When you’re in the midst of preparing for your otolaryngology interview, there are many . The goal of the interview is to show the program director that your academic history and meaningful experiences prove that you belong in this field. For a specialty like otolaryngology where residents frequently pursue specialized fellowship training once they graduate, you’ll need to develop a strong list of goals you’re prepared to discuss with the program director. In this article, we go over some common otolaryngology interview questions and sample answers that will help your preparation.
1. Why Otolaryngology?
I have a few reasons for why I know this specialty is the right one for me; some of them are personal, others intellectual. So, when I was young, I had an unusually severe battle with influenza. It had me out of school for almost two weeks, and I had to stay in the hospital for a few nights because I was very dehydrated; well, what ended up happening was that I lost partial hearing in my left ear. You’ll notice the hearing aid I’m wearing – that’s not just a fashion accessory – it’s a Bonebridge conduction implant. As a matter of fact, the otolaryngologist who was treating me had a profound influence not just on the restoration of my hearing, but on my curiosity; it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly that experience was so memorable as far as my career choices go, but certainly his calming and reassuring presence had a lot to do with it. He took me seriously, even though I was just a kid; he empowered my recovery in ways that went beyond just treatment.
The second reason, the more intellectual one, is that I participated in a research project in my second year at medical school that changed the way I thought about ear and throat conditions. The study was an inner ear gene therapy trial, and we were testing the before and after hearing disparity using an inner ear infusion of CGT166. Many of the patients showed improvements in speech recognition; this was our primary means of measuring changes, and I think that was where my personal experiences married my intellectual curiosity, resulting in a strong desire to pursue this specialty.
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2. Who Was Your Most Memorable Patient?
I had one particularly memorable patient in my third year of medical school, during one of my clerkships. It wasn’t some complex, difficult medical diagnosis that had been made, only a young boy who was in for an emergency airway obstruction. His lips were blue and he was gasping for air when he stepped into the clinic, but he sat there with his frantic mother, confused but strangely calm. We brought him into the back and performed an expedient medical history and a physical assessment. I knew from the process of elimination that we were dealing with a traumatic event, possibly an allergic reaction. The patient’s breathing was labored, and his mouth was open. Heart rate was about 140. We used a portable X-ray for a lateral view of the neck/throat area. From there, we saw that it was a clear-cut case of epiglottis; we immediately transferred him to the OR and administered inhalation anesthesia. He was readied for a possible tracheostomy, but it didn’t get to that point. For treatment, he was given endotracheal intubation, and we started him on parenteral antibiotics.
This was certainly my most memorable case, as it was also one of the most urgent ones; it’s hard to forget those. We had to act quickly and with precision. I and the residents and physicians overseeing the patient made haste to see the boy to treatment; we each took turns trying to soothe the boy, talking to him in a calm, reassuring voice to avoid aggravating him, which could’ve easily escalated the situation.
3. Is There a Specific Area in Otolaryngology That You’re Interested in?
As a matter of fact, yes. Once I complete my residency training, I would like to immediately begin a sleep medicine and surgery fellowship. This is an emerging discipline within the field of otolaryngology that I discovered during a medical school clerkship. I recall one case in which a man in his forties, who claimed not to have had a full night of sleep in over twenty years, complained of waking up in the middle of the night; he explained that the CPAP machine he was issued to use was too cumbersome and disrupted his comfort all the same. I observed, and indeed assisted with a procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty – try saying that three times fast.
As it turned out, the procedure dramatically changed the patient’s ability to not just fall asleep but stay asleep. I’ll never forget how grateful he was; after that, I started to believe that this was a field that changes lives in ways that non-surgical interventions might possibly not. Sleep surgery is also multidisciplinary, which I love; I’ve not been great at finding good compromises for my competing interests, but sleep surgery will allow me to combine sleep physiology with head/neck surgery.
4. What is the Most Important Quality of an Otolaryngologist?
The most important quality of an otolaryngologist, in my experience, is the ability to retain information quickly and use it to think critically about a situation. During my rotations, I worked with patients who were in desperate situations where immediate action was necessary; otherwise, there was a real threat of the situation turning fatal. Otolaryngology is a discipline that requires interaction with not only so many different patients, but also other medical professionals like cardiologists, anaesthesiologists, neurologists, pediatricians, and pulmonologists.
During a clerkship rotation, we received a patient who was to undergo immediate surgery for a throat mass pressing against the trachea. As a team, we had to quickly coordinate with the anesthesiology and pediatric critical care units. This required quick thinking to determine an accurate diagnosis using the right tools, and we had to communicate our findings to the other departments in a matter of minutes, which does require an urgency of critical thinking and confidence in our conclusions.
5. What Do You Hope to Gain From This Residency Program?
I want to gain exposure to all the fields and professionals who interact with otolaryngologists in relevant medical environments. It’s not a stretch to say that otolaryngologists have one of the largest surgical variations compared to other surgical professions. What I want is a strong foundation in all the relevant areas: ICU, general surgery, pediatric surgery, neurosurgery, anaesthesiology, respirology, and gastroenterology. These are all areas that will be explored in your residency program and that will equip me with the skills I need to perform my own surgical and non-surgical procedures as a head and neck surgeon. I also want the opportunity for surgical independence, which, of course, should come with a strong foundation and adequate supervision throughout the first three years of the residency program. Also, as you know, this specialty has what I would consider a limitless patient base. The opportunity to train at some of the largest academic health science centers affiliated with the university will reflect the diversity in challenges and patient circumstances.
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6. What is the Most Pressing Issue Facing the Field of Otolaryngology Today?
If there’s anything I learned from working on a string of research projects in the biointerface lab during medical school, it’s that there are no easy answers to difficult questions, and definitely no quick fixes to multidimensional problems. It’s a double-edged sword, really: on the one hand, the research opportunities are abundant, but on the other – our field, at present, has more questions than answers. And as that state of our field persists, the unfortunate reality is that we could really expedite the development of medical technology that will significantly improve lives and maybe even save them if we had more people interested in the field.
I’ve gathered that the perception people have of otolaryngology is that it’s an esoteric, nearly irrelevant field. This perception comes from the fact that an otolaryngology clerkship is not required by most medical schools; even at the institutions where these rotations are offered, there is little emphasis on what this specialty is all about. I think if more people were encouraged to enter the field, or these rotations were even made mandatory, it would rapidly advance the state of research. Given that over 25% of individuals between the ages of 65 to 74 will experience age-related hearing loss, I think people ought to take this field more seriously.
7. Why Should You Be a Resident in Our Program?
If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that most people who end up choosing otolaryngology do so by the process of elimination; that is, the clinical rotations in which they gained exposure to other specialties weren’t quite right for them, and so they opted for otolaryngology because it provided the most stimulating clinical environment. My journey is more deliberate than that, or so I’d like to think. My first exposure to the field was on the operating table when I had turbinate-reduction surgery when I was 18. As a track and field athlete, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the ability to breathe better. During my clinical rotations, I witnessed the same outpouring of gratitude, which reminded me of how I felt when I was a patient.
I believe, also, that my research interests align with the faculty member interests in the program. During medical school, I completed projects evaluating the risk factors for oncogenic oral HPV persistence. I’m interested primarily in the screening and prevention of head and neck cancers, and I know that at least one of your principal investigators, Dr. Michael Khan, is active in a variety of projects involving head and neck tumors (malignant and benign). If I were matched to the program, I would consider it a great honor to be able to investigate these issues more closely in the ongoing clinical trials.
8. What is One of Your Weaknesses That We Should Know About?
I think one of my weaknesses is my occasionally impersonable delivery and communication style. I have a tendency to be too mechanical in my speech, because I’m focusing on explaining procedures or treatments to my patients, rather than seeing to it that they are comfortable in the setting and situation. During one of my clinical rotations, I was working in anaesthesiology, and I was talking to the patient about how they would experience the sedative. I said something along the lines of “general anesthesia is typically administered through a mask or vein; a tube will be placed down your throat to help you breathe; you will be unconscious during the procedure.” My supervisor noted that while it was good that I explained the procedure in detail, I needed to be more mindful of the patient’s state of mind.
Later on, during that same rotation, instead of explaining the procedure so mechanically, I started by asking how the patient was feeling and if they had any questions. This seemed to partially alleviate the patient’s anxiety, at least a lot more than it would’ve if I hadn’t changed my communication strategy; in residency, I’d like to continue developing my ability to identify patient apprehension and alleviate it using a more pacifying communication style.
9. What Does It Mean to You to Be a Leader?
To be a leader means a few things: first, it’s understanding everyone’s point of view; second, it’s thinking critically about all possible outcomes; and third, it’s being honest enough to own up to mistakes. I learned a lot about leadership during medical school, where I was a student representative for our medical society. During recent years, we changed our preclerkships to a virtual format. I was involved in disseminating information about how students can access virtual materials, mainly lectures and textbooks. However, it was a huge adjustment for everyone, and it was not without technical difficulties that the transition was accomplished. Because we were receiving a lot of feedback from students that their heightened stress levels were impeding their ability to engage with the curriculum, we went to the dean to negotiate course content, assignments, and deadline extensions; eventually, we came to an agreement about courseload and deliverables without disrupting program objectives. It was a stressful time, but I learned the value of advocacy, which I’ve been able to apply to my interactions with patients.
10. Can You Talk About One of Your Mentors? What Do You Admire About Them?
Yes, there is someone who comes to mind to whom I credit some amount of my desire to specialize in otolaryngology; her name is Dr. Nora Riya. I met her in a postgraduate medical education program that I applied for to get a better understanding of a day in the life of an otolaryngologist. The observership took place over the summer for eight weeks. In her gastroenterology clinic, I observed so many different patients of all ages and symptom profiles. Even though what I was learning was only a small aspect of a much broader scale of practice for otolaryngologists, I enjoyed working with her patients and getting to know them and their families. What I admired the most about Dr. Riya was the durability of her compassion, to which I saw no limit. Her knowledge was sharp, and she was also incredibly efficient in her process. Most of the patients were in some amount of pain, sometimes severe, debilitating pain. She kept her questions short and to the point; she sat close to the patients without invading their space, making eye contact and nodding her head; she never spoke in a commanding voice, but rather in a way that gave patients options; and she would also always adapt to the pace of the patient’s voice. It’s the small things that we take for granted that I respected and learned from Dr. Riya, whom I am still in contact with today. In fact, I’m sure she’ll be eagerly awaiting my call so she can ask how the interview went.
1. What are program directors looking for from a candidate in this specialty?
Program directors want to see that your choice of speciality is sincere. Discuss the clerkships, internships, or shadowing experiences that may have influenced your decision to pursue an otolaryngology specialty.
2. What are some good traits for an otolaryngologist to have?
Otolaryngologists should have strong communication skills, physical endurance, and dexterity. Otolaryngology is one of the most interdisciplinary specialties, and as a professional, you will be handling an incredibly diverse patient group. Discuss how you’ve developed these traits using examples from your medical school experiences, such as .
3. Is otolaryngology a competitive residency?
In the most recent cycle, there were 574 applicants and 361 matched for MD seniors, which is a 65% match rate; this is considered highly competitive compared to other specialties.
4. How should I prepare for my otolaryngology interview?
You should do a few things: review your application materials; look over common questions and sample answers; practice in a ; get help from a professional if needed; practice delivering a confident, composed answer in under 3 minutes.
5. Should I know what kind of fellowship I want to apply to after I graduate from residency?
You should be prepared to answer questions about a potential in case you’re asked what you plan to do when you graduate. Available fellowships include the following: facial plastics; head and neck; laryngology; neurotology; pediatric ENT; rhinology and sinus; sleep medicine and surgery.
6. How long do residency interviews last?
The answer to this question can vary considerably depending on the program. Interviews typically take place over a day or two and can last anywhere between 1–8 hours. You will have breaks and opportunities to learn about events and ask any questions to faculty members.
7. How to answer the “tell me about yourself” residency question?
To answer the question, you have to give the program director a sense of who you are, what inspired your residency goals and specialty choice, and what experiences enriched your learning and skill development.
8. What should I talk about regarding what I like about a specific program?
Try to talk about what makes the program different from others. For example, if there’s a specific hospital location or research facility that you will have access to, mention why you’re excited about the opportunity to work in that environment with established professionals. Also be sure to learn the so you can get your questions answered, too!