Preparation for any interview is tough work, and with a highly competitive residency ahead of you, you would do well to read over neurosurgery residency interview questions.

Anticipating questions and readying your answers is an essential part of medical residency interview prep. Any number of residency interview questions might come up in your interview, and you need to have a good answer for all of them. You can look over a lot of residency interview tips, but the best tips come with sample answers to see how to best answer any question in an interview; this allows you to respond quickly and intelligently even to questions you did not expect.

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Article Contents
11 min read

Top Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions A Short List of Other Common or Potential Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions General Tips on Answering Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions Conclusion FAQs

Top Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions

Why Did You Select Neurosurgery?

What is this question asking?

This is perhaps the most important question in your neurosurgery residency interview. This will directly communicate to the interviewer(s) why you are perfect for the discipline you have selected. To some extent, all questions will come back to connecting yourself to your residency of choice, but this question cuts directly to the heart of that subject.

Your answer might come from years ago, starting as a childhood dream, or it might have come more recently. Demonstrate your skills, experiences, desires, and goals and prove why you are the perfect candidate for a match with your chosen specialty.

Variant questions

  • What makes you want to be a neurosurgeon?
  • What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a neurosurgeon?
  • What fascinates you about neurosurgery?

Want to know the most common residency interview questions and answers? Watch this video:

Sample answer

My father taught philosophy in a university and my mother was a psychiatrist, and between the two of them, I developed an early fascination with the human mind and what its limits were. Whether I was learning about this from my mother’s clinical, medical angle or my father’s exploration of what a mind or a thought even means, I was fascinated by thought processes and with the concept of consciousness.

It wasn’t until years later that I considered medicine as a potential vocation, and I realized that the mind might be something I could work with and help to heal when it is broken. At first, I thought about becoming a therapist or psychiatrist and following in my mother’s footsteps.

Around the same time that I was starting to apply to medical schools, I had a horrific trauma occur where I was in a car crash with a close friend. I knew CPR and helped keep him stable while the paramedics arrived. I remained calm the whole time and found that I had the disposition to remain dispassionate in stressful circumstances. I multitasked, calling 911 using voice commands on my phone while administering first aid. I discovered I could focus on precision tasks under duress. My friend recovered, and I discovered a skillset that makes me ideally suited to becoming a surgeon.

Once in medical school, I found my early experiences and upbringing led me to a deep appreciation of neurology classes, and I loved expanding my knowledge about the human nervous system. I was fortunate enough to participate in a clinical rotation in neurology, which deepened my understanding of this area through more hands-on treatment of patients. I particularly enjoyed seeing patients come from surgery, their nervous systems already much repaired, and continuing on through rehabilitation plans that further healed this crucial body system.

Our accident led me to a vocation that I am passionate about, and I have never been more excited to become a doctor since discovering I had the disposition for neurosurgery, which will allow me to use my natural gifts as well as my background in perfect harmony.

Have You Considered Other Residencies?

What is this question asking?

Here the interviewer will get a sense of several ideas: first, your commitment to your top choice. Do you have an equal love for another residency? If so, what made you choose neurosurgery? The second evaluation is about how prepared you are. If you have no backup plan at all, that might not reflect well on your ability to carefully weigh your future. Third, the questioner will want to hear what sets neurosurgery apart from the other disciplines you have considered.

Variant questions

  • If you don’t match with neurosurgery, what would you like to specialize in?
  • How many other programs have you applied to?
  • What are the other programs you are considering?

Sample answer

While I would be disappointed if I didn’t match with neurosurgery, I recognize that it is a highly competitive specialty, and so I have given thought to other areas of medicine. Surgery is what really resonates with me, and so if I could not be a neurosurgeon, I think I would like to be a cardiovascular surgeon. I enjoy the challenge of dealing with complexity and operating on hearts would be exactly the sort of rewarding challenge where I feel my skills would be useful.

I selected neurosurgery over other types of surgery, and other disciplines, due to the connection to the nervous system, and so I think another possible choice would be to become a neurologist. My neurology classes have been some of my favorites, and I love learning about the nervous system and all its intricacy.

As a neurosurgeon, I would like to participate in explorations and studies of the human brain and our connection to our bodies and how every system affects every other system. All is experienced, if you will, through the brain. I could still participate in that research as a neurologist, so I would enjoy that very much as well.

Of course, I have other reasons for choosing the discipline that I have chosen to apply to, but if I should fail to match as a neurosurgeon, I think I could enjoy the surgical aspects of cardiovascular surgeon or the nervous system connection with neurology.

Tell Me About Yourself

What is this question asking?

One of the most common questions asked in any residency interview, “tell me about yourself,” is almost certain to come up. This is also one of the most difficult questions for anybody to answer because it is so open-ended, covers your entire life, and could be answered in a multitude of different ways.

What you want to focus on is remembering to tie your personal traits to your professional aspirations. Remember: to some extent, all questions in the interview should be answering why you are the perfect match for the residency you want. So, when you go to answer “Tell me about yourself,” you need to select hobbies, qualities, stories, or experiences from your life that say why you will be the best neurosurgeon on the planet. You don’t need to explicitly say this, but you do need to keep that focus.

Variant questions

  • Can you describe yourself.
  • Tell us about your background.
  • Who are you outside of medicine?

Sample answer

The first thing that any of my friends, any of my family members, will tell you about me is that I’m a perfectionist. Since day one, I’ve just been very precise with everything I do, very particular, and very exacting. It took me years, actually, to learn how to not let this interfere with my life, because when I was very little, I would just focus so deeply on what I was doing and get upset if, for example, my crayon was a little bit outside the lines.

Over the years, I have come to harness that perfectionist energy. The big change came when I started to embrace mistakes and learn from them. Now, I’m even a perfectionist with errors.

I love to play baseball, and this is one of the areas where I applied that thinking. I knew I was throwing really awful curveballs, and so instead of getting frustrated – which is what my younger self would have done – I took a video of my pitching and analyzed it to find out why I was throwing them wrong. I could look at my body mechanics and see where I was messing up and fix it.

It took a lot of hard work, but I can throw a really beautiful curveball now, and it’s all thanks to perfectionism and to learning how to be okay with making mistakes – as long as I learn from them.

Wondering what are the best residency interview questions that you need to know? Check this infographic:

What Differentiates You From Other Applicants?

What is this question asking?

Again, what you are truly answering is the question “why are you the perfect fit?” This is a question demanding that you connect to the “trifecta”: what makes you perfect to be a neurosurgeon, perfect for the particular program you are applying to, and perfect as a person to grow and learn in this environment.

The only hitch to this question is that, while you want to positively set yourself apart from other candidates, you want to avoid being negative or putting them down. Speak generally and kindly about other applicants, but specifically and enthusiastically about yourself.

Variant questions

  • Why are you the perfect candidate?
  • Why should we pick you over other candidates?

Sample answer

I believe that I can offer some unique perspectives, skills, and experiences that other candidates don’t have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else. I do believe I am a perfect candidate, however, for my own, individual reasons, regardless of how perfect other candidates are.

First, I believe I am unique among applicants because I have some experience with emergency medicine. I served a tour of duty in the military before being honorably discharged for a wound suffered toward the end of that tour. I was the most medically qualified person on a sortie which found my squad holed up in a small village for several days, holding out against a terrorist cell. Few, if any, of your other candidates will have had to deal with those stress levels for that amount of time while attempting to administer medical care with few supplies under such harrowing circumstances.

While that alone would make me unique, I also studied art therapy and have been taking art therapy courses. My particular methods of art are sculpture, and I have made several studies of human physiology. This tactile experience with anatomical structures and experience with cutting tools – albeit ones for sculpting – gives me additional experience and manual dexterity.

Finally, I am an advocate for underprivileged voices, and I was a member of a diversity alliance group in my military unit. We advocated for more equitable treatment in the military. I believe that my experiences with diversity give me a unique mindset that will enable me to relate to more patients and be more sensitive to their lived experiences.

I believe these qualities will be well represented in your hospital, which has shown itself to be friendly to veterans – including a great track record with PTSD victims – and has diversity and inclusion prominently featured in its mission and vision statements.

Why Would You Like to Join Our Program?

What is this question asking?

This is another question you are almost certain to encounter. While questions about your hobbies get at who you are as a person, and questions about your connection to neurosurgery reveal why you want to study that specialty, this question wants to know why you want to learn your specialty at the particular facility to which you have applied.

This is important because the interviewers want to see that, while you might be okay studying elsewhere, you have put a lot of thought into why their program is your first choice. Try to be specific to the program in question, referencing their actual advantages. Don’t say, “Because you’re the number one teaching hospital in the country,” because that’s not a deep reason; it’s a shallow one likely pulled from a magazine list. Instead, show why you mesh with the values and resources available at this place.

Variant questions

  • What made you choose our program?
  • Why are you a perfect fit for this teaching facility?
  • What is it that makes our program right for you?

Sample answer

Your institution is an exciting hospital, located in a major city that means you are constantly on the front lines of medicine. Whether that is with leading-edge facilities, up-to-the-minute research, or just servicing a large, diverse population, your hospital is exciting and dynamic, and I believe this will be the perfect place to learn.

In this environment, I will receive the high-pressure baptism by fire that will truly prepare me for any eventuality as a neurosurgeon. Surgeons need to be prepared to deal with all manner of problems in intense conditions, and I will learn that in your fast-paced environment.

I want to be tested and found true, and I believe this is why I can contribute to your program, not just learn from it. I deal well in a fast-paced environment. I paid for my college working in a local casino as a dealer, and the atmosphere there is charged and intense, requiring precision and endurance in a high-stress environment.

Not only will your hospital provide a refining crucible for my skills, but you also have access to state-of-the-art equipment that will allow me to explore the full breadth of what can be accomplished in neurosurgery. Being able to test and push limits in this way will help me grow and find my own limits so that I can overcome them and continue onward and upward.

Finally, the research being done by your facility regarding neural pathway repair is something which I believe will have an immense impact on patients suffering from dementia. Although in early stages yet, this research is exciting, hope-affirming, and the kind of initiative I want to be a part of so I can help make the world better even as I focus on healing individual patients.

A Short List of Other Common or Potential Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions

General Tips on Answering Neurosurgery Residency Interview Questions

The “true north” that you must always keep in mind for all your answers is that you are showing the interviewer(s) why you are the perfect match for their program. Every answer should in some way connect you to your residency of choice. This doesn’t mean you should conclude every answer with, “And that’s why I want to be a neurosurgeon!” but it does mean that you should always showcase talents, skills, abilities, and experiences that relate to your specialty of choice.

What are neurosurgeons’ best qualities? What should you showcase? Knowledge of anatomy – particularly the brain, excellent medical scores, good dexterity and skill with surgical tools, remaining calm under pressure, endurance, and the ability to deal with all manner of strain and stress. A good rapport with family and general communication skills are also desirable.

Neurosurgeons work as members of a health care team, including nurses and anesthesiologists, so demonstrating an understanding of teamwork is a big plus, too.

Finally, careful, focused practice should be your path forward. You should use the above sample answers to formulate your own answers to any questions you can think of. Studying will be easier with a residency interview prep book.

You don’t need to think of your own questions if you use a professional residency mock interview. Mock interviews simulate the same conditions as your upcoming interview perfectly, so you will experience the stress, timing, and on-the-spot answers you will need on the actual interview day. You will also get excellent feedback from your assessors, which will greatly improve your performance.


Armed with the extensive knowledge provided regarding these questions, sample answers, and tips on how to answer in a more general sense, you should be able to show your best side in your interview and ace it. Take no chances with your introduction to your future co-workers and teachers; your residency is the last phase of medical school before you become a full physician and are living your dream.


1. How much time do I have to answer?

There is no formal time limit, but you should economize your answers to between 2 and 3 minutes – enough time to answer well without droning on and on.

2. Is it advisable to memorize answers?

No, because memorized answers won’t anticipate every question, won’t anticipate variant questions, and sound stiff and robotic.

3. Does every answer need to directly talk about my specialty?

No, although you should connect your answer to your specialty in some way. This will vary with each question and might be direct, such as “why did you choose neurosurgery?” or indirect, such as “tell us about your hobbies.” Regardless of the question, you should display some character trait, experience, or skill which relates to the residency you have selected.

4. Are all interviews the same?

No. There are a variety of formats and circumstances you might have to deal with. There are MMIs (multiple mini interviews), panel interviews, one-on-one, two-on-one, virtual or in person, and many other types. Check with your residency program to find out what your interview format will be.

5. What is appropriate residency interview dress?

Business-casual gives you comfort and professionalism.

6. Can I take a break in an interview?

No, the interview has no pause, which is one more reason it is imperative to study, prepare, and ready yourself for the interview. This is also why a mock interview is so important: it will help you get used to the time frame.

7. Is there anything I shouldn’t mention?

Don’t go off-topic; stick to why you are the perfect candidate and the perfect match. Don’t be negative or badmouth other programs or persons. Be respectful. Other than that, everything is on the table, provided it connects to the residency.

8. How important are interviews in the match process?

Interviews are very important and give you a chance to show the interviewers face-to-face who you are and why you are the best candidate for a match with their program. If it’s part of the application process, treat it with utmost care; this could determine your future.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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