. Taylor Purvis contributed to this post. 

I've gone to a few weddings in the past few years. Each time I put a lot of effort into picking out a very thoughtful gift, carefully wrapped it to look like a storefront display, and dropped it off with pride at the gift table. Then I watched as two, four, six months went by without a single thank you note! And even worse: when I finally did get that thank you note, it was so generic that I'm not sure the wonderful couple even knew which carefully wrapped gift I had given them. For all I know, they may have even hired someone to unwrap their gifts and generate a thank you note. Ugh! I was so put off by those few experiences that I rarely put in the same effort to pick out the perfect gift and card anymore.

Suffice it to say: thank you notes matter. In general, if someone takes the time to speak with you or share advice or resources, you should acknowledge their effort. Moreover, well written and strategically timed 'thank yous' can really give you an edge. But not all thank you notes are created equal. In what follows, I’ll provide you with my “Thank You Action Plan” to give you a leg up on the competition.

WHO receives residency interview thank you notes?

Everyone you interview with. Round 1 of the “Thank You Action Plan” is to thank everyone with whom you interviewed. I like to thank all the faculty members whom I interviewed with, the program director, the program administrator, and any residents who played a big role in the interview process. Make sure that during the interview you ask everyone for either their card (with an email address) or ask the program administrator for their email addresses/contact information.

If you don’t have the contact information for a particular person that you connected with on interview day, don’t hesitate to email the program administrator. You can ask the administrator to forward an email to the person on your behalf.

I’ll often write the text of my thank you note in an email and send that email to the administrator saying, “Dear [xyz administrator], I enjoyed speaking with Dr. XYZ on my interview day. Could you please forward to the email below to them, as a thank you for their time?”

WHAT should you say in your thank you note?

Touch on the specifics. 'Thank Yous' don't have to be long. In fact, a few sentences will do. I always like to follow this general format (with general variations so it looks very personalized):

Hello Dr.________,

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me on interview day last week. It was such a pleasure getting to know you and your team. I especially enjoyed hearing about [specific thing you talked about]. This, in addition to [another specific attribute to this program] has really impressed me about the X University [specialty] Residency program. Thank you again for the opportunity to interview with you. I look forward to the opportunity to working with you in the future.

Respectfully,

[Your Name]

After the interview, make sure you write down the name of the interviewer and a few things you talked about that you think will make a good specific talking point in a note.

The key is to be specific. Did you connect with your interviewer over an upcoming sports game? Add that in as a cheeky final note (“Looking forward to seeing the Red Sox beat the Yankees tomorrow night!).

Did someone mention a medical education initiative that sounded interesting? Mention that (“I appreciated learning about the ARC program that would allow me to teach hands-on material to medical students”)

Some people write, "I intend to rank you very highly" in every thank you note. I avoid this, because as a program director or interviewer I would want everyone to be ranking me highEST, not just highly! It’s sort of like saying “I enjoyed going on a date with you last night, and I’ll consider you on my top list of candidates for a boyfriend.” It can be a little insulting! I leave this out and instead focus on making my thank you note shine by making a personal connection.

If you do mention rank order in your thank you note, do not lie about rankings! 

Post-Residency Interview Thank You Letter Samples

Your residency interview thank you letters will vary slightly based on whom you are writing to. 

A Sample Program Director Thank You Note:

Dear Dr. XYZ,

Thank you so much for the invitation to interview at XYZ. I was struck by the warm, welcoming atmosphere and the program’s clear commitment to supporting residents. 

I enjoyed learning more about opportunities for getting involved in medical education and about the infrastructure in place to help me continue my research and transition into academic medicine. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to share with you my interest in the program and for taking the time out of your schedule to interview me.

Warmly,

XYZ

A Sample Thank You Note for Those With Whom You Interviewed:

Dear Dr. XYZ,

Thank you so much for the invitation to interview at XYZ. I was struck by the warm, welcoming atmosphere and the program’s clear commitment to supporting residents. 

I also enjoyed learning about your own experience working in the ambulatory care setting and hearing the reasons why you chose to stay at XYZ. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to share with you my interest in the program and for taking the time out of your schedule to interview me. 

Warmly,

XYZ

WHEN and HOW to send a residency interview thank you? 

Phase 1: Residency Interview Thank You Emails

Some people may disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. Remember how long it took for my friend to send me her thank you note and how I just waited around and then forgot about it until it was conspicuously late? This is why I believe phase 1 should be sending a good email. I send my thank you note the night of the interview. Others like to drop an email to everyone within a week and a half of the interview.

My thinking is this: people will be digesting your interview that afternoon or evening, and the sooner you can let them know how much you appreciate their time, the better. Why wait?

Phase 2: Hand written thank you notes

No matter when you interviewed with a particular program, it can be very easy to get lost in the mix. You may have wowed the program director on interview day, but it is essential that they know about your continued interest in the program at rank time. And what better way to say "I'm interested!" than a handwritten note?

The purpose and content of this note is essentially the same as the previous emails. Again, I avoid the phrase, “I have ranked you very highly.”

To all but one of your programs: write a nice note but don’t mention ranking at all. Say you could see yourself being a great fit for the program and emphasize the aspects you really liked on interview day.

For the one program you love: write  “I have ranked your program number one.”

Theoretically, it is in everyone's best interest to rank based on genuine interest in the program/candidate. But remember, we are human and not only does it feel better when someone likes you back, it can often influence your ranking! Buy some generic thank you notes and send these to the program director of EVERY PROGRAM you will be ranking. Some think this is excessive (and it may be) but doing so is the professional and courteous thing. (Once again, a quick caution: You will hear this time and time again, but do not lie to programs about ranking status. Only tell one program you are going to rank them number one. Medicine is a small world.)

There are two reasons I believe these notes should be handwritten. Firstly, a handwritten note appears much more thought out than an email. An email can be sent from your phone on the toilet at a bar; a thank you note takes a little more dedication and attention to detail. A skilled writer may be able to write a thank you note on a toilet in a bar… but I really don’t recommend that from a public health standpoint.  

Second of all, you are not the only one sending this program director an email! This is an incredibly hectic time for these individuals and an easy way to get their attention is to send them something they don’t get very often these days: a lovely hand written thank you note. These notes should be sent around early-January when everyone is finishing up interviews. This will put you fresh in their minds as they make their final ranking. And on that note, please be sure to verify the address!

WHY send residency interview thank you letters?

Why go through all of this, you ask? Because good things come to those who go the extra mile! During the interview process there are so many variables that can determine whether you will be ranked by a program. Also, conducting interviews is a pain in the butt, so they deserve the thanks. Give yourself the best chance you can! This is 4+ years of your life and in some cases half a million dollars worth of investment. A thank you note might make all the difference between ending up where you want to be… or ending up anywhere at all!

 

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