Reviewing psychiatry residency interview questions and answers is essential when you are preparing for your own residency interview. While most people don't immediately think about psychiatry when they talk about the most competitive and least competitive residencies, it is still a specialty with a limited number of residency positions. This means that if you want to match to a program, you need to beat out the competition, and one way to do that is to ace your psychiatry residency interview. This blog will share 40 different psychiatry residency interview questions, with expert sample answers and a few tips to help you prepare for your own interview.
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How competitive is psychiatry residency?
Psychiatry is an increasingly competitive residency. According to the latest NRMP data, the number of residency positions for psychiatry has been rising every year since 2008. The issue is that the number of applicants also seems to be growing lately. This means that while psychiatry is not the most competitive residency specialty, matching to a program is getting increasingly difficult.
Last year, there were 1907 positions available in the US for the specialty and just under 3000 applicants. These numbers tell us that if you want to match a psychiatry program, especially a top program, you need to take the time to carefully prepare for residency applications and prepare for interviews well in advance.
10 common psychiatry residency interview questions and sample answers
1. What made you choose psychiatry as a specialty?
Sample answer: I grew up in a very small, traditional and quite remote town. There was only one of everything- middle school, high school, supermarket, movie theatre... one of everything. About three years before I started middle school, one of the students in my school had committed suicide. I remember at some point during my first week of class, I overheard two teachers talking about it, and I was very sad and confused. So, I asked my mom about it, and she explained that the student was depressed, which meant that he was ill, and she said that our town didn't have the kind of doctor that could've helped him.
By this point, I had already decided that I wanted to be a doctor, but this incident was when I started thinking about all the different types of medical doctors. I have always been a curious person, and I had some follow-up questions that I didn't want to ask my mom, so I asked Google and started learning about mental illness. I knew right away that I wanted to work in this field.
My decision was solidified during my undergrad when I watched one of my closest friends struggle with depression. Since I was a psychology major, I knew that there were a few different paths that I could take to help the mentally ill, but what really drew me to psychiatry is the fact that, as psychiatrists, we are kind of like the jack of all trades of psychology. We are trained to diagnose, manage, and treat illness using a wide range of therapies, and I really wanted to be able to understand all the tools that we have at our disposal to help the mentally ill.
2. In your opinion, how can a patient know that they need psychotherapy?
Sample answer: I believe that it takes a certain amount of honest introspection, and not everyone is able to self-reflect and self-examine right away. But once a patient notices that there is an issue causing significant distress or disruption in their life and that their friends and family are worried for their well-being, then they should seek help, especially if they notice that they have unhealthy or harmful coping mechanisms like overeating and self-harm.
3. Are you interested in a particular branch of psychiatry?
Sample answer: I am still open to general psychiatry and the different branches because I know that I still have a lot to learn, and I may change my mind in the future. But I have always been interested in community psychiatry, as well as child and adolescent psychiatry. I often think about communities like the one I grew up in, which was quite remote, and I wonder about people who may have needed therapy or medication. I know that there are a lot of small towns like mine and even communities within the city that depend on the work of community psychiatrists and mental health advocates. I would eventually like to join those efforts.
4. What does the term ‘patient-centered care’ mean to you?
Sample answer: For me, patient-centered care means keeping the patient's entire well-being at the very core of everything we do as psychiatrists. That means considering a patient's physical and mental well-being, but also their social, financial, and sometimes even spiritual well-being as well. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to communicate with patients. Making sure that their care is as collaborative as possible, that they are informed and prepared for different treatment courses and outcomes, and that their preferences are being taken into consideration.
Check out this infographic for a quick summary of the key points we will cover later:
5. What do you do when you make a mistake?
Sample answer: I am the oldest of four kids, and I often had to play the role of caregiver when my parents were working. For a while, I watched my younger siblings try to hide their mistakes from me for fear of punishment or sometimes even embarrassment. I had to teach them how to take responsibility, own up to their mistakes, and learn from them. In teaching them, I learned a lot too.
I now understand that erring is human and therefore inevitable but how you react when you've made a mistake is what matters. When I make a mistake, I own up to it, let the appropriate person know as soon as possible, apologize to anyone affected by that mistake, and do what I can to make it right. Then I have to learn from it by looking back to see what went wrong and take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
6. What was the last book you read?
Sample answer: Honestly, over the last few months, most of my free time has been spent trying to navigate the ERAS application process or studying, and when I have a moment, I try to spend it enjoying the company of my husband and child. So, I have not had as much time to read for entertainment as I usually do. The last book that I remember reading and enjoying is “The Heart Principle” by Helen Hoang.
It is the third book in a contemporary trilogy where the main character of each book is on the autism spectrum. The author herself is on the spectrum, and I think she did a great job with the representation. The main character's struggles as a neurodivergent person were well explained and portrayed realistically, but they were not the center of their story. I think that books like hers are helping us alleviate the stigma for those who are not neurotypical by humanizing them and showing that they can and do have full lives.
7. What quality or qualities do you feel will make you a good psychiatrist?
Sample answer: I believe that I can become a great psychiatrist with the right training. My curious nature, empathy, and patience will make me a good doctor, but it is my psychological mindedness and active listening skills that will help me become a good psychiatrist.
I started going to therapy when I was in my second year of undergrad because I wanted to work on myself, and one of the things that my psychologist and I talked about is the ability to separate your internal conflicts from external ones. I have learned to step back from situations, self-reflect, and try as much as possible to assess them objectively. This means that I have to actively listen to those around me and read between the lines of what they are saying.
My friends often tease me about what they call my psychiatrist's face. They claim that as soon as someone starts telling me a story, I make the person telling the story the center of my world for a few minutes. They are not entirely wrong. I do enjoy listening to people, and I like to make sure they feel heard, so I am sure it shows on my face. It is an ability that has served me well in the past, and I am confident that it will serve me well when dealing with patients too.
Is your interview going to be over video call? Check out this video for tips:
8. How would you approach a situation where a patient is suffering from severe depression but is resistant to taking medication?
Sample answer: During my internal medicine clinical rotation, I witnessed something that your question reminds me of. One of the attendings was prescribing medication to a patient, and the patient got upset and insisted that they did not want to take that medication. The attending was very calm, and she listened to the patient attentively. She asked the patient if they did not want to take any oral medication at all or just that specific one and a few other follow-up questions of this nature.
It turns out that the patient had read an article online about the side effects of this medication, and they were scared. Once the attending understood what she was dealing with, she calmly explained to the patient what the other treatment options were and why this medication was the best option. She told the patient precisely what the risks were with the drug in question and how they could be monitoring the patient to make sure they were not having a severe reaction to it. In the end, they made the decision together, and the patient started taking the medication again.
I really admired the way the attending handled the situation, and that is the approach that I would like to take as a physician. I believe in patient-centered care, which includes respecting patients' wishes and giving them everything they need to make an informed decision. So, I would continue with talk therapy for some time, but I would also take the time to explain why I am suggesting medicine to the depressed patient and make sure they are making a fully informed decision.
9. How many unread emails are in your inbox?
Sample answer: The last time I looked at my phone, there was one unread email. There may be more now, but when I get home, I will likely bring that number down to 0. I tend not to subscribe to marketing emails, so I know that when I get an email, it is from someone important, and I want to be able to get to it as soon as I can. I also find it challenging to look for previous emails with important information if my inbox is crowded. So, I make it a point to read my email often and delete any unwanted or unnecessary messages.
10. Do you have any questions for us?
Sample answer: Yes, I have prepared a few questions and I appreciate the opportunity to ask them.
30 additional psychiatry residency interview questions to practice with
During residency interviews, you should expect to get questions about a variety of topics and aspects of your background. Your interviewer is not only trying to figure out if you have the skills and abilities necessary to be a resident doctor in their program, but they also want to find out if you as a person possess the professionalism and personal characteristics that you need to be part of their team. You should therefore expect questions about your personality, background and experiences, goals and plans, psychiatry, the program you’re interviewing for, and current events in the field. Below are a few common questions that you can expect in those categories to help you practice as you start your CaRMS or ERAS interview prep.
Questions about your personality
- Tell me about yourself
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
- Do you consider yourself a team player?
- How do you deal with stress?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- How do you handle criticism?
- Describe yourself in 3 words
- What are the areas that you feel you can improve yourself on?
- How will you contribute to our program?
- What is your proudest accomplishment?
Questions about your experiences
- I see that you conducted research on [topic from your [residency CV], why were you interested in that particular topic?
- Tell me about your experience with psychiatry
- Tell me a bit more about [experience from your medical student CV]
- Tell me about a time you failed
- Have you ever learned something important from a patient? Tell me about that experience
Questions about your goals
- What are your expectations of this program?
- Are you interested in pursuing any research during or after your residency?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How can our program help you get there?
- Do you see yourself practicing in an urban or rural setting?
- What are your plans if you don’t meet our expectations?
Check out this video for tips on how to answer the 'tell me about yourself' residency question:
General questions about the specialty and/or program
- What role do you think psychiatrists play in the overall healthcare system and society?
- What is the hardest part of a career in psychiatry?
- Why do you think psychological mindedness is important?
- What do you think psychiatrists can do to challenge the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health illness?
- What do you like most about psychiatry as a specialty?
- What do you dislike about psychiatry as a specialty?
- Why did you decide to apply for our residency program?
- What questions do you have about the program?
- What do you think are the basic skills of a good psychiatrist?
- What role does psychotherapy play in psychiatric care today?
How to prepare for your psychiatry residency interview
1. Is psychiatry a competitive specialty?
Psychiatry is not among the most competitive specialties, but it is rising in popularity so if you want to get into a psychiatry program, you’ll need a compelling residency application and strong interview performance.
2. How important is the residency interview?
Data shows that residency interviews are an important factor in residency directors' decisions. They are also your only chance to impress the residency program rep in person. So, you need to put your best foot forward and ace this step of the matching process if you want to get into the program of your choice.
3. What type of questions do they ask in psychiatry residency interviews?
You should expect personal, program-based, and scenario questions and questions about your background, goals, and current events in the field. If your interview is an MMI, then you may also be faced with an MMI collaboration station.
4. Why is it important to review sample interview questions?
Reviewing sample questions allows you to reflect on and structure your own answers to those questions in advance. It also reduces your chances of getting caught off-guard during the interview.
5. What questions can I ask my interviewer?
At the end of your interview, if given a chance to ask questions, ask about the program, their experience within it, or what they expect from the residents that will get into the program. Take a look at the examples we provided in the blog for ideas.
6. Is psychiatry an IMG-friendly specialty?
The number of International Medical Graduates that get into psychiatry programs in the US and Canada is relatively low. So, it’s not exactly an IMG-friendly residency program but if you have a strong application and ace your interview, you can get into one.
7. What are residency interview preparation services?
Essentially, it's a service offered by medical school advisors. They help you prepare for your residency interviews by conducting mock interviews, giving you strategies for structuring your answers in the most compelling way, and other tips that will help you do well on your interview.
8. What can I do to prepare for my residency interview?
You can review sample questions and prepare your own answers for them. Make sure your answers tell a story and use specific examples. You should also conduct mock interviews, ideally with a professional who can give you personalized feedback and help you improve.
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