The residency interview is the final obstacle between you and the career of your dreams. It will require meticulous planning and preparation, as you will be competing for very limited spots with other extra-ordinarily qualified candidates.
Why you MUST ace your residency interview
Before we jump into any specific residency interview tips, let’s take look at the statistics to show you why it is absolutely critical that you prepare well in advance to ace your interviews.
Just to give you an indication of the competitive nature of this process, let us consider some statistics from the Result of the National Residency Matching Program Director Survey for the previous application cycle in the US (the statistics are similar for Canada).
According to this survey, for each distinct residency program (i.e. Anaesthesiology, Family Medicine, Orthopaedic Surgery, etc), on average, 856 candidates submitted applications. Out of these 856 candidates, once again on average, 119 candidates (or ~ 14%) were invited to an interview. Out of these 119 candidates who were invited to an interview, 77 candidates eventually were ranked according to their USMLE results, research and non-academic experiences, and most importantly, their interview performance.
Now here is the scary part!
These 77 ranked candidates, on average were competing for no more than 7 available positions for each specific residency match. This means at the end of the whole process, 7 out of the 856 candidates who originally applied to a specific residency program, would have gained a position. Of course, these are average figures for all residency programs considered, and specific data exist for each distinct program. But these numbers should give a little indication of how competitive this process can be and what it takes to successfully match with your desired program.
How to prepare for your residency interview
Tip #1 Practice with mock interview + expert feedback.
Now, when it comes to preparing for residency interview, there is a common misconception that this interview is just another medical school interview, and since you have already done similar interviews in the past, there is no need to prepare for your residency interviews. There can be nothing further from the truth!
Although there are similarities between residency interviews and medical school interviews, the one major difference that you must keep in mind is that this is a JOB INTERVIEW at the end of day. Therefore, you must prepare well in advance by performing realistic mock interviews and receiving appropriate and professional feedback on your performance. Follow this link to see some sample residency interview questions.
In fact, many residency programs encourage their candidates to prepare for their interviews in such a way. The number of one advise that is given by most residency program coordinators when it comes to interview preparations is to perform as many mock interviews as possible with a professional who can give you appropriate and honest feedback. (Click here to learn more about our residency interview preparation programs)
Tip #2: Learn to identify and ace any common type of residency interview question:
Different types of common residency interview questions:
1. Personal type questions. These include questions such as:
- Tell me a about yourself
- Tell me about a time when … (e.g. acted as leader, came into conflict with a superior, had to step outside of your comfort zone, etc.)
- What is your greatest limitation?
- If you could change one aspect of your personality with a snap of a finger, what would it be?
2. Quirky type questions. These include questions such as:
- If you could be any type of cheese, what type would you be?
- If you could gain a superpower with a snap of a finger, what would it be?
- If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
These questions are specifically asked to
(1) change the pace of the interview, to (2) see how quickly you think on your feet and whether you have the ability to go from a serious topic to a more light-hearted topic, and lastly and most importantly, (3) to get a sense of your true personality. When asked a quirky question, allow your genuine personality to shine through. If you are surprised by the question, then show your surprise and do not be afraid to smile and enjoy this lighthearted moment with your interviewers. At the end of the day, they want to see if you are human and have a sense of humour.
3. Program specific questions. These include questions such as:
- Why have you decided to pursue this residency program?
- Why have you decided to pursue your residency at our department?
- How will you impact the program and advance the field in the future?
In order to successfully answer these program specific questions, you have to make sure that you have spent the appropriate time to research the program for which you are interviewing, and know everything there is to know about the department. Get to know the faculty, the type of research that is being conducted, etc., so that you can offer specific pull-factors or draw-factors that have influenced your decision to apply to that specific residency program.
4. Policy and current events type questions. These include questions such as:
- In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing our healthcare system?
- If you could implement one policy to drastically and positively influence the healthcare system, what would it be?
- What are your views with regard to the recent Supreme Court ruling with regard to physician-assisted suicide?
- If you were the general in charge of decision-making and assessments in the middle east and were asked to provide your insight about how to resolve the conflict , what recommendations would you make? How would you approach the problem?
- What are your views on current president’s/prime minister’s proposal for healthcare?
You can prepare for policy type questions by first devising a top ten list of issues or demands that our healthcare system is currently facing. Furthermore, you should read the perspective of others in the field who have provided insight and solutions on how to address the demands in question.
Furthermore, you can become more aware of health policy issues by visiting and familiarizing yourself with websites such as the Ontario Medial Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, etc.
In order to be prepared for current event questions, you should regularly be reading the news from various sources around the country and the globe so that you have a well-rounded view of the issues currently in the news.
5. Scenario-based questions:
These are questions much like those encountered at an MMI. Here is an example of a scenario-based question:
“You are the head of the paediatrics department. You have scheduled a long awaited Christmas vacation with your family, which they are extremely excited about. You had requested this time off well in advance and had ensured that it would be placed in the department’s calendar. Three days prior to your trip, you are contacted by the department secretary who informs you that you are scheduled to be on call during the Christmas break. Of course, this is not your fault and it seems like there might have been an error in scheduling. What would you do in this scenario?”
When it comes to successfully answering a scenario based question, there are certain steps you must take in order to produce a well thought-out and mature answer. First and foremost, as you receive the prompt from the interviewer, do not make any assumption or jump to any conclusions based on the primary evidence that is presented to you. You need to remind yourself to stay objective and to gather further evidence in order to be able to make an appropriate decision. As part of this step-wise process, you also need to identify the MOST pressing issue in the scenario that you must address, and identify how your decision making will impact those who are directly and indirectly involved in the scenario.
Once you have considered all of the above quickly and simultaneously as the prompt is presented to you, then you will need to come up with some practical solutions that will allow you to resolve the issue at hand. These solutions will of course be based on the evidence that you have gathered and based on the initial evidence that was presented to you in the prompt. The solutions, which you can draw upon, must be legal, ethical, scientifically sound, and of course, cause the least amount of harm to those directly and indirectly involved in the scenario.
6. Job interview type questions:
These are question that one would encounter at any other type of professional job interview. Here are some examples:
- Tell me about your most memorable job experience. What was the most challenging aspect of your work? What was the most rewarding?
- Describe a difficult work experience in the past. How did you handle and overcome the difficulties you faced?
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
- Who was your best boss? Who was your worst boss? What qualities did they possess that made them the best or worst in your opinion?
As you can see, when it comes to residency interviews, although there are many similarities to your medical school interviews, which you painstakingly prepared for some 4 years ago, there are also major differences that you must be prepared for well in advance. We recommend that you begin practicing for this immensely important interview as early as possible so that you give yourself the maximum opportunity to secure your spot in the department of your choice.
Would you like our help preparing for your residency interview?
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Here are some additional resources, including official sample residency interview questions:
Examples of questions you should be prepared for during your residency interviews published by the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson.
Advice from Residents on What to Ask During the Residency Interview published by AAMC.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo