If you’re finding yourself trapped between clinical rotations and hitting all of the medical school requirements in terms of academics, you might find yourself in need of help with how to prepare for residency interview.
Residency interview questions are hard enough to think about – just the tell me about yourself residency interview question alone can be daunting – without piling the general stress of an interview on top of them.
Fear no more, for in this article, we cover everything you need, from study methods and answer strategy to providing you with example questions and answers that will help you ace your interview.
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Before You Receive Your Invitation to Interview
Research the Program
When you were looking at medical school options, you knew that your school choice mattered for how you would approach the interview. Medical schools in Canada, for example, look for something different than medical schools in the US. When you were preparing for your medical school interview questions, you took everything about the school into account. You should do the same for your residency interview.
Beyond just knowing where the program is and what the type of residency is – psychiatry or surgery, for instance – know everything about the specific program. You can use these details in your interview.
Want to learn residency interview questions and answers? Watch this video:
The first thing you should look at are the mission statements and vision statements for the program, which will give you an overall view of what the expectations are. Furthermore, these statements will give you key qualities that you can bring to the interview. If the mission statement mentions research, for example, you’ll know that you’re supposed to be bringing in answers and examples that talk about your research experience and potential.
Look up the faculty and the director of the program. Who will be teaching you and directing the program matters. There might be notable faculty who you can talk about; these are exciting people to work with!
What is the research being done at the program? If you want to participate in research or are interested in those areas, that’s a big plus, and will be an element in your favor.
Know the Hospital
Where is the hospital? Is it located in the suburbs? In a remote area? Is it a regional hospital? Knowing the location will help you prepare the kinds of answers and values they hold. But you need to get more specific than that. Individual hospitals will have mission and value statements as well as struggles and needs specific to them. Familiarize yourself with anything that makes the hospital unique.
Integrating Mission Statements
Mission or vision statements can be used in your answers. For example, let’s say that the program’s mission statement includes an emphasis on the truth and empiricism. If you are asked for a time you helped solve a problem – a common question type that comes up often – you might pick a story that specifically emphasizes how you used truthfulness and empirical evidence to rectify a bad situation. If your program puts the focus on patient care, use that in any “why do you want to be a doctor?” type questions.
Finally, with your research of the program under your belt, look up common residency interview questions for that program. Maybe there are questions that they almost always ask, consistently over the years. Either way, there are very common interview questions that almost always get asked. “Why our program?” for example, is huge.
In fact, “Why our program?” and “Why should we pick you?” are the biggest questions. All questions in the interview will be seeking these answers. They want to know if you’re the perfect fit for their program and if their program is the perfect fit for you. All of your answers should connect their specific program to you as an individual.
Brainstorm answers to the individual questions with that in mind. Practice on your own.
When You Get the Invite
The Mock Interview
By far the most effective studying tool that you can employ is that of the residency monk interview. Mock interviews will put you to the test before ever encountering the test. A professionally-run mock interview will take you through everything you need.
Mock interviews serve you by simulating the conditions of the actual interview as closely as possible. They will use the same format and interview setting as the real thing, and will use actual interview questions. These might not be the questions you will be asked, but they will be very similar.
Mock interviews est your ability to answer actual interview questions while on the clock. They run you through being on time and sticking you to a plan. They even mimic the small details – like dress code requirements – so you feel exactly as you would if you were taking the real residency interview.
The best part of the mock interview is the consistent, professional feedback, which is at a far higher quality than what you might get from peers in a study group. Study groups are great, but nothing beats feedback from somebody who gives feedback as their vocation. This feedback is personalized and the specialists will also coach you to great improvement.
Mock interviews will greatly improve your performance in your interview and increase your chances of acceptance. By the time you are done your mock interviews, you will have improved your confidence, answer strategy, interview philosophy, and the efficiency of your answers.
Using the Mock Interview
Once you have received extensive feedback from mock interview programs, you should practice on your own, get your answers clean and efficient. Don’t memorize answers – mix up exactly what you say – but memorize the “"content.” You should be able to answer any questions you can think of – and any you can’t - in about 1 to 3 minutes.
In addition to preparing for your interview, you’ve got other residency application requirements on the brain. Maybe it’s your emergency medicine personal statement or psychiatry residency personal statement; maybe it’s something else entirely. But you need some way to organize your activities so you can add in your residency interview prep.
The first thing to do is to give yourself an ironclad, bulletproof study method to work with. Routines and systems are useful to organize your brain and focus your energy where it needs to go.
Routines and Focus
Establish as much of a routine as you can. We know that it can be tough to create stability in a world of medical school studies, but your life will go much smoother if you can at least maintain a general routine.
Try to keep to a solid sleep schedule. Most students don’t get enough sleep – particularly medical students, and particularly during clinical rotations. Sleep often becomes tertiary to shifts at clinics, cramming in academic knowledge, and doing prep work for residency. We are telling you that part of that prep work is a good sleep schedule.
Try using a calendar app or scheduling app to help you block off time for studying, work, and resting.
A good way to start organizing is to figure out your “immoveables.” These are time slots that won’t budge. Work and classes, for example, happen at set times; they won’t change. So you’ll have to put your more flexible activities – like studying – in-between those immobile spots.
The Study Scheme
Sit down and figure out what you need to know. If you’re trying to anticipate psychiatry residency interview questions and answers, you know you’ll need to study psychiatry and prepare responses based on your psychiatry experiences. Take those chunks of data and arrange them into a study schedule so you’re taking the chunks in smaller bites.
Once you have your bite-sized study sessions locked into your calendar app, don’t change them. Treat them as immobile as class time. So, if a friend asks to hang out, the answer is, “Not at 2pm; that’s when I’m practicing questions.”
Accountability and a Study Team
Another great method to help you in your studies is to find other people who need to study and pair up with them. Joining a study group can keep you honest with your routines and give your brain a new way to learn. You can pick up great study habits or solidify your own.
Having somebody hold you accountable or assist you in your studies will be very productive. You don’t have to stick to MDs, either. Maybe you know a nursing student who’s trying to master their nursing school interview questions. Working with somebody unfamiliar with your program might be a way to shake up your perspective, too.
Want to learn more about residency interview questions? Check out this infographic:
The Day of the Interview
Map Your Route
Start out the night before by mapping your route to the interview site. Depending on your transportation method, you will want to drive it, walk it, use your bicycle, or public transit. However, you are getting there, go the exact same route the night before. Look up whether or not this will change. Public transit, for example, might have a different schedule on the following day, there might be construction planned which is starting at an inconvenient time, or which will operate at a different hour of the day.
If your interview is virtual, test your equipment the night before to make sure it works. Give yourself time to troubleshoot through any problems. You can’t be late, so you have to know you’ll be on time.
Arrive 30 minutes early – at least – for an in-person interview. If virtual, log in to your account with the communication program early – sometimes they do a last-minute update and you don’t want to be late because your program was installing version 067.085.
How to answer these questions in your interview is not just a matter of understanding the right answer. How to form that answer is important. You must structure it so that you can develop a rhythm and flow, and so you can keep you thoughts in a clean, cohesive order.
There are four main categories of questions that you will receive: scenario questions, policy questions, personal questions, and “fun” or quirky questions. Knowing these types is the first step to good answer strategy.
Ultimately, every answer should ideally do three things:
- Answer the literal question.
- Provide an example of at least one, preferably more, of your best attributes.
- Show how you are a perfect match for the program and specialty to which you are applying.
Whenever possible, use chronological order to explain your answers. In scenario, personal, or experiential questions, for example, you can start at the beginning of a story and come to the end. This helps you keep your thoughts in order and makes you more understandable.
This is also known as the rule of “show-don’t-tell,” which is oft-repeated because it is so useful. Using concrete examples that you can point to in your personal experience and history will show your traits off. You can say, “I’m good at math,” or tell a story about grappling with a hard calculus equation and how you bested it. One of those tells the listener a fact – that you are good at math – the other doesn’t even need to say you’re good at math; it just lets listeners know that you are.
The Day Before
Preparation for Any Interview
Any interview prep should have you learning routes to physical sites or testing your computer equipment for an online interview. Depending on your program, any format might be mandated or given as an option; find out which your program requires and prepare for it.
The day before your interview, either plan your route to your interview site or check to make sure you are familiar with any communications software you are using, as well as making sure that your computer and program are working.
We also recommend that you avoid cramming. Studying at the last minute is not terribly effective, and it would be far more efficient to push yourself to study in the days leading up to the interview, but the day before should be give to yourself as a psychological gift.
How to Present Yourself
Very briefly: make sure you show up to the interview in clothes which present you as professional and approachable, as well as clothes that are comfortable. Be friendly, make eye contact, and always keep your attitude as one of a consummate professional.
Sample Questions and Answers
Tell us about yourself.
This question, or a variation of it, is one of the most common that candidates receive, so you will absolutely want to be prepared for this one.
I’ve been trying to answer that question for years, because it can be hard to know who you are, especially when you’re in a state of constant change, like at medical school. But, through my studies, I found myself in a psychiatric floor of St. Michael’s hospital on a clinical rotation. While I was there, I met Peter.
Peter could have been my father, because both Peter and my father suffer from schizotypal disorder. He couldn’t relate to a lot of people, and neither could my father. Because I had that experience, though, I found that I could get on with Peter where other staff could not.
One day, Peter was pushing everybody away, and two of the other med students in my group were really frustrated. I engaged with Peter by just talking to him while tidying his room. Because I wasn’t trying to impose anything on him, he opened up and when he was calmer and more open to the possibility, I helped him take his medication. During this whole process, I was also slipping in standard neurological test questions and observing his physical health. It took a while but I believe in centering patients in care.
Who I am is somebody who struggles to be with people, from my childhood until now, but who is always willing to take the time to meet people where they need to be.
What do you do for fun?
In speaking of your hobbies, even if you have many, stick to one. Focus is key. The hobby you pick should say something about who you are and why you’re perfect for the program.
Never have I enjoyed any hobby as much as playing tabletop roleplaying games with friends. This hobby lets me stretch my imagination, hang out with friends, participate in group activities, and strengthen skills like puzzle solving.
Going to game night is special, because we have each taken time out of our lives to be together. I love the friendship, bonds, and teamwork of the game. Everybody is working together to tell a story. The most satisfying evenings are when it feels like we are sharing one mind, solving mysteries, and helping each other.
To play these games, we need to stay mentally focused and sharp. Our game master creates scenarios for us to play through. Her last game was a “puzzle dungeon” that had our game characters solving riddles and traps to reach the end. I love riddles, and I was able to break riddles like, “You measure my life in hours and I serve you by expiring. I’m quick when I’m thin and slow when I’m fat. The wind is my enemy. What am I?”
Give one of these games a chance and you won’t be disappointed. They’re fun, build relationships, and challenge players to imagine whole worlds.
You haven’t seen a tighter-knit group of friends than ours, and we owe that closeness to tabletop roleplaying games.
Up above any other hobby, I would say that one where I get to hang out with friends is the best.
What was your best day in clinical rotations like?
In any experiential question, emphasize your positive traits that relate to the specialty you are applying to.
It was definitely my second week of clinical rotations, and it was a Wednesday. This will come as no surprise, but it was the neurology department, and we had a patient come in who was suffering from chronic headaches and migraines. I took a history, and then went to find my supervisor. She had been called away and had become completely entangled with other work. When I found her, she said she couldn’t get away.
I had to go back to this patient and help him, even though I didn’t have the experience. But I found a PA who got him some pain management, I checked in with the patient to make sure he felt cared for, and I got a head-start on the paperwork so that everything would be ready for the doctor when she got in.
She made it out fairly quickly, and told me I had shown a lot of good initiative, particularly tracking down the PA. I told her that I was a bit frustrated I couldn’t help him more, but she said that I did everything I could. I learn that wonderful lesson: do everything you can.
That was the start of several interactions with that patient, and over the rest of my clinical rotation, I got to help with a lot of the initial work being done that Dr. Smith said would likely go on to really alleviate a lot of the migraines. Starting small, building up, finding out patient’s needs, and using small evidences to make big discovers about the neural systems of somebody – all to make his life better – that's a pretty perfect day right there.
After the Interview – Following Up
Shortly after the interview, you might send along a “thank you” message to the interviewer or the panel – whoever was interviewing you – to express gratitude for meeting with you, as well as to underline your interest in the residency program.
This is not a necessary step, but it’s a relatively small amount of effort and might help to underline your interview and help you stand out. Take any chance you get to stand out.
With so much to worry about, from your residency letter of intent to residency personal statements to write, we hope that this comprehensive and thorough look at the residency interview process gives you one big check-mark and helps you achieve the residency match of your dreams. Remember to keep pushing yourself, but not to burn out.
1. How many programs should I apply to?
We recommend that you apply to anywhere from 15 to 35 residency programs. You want to cast a wide net without overextending yourself.
2. How long does a residency interview take?
This really varies from school to school. One hour is about the minimum, but they can last for several hours.
3. Should I memorize my answers?
Absolutely not. Memorizing answers can make you sound robotic. Practice the content you’ll talk about, but do not memorize the answers.
4. How should I manage stress before my interview?
Long-term stress management might be needed to help you make it through the application process. We recommend a good sleep schedule, staying physically active, and maintaining a good diet wherever possible. That lays a foundation for coping. Mock interviews are the best way to prepare for an interview, and will help with stress management.
5. How should I manage stress during my interview?
As opposed to stress before your interview, this is more short-term stress management, which you will need “in the moment.” Practicing meditative breathing and mindfulness exercises will help you in moments of stress because you will be able to call on these skills to calm yourself down when you need them.
6. Can I reschedule my interview?
Only if absolutely necessary. Most programs will allow a rescheduling of an interview only in unforeseen and immoveable circumstances – like a death or serious illness in the family – and you should be prepared to produce evidence of these events if you need to reschedule.
7. Should I apply to different specialties?
Yes, you should apply to a primary specialty and a back-up. This increases your chance of acceptance. So, if you’re preparing yourself for surgery residency interview questions and answers, throw in some neurology residency interview questions and answers to your preparation. You can have two possible specialties which are somewhat related. Your backup specialty should be something you also have demonstrable ability in.
8. What do I wear to an interview?
Your best business-casual outfit will be perfect. This gives you a comfort that won’t come from formal or full-business attire, but it will still look professional.
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