Reviewing pathology residency interview questions and expert responses can help you practice and feel more confident during your residency interviews. In recent years, out of 631 positions open, 619 were filled, which makes pathology one of the least competitive residencies to match. Pathology refers to the study of the causes and effects of disease or injury. Without having the trained professionals to isolate the causes and effects of various ailments, diagnoses would be vague and inconsistent. Pathology is also one of the most diverse specializations out there in terms of exposure to different subspecializations and colleagues from different professional backgrounds. And as such, if you’re interested in pursuing pathology, you might also be interested in reading more about other subtypes, such as osteopathic pathology. In this blog, we’ll talk about how competitive pathology is, walk you through how to prepare for residency interviews, provide 30 residency interview questions and answers, and show you a list of other potential questions you can practice with.

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10 min read

How competitive is pathology? How to prepare for the interview 10 Common pathology residency interview questions and sample answers More sample pathology residency interview questions FAQs

How competitive is pathology?

Pathology is one of the least competitive specialties for residents. Out of 994 total applicants, there were 610 matches, making the total match rate 62.27%. For students who are trying to evaluate lifestyle factors associated with this specialty, it’s important to note that pathology also has a high job satisfaction rate, according to the Medscape physician lifestyle & happiness report. Although the majority of people who responded to the survey reported moderate to high feelings of stress and anxiety, the majority also reported a fair life and work balance, according to a study.

Pathology Match Rate:

The pathology specialization is also one of the most diverse in terms of patient demographics, colleague interactions, and subspecializations. Examples of subspecializations include cytopathology, gastrointestinal pathology, anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, and general surgical pathology. Due to the diverse range of interactions and specialties within this discipline, medical residents can expect an eclectic approach to instruction and learning during their training program. Pathology is also strongly dependent on technological progress, particularly in the arena of diagnostic tools, which happens to be trending toward minimally invasive procedures and personalized diagnostic criteria/treatment.

The match rate for pathology is also among one of the highest. When students are figuring out how to prepare for clinical rotations, they aren’t likely to choose one in pathology because it isn’t a requirement for medical school students. This means that for students wondering how to choose medical school electives, they might consider exploring a pathology class to help them decide if they want to specialize in this field for their residency. However, rotations and course requirements can vary by program. Some students can select a pathology elective when they’re choosing courses in third and fourth year to help them decide if they think a pathology residency is right for them. To complete your application, you will also need to pass the USMLE step one and two if you’re in the US, and the MCCQE part I and II for Canada.

Pathology is also an IMG friendly residency program. According to NRMP match statistics, 5.9% of IMGs and 2.6% of U.S. IMGs matched to a pathology program. If you’re an international medical graduate, you might want to consider an IMG residency consultant to help you with your application for this program.

Still undecided about your specialty? Check this out:

How to prepare for the interview

Consider the following ways you can prepare for the interview:

10 Common pathology residency interview questions and sample answers

1.      Why did you choose pathology as your specialty?

During medical school, I was helping pay for my education by working as an autopsy technician. During my time working as a technician, I was able to work observe and interact with forensic pathologies who were investigating the cause of death for the bodies I helped prepare. I was especially intrigued by their meticulous examination of the bodies. In particular, I found it interesting just how detailed the observations of the bodies were, which sometimes required long deliberation of samples to determine patterns and draw conclusions about the cause of death. Part of my job assisting forensic pathologists or medical examiners was to record autopsy findings and prepare specimens for examination. Sometimes, I was also involved in performing tests on blood or tissue samples. I enjoyed the investigative aspect of the job and interacting with other highly focused and observant professionals working together to solve a problem.

2.      What do you think makes a good resident?

Because pathology involves a lot of clinical investigations and analysis of samples, the ability to focus and problem-solve are two important traits for any pathology resident and professional. A lot of investigations are solitary and involve sitting in front of a microscope or computer screen analyzing the results of samples, making connections and drawing conclusions about a potential diagnosis. When I was growing up, I used to always help my dad work on the cars that came into his shop. I eventually learned how to diagnose the vehicles myself by performing diagnostic procedures and by interviewing the person who brought the vehicle in. I still help my dad fix cars whenever I get the chance. I believe that my natural inclination to want to figure things out is part of what prepares me for a successful pathology residency.

3.      What do see yourself doing after completing a pathology residency?

Once I complete my pathology residency, I’d like to continue my pathology training and learning experience through a fellowship in a subspecialty. Breast pathology appeals to me the most. My grandmother is a breast cancer survivor, and while it was a very difficult experience to endure for her and for the family, we were most impressed by the urgency and accuracy of the diagnosis, which ultimately saved her life. For this reason, I think I’ve been sufficiently inspired to want to work in this field. Another subspecialty that sounds interesting to me is cytopathology, but whether or not I decide to pursue a fellowship in this field depends on what I can learn about it, hopefully from direct experience with professionals I work with during the residency.

Check out these residency interview questions to help you prepare:

4.      Were you interested in any other fields, or was it just pathology?

Pathology was my first choice, but during my core clinical rotations, I was interested in some of the cases we saw in family medicine. I enjoyed the patient diversity, and because I’m a very family-oriented person, I understand the importance of providing the highest quality health care for all members of a family, as well as conducting myself in a calm and articulate manner while doing so. In pathology, patient interactions can be sparse, since you’re more likely to be in a laboratory analyzing samples. In family medicine, however, you handle patients from all different ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I think both disciplines are very different as far as interactions go, but the motivation to perform my due diligence to families and individuals remains the same for me.

5.      Was there anyone who inspired you to want to become a pathology resident?

Even though I was already interested in pathology before I started medical school, there was an attendant named Dr. J Smith who I met during my medical microbiology clinical rotations that had a strong influence on me. Since there was an emphasis on communication and coordination within the laboratory clinical staff, I was focused on observing how everyone communicated with each other. The way that Dr. Smith communicated about special or difficult infectious cases was always very straightforward even though the information was complex, and he always seemed to know how to handle cases that required special consideration. There was one particular case where we were examining a skin sample from a man with follicular keratotic papules. After initially thinking it was a case of seborrheic dermatitis, Dr. Smith led a family history exam that showed that the patient had family members with the highly heritable darier disease, which the team confirmed from observing evidence of gene mutation. Dr. Smith’s personality was also very amiable and calm, which seemed to have a powerful effect on the team to help coordinate interpretations of unusual samples. What I admired most was his ability to lead a large team with calm urgency while also maintaining a friendly attitude, which made it easy to ask questions and learn from him.

6.      What are some of your career goals as they relate to pathology as a discipline?

One of my career goals would be to eventually open up my own practice as a breast pathologist and cytogenetics pathologist to provide consultation and examination for patients. I also want to be involved in conducting cancer research to help develop better diagnostic tools and procedures that cater to the specifics of each individual patient. As I’ve mentioned, I’m also a very family-oriented person, and I’d also like to have children with my husband at some point in the future, which means owning my own practice will allow me to have a fulfilling life and work balance.

7.      What do you think is one issue facing the field of pathology?

I think the biggest issue is the lack of residents choosing pathology as their specialty. There are already a lot of shortages in some provinces and states, which causes delays in clinical assessments, and therefore delays in treatment. Outcomes for patient care is dependent on pathologists to deliver quick and effective diagnostic strategies based on evidence. I think that part of the reason why students don’t choose pathology is because they think they’re more likely to be actively saving lives in other specialties. While I sympathize with this motivation, I think more students would choose pathology if study in this field became mandatory in the curriculum.

8.      Is there anything from your background that you think can make you an effective pathologist?

I believe that the most important skills for a pathologist are communication and analytical skills. During medical school, I was volunteering to teach children how to read for a reading partner program. Because many of the students didn’t speak English at all, I quickly understood the importance of communication, both verbally and non-verbally. I was also doing research extracurricular for various case studies in which I was presented with clinical cases where two patients were diagnosed with the same thing or treated the same way. My task was to analyze and distinguish the two cases and report on them in the conclusion. During this experience, I learned the importance of strong analysis skills, which in that context, helped my draw conclusions about almost identical cases.

9.      What were some of your criteria for selecting pathology residency programs to apply for?

My primary concern when selecting programs to apply for was the program’s involvement in the community. I really value strong commitment to making a positive contribution to my community as a regular volunteer as a writing tutor at my local community college and an almost yearly volunteer building houses abroad for underprivileged communities. I also looked for programs with good benefits and a variety of fellowship programs. Even though I have a strong interest in going into breast pathology, I’m still open to pursuing other fellowship options depending on my clinical experience during residency training. Besides that, I wanted to make sure faculty were committed to delivering the best learning experience possible for their residents and the best treatment for their patients, which I gleaned through mission statements and by speaking with other residency graduates.

10.  What aspect of a pathology residency appeals to you the most?

The part that interests me the most is the ability to do a lot of solitary work and independent analysis. When I was working as an autopsy technician, part of my job was to get samples ready for analysis, and sometimes assist in analyzing them myself. I always looked forward to the chance to participate in an analysis because every case was different, and the samples were often difficult to interpret, which made it very fulfilling to finally have all the evidence to draw a conclusion. Even though I have strong family and community values, what I’ve always enjoyed the most about my research extracurriculars was when it was time to organize the data and write about our observations and conclusions. Specially, when I was comparing case studies during some of my research extracurriculars, I was always excited to receive new case studies, which required long hours of focus to make connections. Also, the wide variety of patient cases seems like a very enriching aspect of the job, and knowing that I was an essential component of interpreting an unusual sample or symptom classification is also a highly motivating aspect of the training.

More sample pathology residency interview questions

11.  What appeals to you most about this residency program?

12.  Are you interested in doing research in the field?

13.  What communication strategies do you employ in your normal interactions?

14.  Are you someone who enjoys teaching or instructing?

15.  What’s your protocol for integrating positive and negative feedback?

16.  What tools do you use to manage your time?

17.  What’s something that surprised you from your clinical rotations?

18.  What’s one weakness of yours that you’re hoping to address in this residency program?

19.  What qualities do you possess that you think separate you from other candidates?

20.  Do you think that your USMLE or MCCQE scores are representative of your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate?

21.  What was something that frustrated you during medical school?

22.  Were there any med school electives that you regret taking, or any you wished you took instead?

23.  Tell us about yourself.

24.  What questions do you have about the program? (Learn some of the best questions to ask residency programs!)

25.  What do you like to do for fun?

26.  How would you mediate between two conflicting interpretations of a tissue sample?

27.  What does the term “team-based” mean to you?

28.  What’s one research topic that you'd like to explore?

29.  What's something you learned from another discipline that you think you could apply to pathology?

30.  What do you regard as the most fundamental ethical concern for pathologists?


1. Is pathology a competitive specialization?

Pathology is considered one of the least competitive specialties. Fill-rate in recent years for MDs was 36.6% and 12.0% for DOs, according to NRMP data. Pathology is also an IMG friendly specialty. Of 631 positions offered, 274 were taken by IMGs.

2. How should I go about preparing for an interview?

There are many ways you can go about preparing. First, you’ll want to research the programs to which you’re going to interview. Knowing about the program will give you a chance to respond to more specific questions about the program and ask the faculty any questions you may have about the program. You can also practice answering the sample questions we provided above to help you prepare your response. Remember, many programs also conduct video interviews, so it’s important to make sure you prepare all the necessary equipment beforehand.

3. Do USMLE or MCCQE scores matter?

In short, yes. If you score a passing grade but you’re on the lower end of the distribution, you might get asked about why you didn’t perform as well as you could have, or why you think you fell short of a higher score. Committees will often ask these weird or intimidating questions about exam scores and other performance-based measures to see if they can catch you off-guard.

4. I’m not sure what I want to do once the residency program is over. What should I say if they ask what I’m planning to do?

You can still prepare an answer to this question based on what you think might appeal to you without necessarily committing to anything. For instance, pathology programs have a lot of subspecializations they offer once you complete your program. Explore some of these options and find one or two that seem like they might be a good fit and practice your answer based on what you find interesting about these fellowships and how they can benefit your career.

5. Is pathology a good choice for a residency?

Pathology can be an enriching and beneficial training program for your professional development. Pathology residency programs involve a lot of sub-disciplinary exposure, which means you’ll gain a wide range of clinical experience dealing with a broad patient spectrum and different types of pathologists. If you’re more interested in the diagnostic aspect of treatment, this residency can definitely be a good choice for you.

6. What types of questions will I be asked?

There will likely be a wide variety of different questions about your personal background, why you chose pathology, your educational background, and clinical knowledge. You can prepare for all different types of questions, but be aware that the programs will ask you questions that take your pathology field knowledge and experiences into consideration.

7. How long should my answers be?

Generally, it’s best to keep your answers no longer than three minutes. You can try timing your answers during your practice so you have an idea of how you can lengthen or shorten them depending on the question.

8. What’s the most important preparation tool I can use?

The most effective tool for preparing is mock interviews. While practice and repetition are key, you will also want to avoid memorizing your answers because you want to sound natural, not rehearsed. You also may also be wondering if residency interview coaching is worth it. The answer to this question is different for everyone, but coaching can certainly help anyone who desires it.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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