Learn how to answer emergency medicine residency interview questions, including the open-ended question, “tell me about yourself” and understand what you can do to prepare for your residency interview! In this blog, we will go over some of the most common emergency medicine residency interview questions and provide you with expert responses to inspire your own!
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Emergency medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of acute illnesses and injuries. Emergency medicine physicians provide immediate care for patients in need, often in an emergency department or trauma unit. They are also called upon when there is no doctor available at the time of urgent care. Matching to an emergency medicine residency is often a strenuous process, as emergency medicine is one of the most competitive residencies. The number of applicants far exceeds the number of available residency positions, and many applicants are well qualified. Thus, it’s important to understand how the matching process works before applying. And, it's crucial that you're well prepared for your emergency medicine residency interview, which may be your only opportunity to impress the residency program director and residents. If you're interested in becoming an emergency medicine physician, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about matching into an EM residency program.
How Competitive is Emergency Medicine in the United States and Canada?
The competition for emergency medicine residencies is tough, as it’s a popular choice for many MD and DO graduates to pursue as a specialty. The number of positions available in the United States and Canada is limited, and there are many candidates vying for that finite number of spots.
The application process is rigorous, and the competition is fierce. In addition to having an exceptional academic record and strong application materials, such as your emergency medicine letter of recommendation and emergency medicine personal statement, candidates must demonstrate a passion for emergency medicine by working in a variety of clinical settings.
For IMG's (International Medical Graduates) it can be especially challenging, as they are not usually able to take the USMLE exams before applying for residency programs and may be limited to IMG friendly residency programs. However, many international medical graduates have gone on to become successful emergency medicine physicians in Canada and the United States. The training is rigorous and demanding, but it can also be very rewarding for those who are passionate about working in an emergency department setting.
With that said, let’s jump into some of the most common questions you can expect during your interview and review expert responses to help you match your desired program!
Still working on your EM personal statement? Check this out:
10 Common Emergency Medicine Interview Questions and Answers
1) What do you think is the biggest issue facing emergency medicine today?
I think the biggest challenge facing emergency medicine today is the staffing issues and shortages, and the influx of patients. Doctors and nurses work together to collaborate and do all that they can to manage the capacity and to ensure patient’s needs are met and lives are saved, but this can become overwhelming. I think our healthcare system requires better government support, and bigger, more modern hospitals that staff are eager to work at—that might prevent emergency medicine staff from facing burnout, and help with the capacity issues that may impact the timeliness of patient care.
2) Why emergency medicine?
Emergency medicine is the right choice for me because I’m passionate about helping patients suffering from acute illnesses and injuries in a busy setting and I have experience dealing with patients in acute and trauma wings suffering from a range of different illnesses, ailments and injuries. I also saw many challenges during my ER clerkship which took place during the global pandemic, and I was able to pivot and persevere with my team as we learned how to navigate patients with terrible viral symptoms and the rest of the busy ER. I thrive when working as a team, and I’m confident in my ability to be a part of a team in the ER, and one day, lead one. I feel there are ample opportunities for learning and patient connection in emergency medicine, on the first day of my first ER rotation, I knew the emergency department was exactly what I’d pictured before entering my MD program, and I was able to complete my rounds each day and learn something new, from both patient interactions, new challenges I hadn’t yet dealt with, and from the physicians I was working with.
3) What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses pertaining to residency?
My greatest strength, relevant to emergency medicine, is my innate ability to work well and function with total ease under pressure! I enjoy busy and turbulent environments, and pressure never seems to get to me. I can communicate clearly and act fast even in high-stress situations. One night during my clerkship I proved this, as the ER saw an influx of viral patients being admitted, 5 labour and delivery patients, and about a dozen trauma patients all within a few hours. Nurses, doctors and other MD students, myself included, were running off of our feet and putting our heads together to ensure we addressed the most critical patients as quickly, but were able to stabilize others and establish a rhythm where all patient’s needs would be met in a timely, and orderly, fashion.
My greatest weakness would be that I tend to overthink after the fact. I have a perfect record of making the most reasonable, correct decisions, even on the fly—but I’m known to dwell on it—or wonder if I acted fast enough, or, could have said something different. I know that this is sometimes called ‘imposter syndrome’ and it certainly exists across all fields of medicine and in every type of career! In particular, on that busy night in the ER, I found myself feeling my stomach drop at times, where I second guessed if my team made the right call by opting to take one patient before another, or, if I’d handled my interactions with a caring demeanor or, a more ‘on edge’ one. Of course, everything I did was in the patient’s best interest, but I need to establish more confidence in my own authority, ability and knowledge.
4) Can you share an experience with a patient that was troubling or difficult to handle, and describe how you tackled it?
I’m fortunate that many of the patients whom I interacted with in my medical school rotations were wonderful, however, I have dealt with the parents of young children in emergency medicine settings who attempt to speak over the physician, or, make demands that cannot be met. My first approach to tackling these kinds of situations was being empathetic and professional; I understand that parents are often most concerned about their child’s wellbeing. Then, I would move on to relay what information we knew to be true, for example, what the child’s current symptoms were, if a fever was present at any point, and so on. In one particular situation, the child was not in a state of distress, and was waiting several hours (along with many other patients) to have their minor fracture tended to. I understood that the patient and their parents were tired of waiting, but when they pleaded and complained that they wanted to see the ER physician sooner than others, I explained that the emergency department had also seen several severe injuries and illnesses that night, and that although their child had a minor injury, they had been triaged accordingly, and their condition would not deteriorate while waiting. Sometimes, calmly explaining that emergency departments see life-threatening emergencies as well as minor ones, and assuring patients that they are being looked after, is the best we can do.
5) What do you think is the most important quality of a good doctor?
Empathy and the ability to think rationally. I think the perfect combination of empathy and understanding for a patient’s situation—or a team member’s—and the ability to make the best choice, even if it isn’t the easiest, is the perfect recipe for a good doctor who can provide exceptional patient care. I’ve interacted with patients who were in dire situations, losing their pregnancy, or losing their loved one, in the ER, and although my first instinct is always to make the best call medically and act fast, I have also learned to act with empathy, let them know that you genuinely care, and that you’re doing to proceed with the most rational, best course of action that is possible for that patient in the moment. Letting a patient know that their doctor is human and understands their emotions, like fear or devastation, can help them feel less alone in their despair.
6) What do you think is the most challenging aspect of working in an emergency department?
I think that the reality of most emergency departments—that they can be overcrowded and overwhelming—is a challenging aspect. Although I thrive in fast-paced environments, the ‘rush’ may, inevitably, become challenging, especially during shifts where an influx of injured or ill patients come in and require ample care all at once, and acutely injured/minorly ill patients may be stuck with longer wait times and could become impatient. Keeping a rational mindset and patient wellbeing as my priority, I would simply strive to move quickly, but thoroughly, through each patient in order of triage, maintain a professional but empathetic demeanor—because patients will be distressed if they’ve been waiting for hours—and make their short time with the doctor worthwhile. Delivering information and, a diagnosis or ‘next steps’ to a patient concisely is most important, and even when challenged, I will do this.
7) Have you had any relevant leadership experience?
I have led a volunteer group at the XYZ Children’s Hospital for three years. In my role, I organize meet and greets, virtual and in-person reading buddies, and other activities that help pre-med students gain exposure to a hospital setting in a meaningful way that also helps young patients! In my clinical rotations, my team and I swapped roles accordingly, each taking turns at leading during our time in the hospitals.
8) Have you ever had a clinical experience or patient encounter that taught you something new about yourself?
I’ve learned to treasure every moment, and to understand that physicians are only human, from one pediatric oncology patient I knew for two years. During my time volunteering at XYZ Children’s Hospital, I was able to understand how to swallow my emotions, but still remain empathetic and genuine when interacting with patients that, naturally, were difficult to see. Seeing a smiling two-year-old be playing with her visiting family, and in critical condition the next day, was not easy, but I found I was able to remove myself from the ‘negative’ and focus on the patient in front of me, and prioritize their care and state of mind whenever I could. Bringing a smile to their face, even if it was only there for a moment, or even a split second of comfort, is what motivated me to shut down my emotions so the patient and their families only saw a confident and optimistic doctor. I came to understand that we can’t save them all, but, we can do what we can to leave a lasting impression, to help them, to provide comfort, and to be the best doctors possible. Watching this young patient undergo several surgeries and remain positive really made me appreciate every moment I’ve had on earth, and motivated me to become a great doctor.
9) What qualities and skills do you bring to this field?
To the field of emergency medicine, I bring dedication and curiosity, as well as the motivation to help as many patients as I can, as best as I can, and to continually grow and learn as I move through my residency. I’m a great multitasker who enjoys working with teams and thrives in fast-paced, tense settings. I am confident in my ability to make logical decisions quickly, and I have a wonderful bedside manner. My previous experience in a busy emergency department, and pediatric oncology, challenged me to work quickly, to prioritize patients and take action quickly when needed. Emergency medicine—as well as oncology—brought about curiosity I didn’t know I had, with every rare disease or condition I saw in either department, or, disease that I learned more about by discussing it with doctors and patients, I realized I’m a lifelong learner and will always be eager to obtain knew knowledge, especially if it may help my future patients.
10) Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Anytown, NY and was a very shy and book-smart kid. From a young age, I felt as though I derived a lot of meaning from the stories I read, and felt a sense of empathy toward the characters in my novels. I wanted to help them and connect with them; sometimes, I think this is because I’m a natural-born ‘helper’.
In high school, I began taking drama classes. I was definitely a science kid at heart, but my love for storytelling and the arts really helped me prosper on stage and learn to talk to people with total confidence. This was also when I saw a treasured staff member fight—and succumb to—a terrible battle with cancer. As much as this hurt me, that’s what drove me to pursue medicine. I wanted a field where I could utilize my emotional intelligence and help people in their worst moments, so that they could continue to experience more of their best ones. In my undergrad, I began getting pre-med experience by volunteering as a scribe at a local pediatric doctor’s office, and shadowing at a hospital out-patient addiction clinic. There, I learned how to be especially patient and approachable with young patients, as well as with patients struggling from addiction and mental health issues. That’s when I decided to volunteer in pediatric oncology at XYZ Children’s Hospital, which was an experience that not only solidified my choice to become a doctor—because I loved interacting with every patient—but also helped me normalize death and disease in a healthy and realistic way.
I’m passionate about what I do, and innately empathetic. But, I’m logical, I always have been, and I attribute this to both my science knowledge, and my early literary exposure. In a way, I barely recognize that shy child I once was, because I’m so vocal and confident in team settings, however, I haven’t forgotten her, because her curiosity and willingness to take a chance and explore different subjects and hobbies throughout her years in academia is what got me to where I am today, and what drove me toward my unforgettable volunteer experience in oncology, and, my MD program, which I thrived in.
How can I best prepare for my emergency medicine residency interview?
There are a few things you should consider doing in order to best prepare for your emergency medicine interview:
The best way to prepare for your emergency medicine residency interview is by doing a lot of research about the program where you are interviewing. Make sure you understand what their mission is, what their research goals and values are, and what their patient population is like. Knowing as much as you can about a program is highly recommended. This will help you make connections between the program and your own experiences and qualities, which will help you formulate answers that demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate for this program!
Another vital thing you can do to prepare is to research common residency interview questions and answers online, so that you can reflect on your own experiences well in advance and prepare your answers ahead of time. There may be interview questions that surprise you—you cannot be overprepared!
This interview is personal. You may be asked questions specific to your medical experience, as well as questions about your own hobbies or life. You should set aside time to review your own experiences, history, and potential answers to all questions that may be asked during an interview. Whether you jot them down, reflect privately, or do so with a family member or friend, this will help you feel more confident and prepared for when it comes time to sit down with a panel of interviewers.
Practice makes perfect! A residency mock interview is a great way to practice, as well as being able to see how you feel and how your responses are received. Professional feedback can really help you perfect your answers, as well as your interview behavior. You can also try practicing with a friend or family member who has gone through this process in the past, or, somebody who has experience conducting or participating emergency medicine residency interviews, or even residency interview in general. It's important to be prepared for common questions about yourself, such as why you want to specialize in emergency medicine or what your weaknesses are.
As we already mentioned above, you should always review and practice several common questions that may be asked during your interview. You cannot be too prepared, if you reach a point where answers the questions feels natural, that is a good thing! It’s normal to be a bit nervous, or, take a pause before very open-ended questions…and that is why admissions committees and program directors ask them! But, you should be able respond to questions naturally, and this is why taking 6-8 weeks to prepare for your interview and practice articulating your answers will prove beneficial.
Here’re some more questions to practice with:
Relax and accept feedback
Take a deep breath and be kind to yourself while you prepare for this important interview! Additionally, being open to feedback and realizing where your weaknesses lie (in terms of interview skills) and where you need improvement is crucial, as you cannot improve if you don’t accept that you need improvement and pinpoint what needs to change. This is why it’s strongly recommended that you find a professional in the field and ask them to help you prepare. Residency interview coaching can give you some pointers on what types of questions to expect during your interviews, as well as give feedback on how you should answer them.
1. How competitive is emergency medicine residency?
Emergency medicine residency is quite competitive, as it is a popular choice among MD graduates. In order to increase your chances of being matched to your dream emergency medicine residency, you must ensure you are prepared for all stages of your application process…especially your interview!
2. Why is preparing for my emergency medicine residency interview important?
Preparing for your emergency medicine residency interview is extremely important because you’ll be facing a lot of competition, and you must stand out among them all in order to match! Interviews can be intense and intimidating, and, you must be able to communicate thorough and high-quality responses to all of the question you’ll be asked.
3. How can I prepare for my emergency medicine residency interview?
There are many effective ways to prepare for your emergency medicine residency interview, including:
- Reviewing sample questions and answers
- Participating in a mock interview
- Practicing your answers, if possible, in front of a loved one or somebody who has participated in the residency interview process themselves
- Getting the help of a professional
- Reflecting on your past so you’ll be well prepared for any personal, open-ended questions
Reviewing your residency application as a whole and drawing on particularly relevant and important skills and experiences
4. How should I tackle open-ended questions?
Open ended questions are designed to get a sense of who you are as a person, and as a professional, and although they might seem simple, they can actually be quite challenging. For example, when you’re asked, “tell me about yourself”, the interviewer does not want to know about your childhood hobby and favorite foods. However, they do want to get a sense of who you are at your core, as it relates to your journey through medical school and future in residency. These types of questions are important to prepare for by reflecting and drawing on your best qualities. You can summarize a few key details about your life and personality without dwelling on irrelevant experiences or telling your story in a confusing order. You must approach these questions concisely and do your best to tell a quick, meaningful narrative with structure.
5. What happens if I do not know the answer to a question?
Always do your best to come up with a response…and don’t overthink it! However, if you’re absolutely stumped, you can ask the interviewer to move on or circle back to the question. They are human, too, and will appreciate your honesty rather than watching you recite an answer nervously!
6. Are mock interviews recommended?
Yes! Perfect practice makes for a perfect interview, and mock interviews are a wonderful way to get a feel for the types of questions you’ll be asked, and practice your answers.
7. What are program directors REALLY listening and looking for?
They’re looking for genuine, passionate, dedicated doctors with a history of meaningful medical experience in a related field, a lot of self-awareness and knowledge in their field, and confidence in themselves and their ability to lead a team and grow as professionals.
8. How long should my answers be?
Your answers should be detailed—but—concise and be no longer than 2 minutes.
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