To tackle the “How will you contribute to our program?” residency interview question, you must reflect on your answer long before your interview for your top-choice programs. Your residency interview is an important step towards completing your medical training, so making a great impression will play a big role in your medical career. By asking this question, residency directors are inviting you to convince them that you are a unique and one-of-a-kind candidate who can make their program even better than it is already. Among the most common residency interview questions, this one is your opportunity to shine and prove your worth as a candidate. In this article we will explain the purpose behind this question, give you tips on how to answer it, and provide a sample answer for you to have a clearer idea of what the interviewer will be expecting.
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What is the purpose of the “How will you contribute to our program?” residency interview question?
It is likely that you have put some thought into how the program you are applying to will contribute to your medical career, but you should also consider that you will be making a contribution as well. Throughout your medical school journey, you have probably faced numerous interviews including college interviews and medical school interviews. Residency interviews, however, are like real job interviews, so even if you successfully completed similar interviews in the past, you will have to prepare for your residency interview and plan your answers in advance.
Similarly to the residency interview question “tell me about yourself”, the intention behind asking “How will you contribute to our program?” is to find out what you have to offer as a candidate. In order to stand out from the other applicants, you must be able to demonstrate that you have something unique that no other candidate has, so this question is your perfect opportunity to shine. You should definitely avoid giving generic answers such as “I am very dedicated and will put my skills and knowledge into practice to provide patients with the best care possible, while actively collaborating with my colleagues as a team.” That is the very least they will be expecting from their potential residents. Instead, you should go the extra mile and look for an answer that will make the interviewer remember you. It can be something extremely specific, such as speaking a certain language, or having a certain skill or background. Remember, the entire point of answer how you will contribute to your chosen program is to ensure the program director and faculty that you are not just a suitable candidate, but that you can make this program better than it is already. This is a tall order, so how can you achieve this?
Need to prep for the residency interview question "tell me about yourself" too? Check out this infographic:
How to best answer “How will you contribute to our program?”
Given that this is a very common residency interview question, you should start thinking of what to say well in advance. There is actually no right or wrong answer to this question, but your answer can be either memorable or forgettable. Try using the following steps as a guide:
Research the program
“How will you contribute to our program?” is a program-specific question, which means that in order to be able to answer it, you must first be fully aware of the mission and goals of the program you are interviewing with. Make sure you have spent enough time researching the program and learning everything there is to know about the department, including its mission, research opportunities, faculty, and more. What exactly are they looking for in a candidate? What skills do you need to become a valuable member of their team? What kind of research do they conduct? You will only impress them if you can establish a connection between your background and skills, and their goals.
Make sure to focus on the mission statement of the institution. This will help you determine aspects important to the program where you interview, such as the qualities they seek to foster, their work philosophy, and the type of research they tend to support. This information is usually available on their website, so it is usually easy to find. Mentioning how your values and skills align with those of the institution will help you make an excellent impression.
It is important not to limit your answer to what you think the residency directors want to hear. Don’t recite your residency CV like they haven’t read it already. Residency directors want to understand how your experiences led you to their residency program. You need to surprise them with something interesting about yourself that they might not be expecting, and back it up with a genuine and unique story. Importantly, focus on discussing your experiences and skills that would make you a particularly desirable candidate for that program. For example, if you are interviewing in a program that wants to address a more diverse population, mention your multilingualism. Or if your program seeks to start a research project in a specific field, mention your experience in this kind of research.
If you want to practice with residency interview questions and hear our expert advice on how to answer them, check out this video:
Ask yourself questions
Reflect on your own talents and motivations and how they are compatible with the program you are applying to. Think of the reasons why you think this program might benefit you, and most importantly, what you have to give in return. Getting to know yourself will help you identify your best traits and give more assertive answers.
Try asking yourself questions and writing down your responses.
Think of your background
Think of things that you have done in the past that are similar to what this program wants to see in their candidates. What specific thing do you have that this particular program is looking for? If you did a good job researching the residency program, you should have a pretty clear idea of what they are looking for. Residency directors are not just looking for diligent professionals who will perform clinical duties, but they are also looking for exceptional learners with the potential of becoming valuable additions to the medical staff.
Pointing to the past as a forecast of the future is a smart strategy. Don’t hesitate to talk about past experiences that made you who you are today. To provide an example, maybe you took part in a certain research project that matches the kind of research they conduct. Think of past experiences that can serve as proof that you have exactly what they are looking for!
Interested in other residency interview practice questions to test yourself with? Take a look at these:
Even though your answer should be detailed and convincing, it should also be concise. You shouldn’t be talking for more than just a couple of minutes. Anything longer than 3 minutes will make you lose the interviewer’s attention. However, if your answer is too short, it might make you look uninterested or insecure. The best strategy here is rehearsing and timing yourself. Some candidates even record themselves to study their own body language more deeply and get the interviewer’s perspective.
Making a list of everything you want to cover in your answer, just to help you structure your response while practicing it, is a great idea as well. You are clearly not going to be able to look at a script in your interview, but if you prepared well enough, you won’t need it to begin with.
Consulting a medical school advisor can also make a huge difference if you are struggling too much to determine whether your answers are good enough for your interview. Although having an advisor is not really necessary, they might be able to provide useful tips and help you boost your confidence before your interview. Performing realistic mock interviews and receiving expert feedback is an excellent way of getting ready to face a residency director.
Example of How to Answer “How Will You Contribute to Our Program?”
One of the things that I like the most about this program is that it works with patients of all nationalities and backgrounds. Coming from a family of immigrants, I appreciate it when an institution embraces values of inclusion and diversity. I can relate to patients coming from different backgrounds on a different level. As a son of immigrants, and most importantly as a doctor, I feel a strong duty to practice empathy and tolerance, and to do my best to make patients feel at home and looked after in whatever country they find themselves. But my main contribution as a training doctor in this residency program will be my ability to communicate with patients in their native languages.
As you can see in my CV, I speak Spanish fluently, and I also speak basic French after spending a year abroad. I am well aware that communication is a key aspect of patient care, and being able to speak three languages allows me to take consultations and diagnosis with patients from diverse nationalities to the next level. Speaking a patient’s mother tongue can make them feel more comfortable and understood, and it can greatly improve diagnosis and treatment indications without resorting to an interpreter.
If you want to come up with the best answer to the residency interview question “How will you contribute to our program?” you will have to research that residency program carefully, figure out exactly what they expect from candidates, and think about how you can exceed that. If they are specifically looking for someone with a certain background or skill, and you happen to have it, make sure your answer emphasizes these qualities in a memorable way. Start preparing for the interview well in advance, and make sure your answer is genuine and concise.
1. How should I answer “how will you contribute to our program” residency interview question?
After carefully reviewing the program you are applying to, you should have a clear idea of the kind of candidates they are looking for. Practice your answer in advance, making sure to highlight qualities that match and exceed the needs of the institution. Most importantly, think of something specific that will make you an exceptional candidate, like a special skill, experience or background.
2. Who will I be interviewing with?
It will depend on the program, but you should expect to meet the residency directors, as well as faculty members and residents at different stages in their training. Other health professionals such as nurses or physiotherapists are also likely to be present.
3. What should I wear to my residency interview?
Like with most job interviews, you should wear formal clothes to a residency interview. The interviewers should not be distracted by what you are wearing. Stick to neutral colors, such as navy blue, gray, or black, and keep make up and accessories to a minimum. Do not put on any perfume or cologne, or too much make-up.
4. When should I start preparing for my interview?
You can start preparing for a residency interview at least 8 weeks before your interview. Ideally, as soon as you get the invitation to the interview you will start mock interviews, but you can start your ERAS interview prep (link to our blog) and CaRMS interview prep (link to our blog) right after you submit your residency applications. Never attend a job interview unprepared, not even if you have already aced challenging interviews in the past.
5. What can I do to calm my nerves before an interview?
It is completely normal to feel nervous before an interview. First of all, acknowledge your feelings of stress and anxiety and work on strategies to get rid of them as the interview day approaches.
Try following these tips:
- Get into the habit of meditating first thing in the morning.
- Make sure to go to bed at the same time every night, exactly 8 hours before the time your alarm goes off.
- Exercise regularly.
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Picture a calming scene, such as a landscape, or a pleasant scenario and focus on it when you feel your anxiety increasing.
6. Do I need to practice for my interview?
You will most definitely need to prepare for the interview, and the best way to do it is by practicing. Doing mock interviews and hiring consultants who can give you expert feedback would be ideal, but reviewing residency interview questions and thinking of how you would answer them will definitely be a helpful exercise.
7. How long should my answers be?
It should take you a maximum of 3 minutes to answer each question. You can try timing your answers at home as part of your preparation for the interview. Always remember to prioritize quality over length. If your answers are too long, you will lose the interviewer’s interest, and it will likely sound like you are speaking so much to make up for a lack of assertiveness in your answer.
8. Should I do a follow-up after my interview?
Sending a thank you letter after a residency interview within the first 24-48 hours is always a nice detail. Some candidates even like to mention highlights from the interview that might make them more memorable to the interviewer. Although it is not mandatory, showing your gratitude for the time the interviewer took to conduct your interview will be greatly appreciated. Additionally, you can also send them a residency letter of intent to inform them of your intention to rank them number one.
9. What should I know about the program before having my interview?
Before your interview, make sure to research the program thoroughly to collect as much information about it as possible. Focus on their work ethics, what kind of research they support, and what kind of candidates they are looking for. Make sure to figure out what they want and try to meet, and even exceed, those expectations. Your goal is to convince them that your abilities match and exceed their needs.
10. How important is my residency interview?
Your performance during the interview will be the determining factor for your acceptance. If you don’t do well in your interview, your chances of getting accepted will decrease greatly, regardless of how impressive your CV is.
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