In this blog, I'll go over both common and surprising residency interview questions and discuss the intent behind each question. I'll share the same exact strategies we share with our own students in our programs. Whether you're applying to residency positions through or as a local applicant or an , you need to know by familiarizing yourself with these questions. This way, you'll be able to understand how to answer different types of questions effectively. In addition, you may be asking yourself You can use the content of this blog to help you answer that question.
Listen to the blog!
This could be considered a for a formal residency interview. This question by itself didn’t catch me off guard, but I was really surprised to be asked about my hobbies and interests outside of medicine at almost every interview. Although program committees had read my , everyone wanted to know something more personal about me and get more insight into my personal life.
In addition to having a “real-life” conversation between applicants and interviewers, this question is trying to figure out how we make the most of our free time. Stress, anxiety, and burn-out are huge problems in residency and big factors in career duration and satisfaction. How you choose to balance and prioritize your personal and professional life will go a long way to helping you make the most of residency and beyond. As well, many of my fellow residents have said that they have met their interviewers later in their training, and they remember them as “the baker,” “the record collector,” or “the girl who hates working out but does it anyway.” This question is also a chance to let a unique part of your personality shine through.
Small note: if you are struggling to come up with your own answers to the questions you find below, don’t fret. You can always seek extra help from a , a , or another invaluable service to increase your confidence in the strategies you review here.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "Why do you do for fun?":
In my free time I enjoy kayaking. It’s something I’ve enjoyed for many years, being able to take a weekend away and camp and kayak and enjoy nature. Being out on the water gives me a great deal of peace and recharges my batteries. During medical school, when I had some free time, I would take my kayak out for a quick trip. The break from studying helped reduce stress and improve my mental health. In addition, it keeps me physically fit, which improves my endurance and focus. Kayaking can be either leisurely or challenging, depending on the waters you're in, so it does require intense focus, quick decision making, and the ability to read the water and adapt. It is a hobby that can be both mentally relaxing and mentally challenging, as well as physically demanding. I have found it to be an exciting and stimulating activity that keeps me on my toes.
The residency interview question is one of the most common. Similarly, the intent of this question — to find out what strengths you would bring to a program — shouldn’t be a surprise. I was, however, surprised at how bluntly it was asked. I felt like I was being asked to lay my cards directly on the table. One good approach to these types of questions, whether they are asked as straightforwardly as this or not, is to structure your response in a way that demonstrates your strengths as a resident and as a colleague. Note that this question is a pretty universal one. You can expect it regardless of if you’re answering , , , etc.
Someone once told me that most programs are looking for teachable residents and residents that they want to have around for the duration of the program. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, particularly in high-stress situations in which you must rely on one another and having people you like around you would be ideal. This doesn’t mean that likability trumps talent. It means that you must bring an aptitude for and good attitude to the program; therefore, your response to this residency interview question should emphasize your professional skills, suitability for the profession, and technical abilities equally with the qualities that make you a good collaborator and communicator.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "Why should we choose you?":
I am the ideal candidate because I have had a passion for family medicine since applying to medical school, and I am eager to learn how to be a great family physician. I have been looking forward to my residency so that I can both use what I have learned in medical school and push myself to learn more. Family medicine is a discipline which requires compassion, excellent interpersonal and communication skills, and diagnostic ability. As my referees can attest, I am highly coachable, skilled, and have an undefeatable positive attitude, no matter how difficult the situation.
During my family medicine rotations, I was able to see an entire spectrum of different patients and really get to know each one of them. It solidified for me the conviction that this is my place in medicine. While I was working with Dr. X during my family medicine rotations, I encountered a patient who was difficult to get along with. This patient was known for being belligerent and questioning the hospital staff at every turn. When it was my turn to speak with this patient during a routine call, I went in with my usual attitude and quickly realized that while the patient did have many questions for me and Dr. X, they came from a place of caution and concern, rather than straight distrust.
After the patient finished asking their questions, I decided to ask if there was anything else we could speak with them about to resolve any concerns or if we could clarify anything we had explained. The patient's reaction was surprise, initially, as they were used to staff getting through answering their questions as quickly as possible. It seemed no one had taken the time to exercise patience and diagnose the real reason the patient was so insistent and apparently argumentative. Afterward, Dr. X commended me on my composure and response to the patient, who left much happier than when they had first come in.
Again, this was not a question that surprised me. Many of my friends ahead of me in their training mentioned that I should prepare a few questions in advance based on what I wanted to know about the training and what was important to me in the program. I was, in fact, surprised by how many applicants told me they didn’t ask any questions. Asking your interviewer questions shows that you’re interested and invested in the program and is also an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve taken the initiative to explore your options. Just as importantly, it’s an opportunity to find out information that helped me . I can honestly say that the responses I got to my questions impacted my rank order list in ways I did not expect. Keep in mind that most applicants ask one or two questions and not asking any could make you stand out for the wrong reasons.
Prepare a list in advance. Spend time researching the program. If the program does not have a great website, look up the demographics of the region or local events. I knew an applicant that wowed a program because she had done such in-depth research of the local population and asked questions specific to that area based on census results and demographics. Now you may not have to be that detailed for each interview, but aim to ask questions that will display your interest. Failing to ask questions looks lazy and shows disinterest. Common questions you could ask are:
- What are the strengths or weaknesses of this program?
- How many residents stay on as faculty after they complete the program?
- What do residents do for fun?
- What is your vision for the future of the program?
- What is your favorite thing about working here?
This is a more lighthearted edition of a . I expected to have a strange and quirky question come out of the blue, so I had spent some time thinking of the weird animal or kitchen appliance that best epitomized me. I’m still thinking of answers to those questions and still wondering exactly what this question is attempting to assess. One good thought is that interviewers might just want to know if you’re the type of person to respond to emails, and it’s probably not going to reassure them if your answer is, “I’m not sure. Maybe over a thousand?” Or, maybe it’s one of those unpredictable questions that test your ability to keep your composure and a level head. Perhaps it isn’t that complicated and was supposed to be an easy question to ease into the interview. When it comes to figuring out the answer to , the key is keeping calm and answering honestly. There isn’t anything too revealing or informative in responses to quirky questions, so it’s wise to answer the best you can, not stress too much about it, and move on to focusing on your other questions.
Off-the-wall questions like this are made to change the momentum of the interview. While it can be easy to overthink them, try and answer them quickly and honestly. They are evaluating how you answer questions and how you respond to different situations. If you get stuck and need more time, repeat the question back to the interviewer to buy yourself a few seconds. Say something like, "That's an excellent question. I guess it depends on which email, personal or professional…" It gives you a few seconds to think and compose your thoughts. Don't be concerned that this is going to make or break you. It might also just be a chance to lighten the mood. Relax and enjoy the light-hearted question.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "How many emails are in your inbox?":
Currently, I only have a few promotional emails in my inbox that are unanswered. I tend to keep up with my correspondence on a daily basis. But if I woke up to 2000 questions in my inbox, but could only answer 300, I would need to organize them by priority. There are a few ways of going about this that would help me collect the most important emails I should respond to. First, any emails with an “urgent” or “important” flag or subject line would be placed in a separate folder, which I will title “300 emails to respond to.” Then, I would find the emails that are part of an ongoing conversation; these will typically be higher on a priority list, so I will filter these into my folder. Lastly, I will need to choose emails that are sent from more important people. These would probably include family members, friends, my boss, colleagues, or clients. Starting with my boss, colleagues, and clients, I will filter these into my folder in order of urgency, which I will determine based on when the email was sent, by whom, and if there is a deadline. Then, if I still haven’t reached 300 emails with this priority list, I will add friends and family to that folder.
Check out our tips for how to ace your residency interview!
This question really threw me for a loop. Quite honestly, I felt like I could easily be trapped into a response that would make me look like an undesirable applicant. I talked about this question afterward with a few of the staff physicians with whom I was working, and it was reassuring to hear that they wouldn’t know how to provide a good response either. Interesting, this question is sort of a disguise for the , which means your strategy for these types of questions can be guided by an approach similar to "what is your greatest weakness?".
Still, I really appreciated one interpretation of the question. First, the types of scenarios that we’re being asked about are generally universally experienced; that is to say, almost everyone will have experienced conflict, acted as a leader, worked in a group, and gotten mad at some point in medical school. It would be extremely unusual to not be able to provide an answer to this type of question, simply because it’s designed to be able to be answered by anyone. This means you shouldn’t shy away from the question or avoid providing an answer. Second, there are some situations that one should get angry about. Sometimes, not getting angry means tolerating the unacceptable, and that is not a desirable trait. Third, anger is a perfectly natural and human response and usually occurs among a mix of emotions. The answer I provided was that I got angry with a classmate. It was a mistake to get angry, and I hope that my response showed that I am willing to admit being wrong and to make amends, and I’m able to recognize when being angry isn’t appropriate and when I should act differently.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "When was the last time you got mad?":
I had a disagreement with one of my classmates during a residency interview study session about the correct answer to an ambiguous, ethical-type question. Both of us felt that we were correct, and I began to get angry at my classmate’s refusal to acknowledge other points of view or compromise, as they felt there was only one right answer. I asked my classmate to explain more fully why they believed their answer was correct and why other potential responses were wrong. Once my classmate more fully explained their point of view, I realized that in their perspective the question was not ambiguous at all. I apologized to my classmate for getting angry, and we agreed to disagree on the right answer.
This disagreement taught me that getting angry over every difference of opinion or perspective is not helpful and that moving forward requires some form of compromise. After this argument, I investigated ways to practice better conflict resolution, especially when a perfect solution is not available. This was a teaching moment for me about remaining open-minded and flexible, but it also highlighted the importance of having effective communication strategies, as this type of disagreement could potentially impact patient care if doctors are unwilling to consider alternate viewpoints.
The question can be asked in various forms, including: what brought you here? What can you tell us about your journey to medicine? Essentially, this is an ice-breaker type of question. For this question, the interviewer wants to know a little more about you, using your own words. Focus on all the things that make you the special candidate you are today.
To start, I would advise taking a general approach comprised of where you grew up, the size of your family, what your relationship with your family and siblings was/is like, followed by a brief overview of your academic trajectory. Remember, they have all your academic information so don’t go into depth about academics. Next, you can pick one or two specific experiences in your life that shaped who you are as a person today – goals, morals and values; your life compass so to speak. These experiences are generally high impact and very personal in nature. Because this question also tends to make candidates the most nervous, will be your best preparation tool for all questions, but this one especially.
Here's a sample expert response for residency interview question "Tell us about yourself":
I’m the middle child of two sisters; our parents owned a café and sandwich shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – a poor Italian neighborhood with strong family values and a penchant for southern-style Italian restaurants. Ours was parked right down the middle, facing the Williamsburg bridge. Our building had a black and white mural of a little girl with her fists pressed into her sullen cheeks, a perfect expression for the embodied pessimism of our poverty and struggle to make ends meet. When I was twenty-two, my grandfather passed away. He died from complications from diabetes, a condition he suffered from since he was a boy. The day we took him to the hospital, my life changed forever. Inside the hospital, the doctors did everything they could – they threw the kitchen sink at it. The loop diuretics didn’t work, nor the valve surgery, medication, or the bypass. There was a calm urgency in the swift chatter and movement of the doctors – it mesmerized me or for a moment, cauterized my grief.
His passing didn’t help with our finances, either. The shop wasn’t making profit, and our grandfather was he backbone of that establishment. I took a gap year in university so I could focus all my efforts on getting the restaurant back on its feet. I changed the menus; my sister, the head chef, found some old recipes in the book my grandfather left us. The response from our customers was brilliant. They loved the food and service. Our ratings increased and slowly, we became known as one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg, and even in all of Brooklyn. When I went back to medical school the next year, while I still worked part-time at the restaurant, I kept that determination and applied it to my studies. I’ve always dreamt of a better life for my family and for myself, and my interest in medicine and my craving for more stability are what motivated me throughout my journey.
This question measures your understanding of the specialty on many levels, such as the type of practice and aspects of medicine it encompasses (acute vs. chronic care, procedural vs. non-procedural specialty). For me, every sub-specialty of medicine has something to get excited about, but at the end of the day, you have to love the ever-day tasks of the specialty you are picking, or you will be unhappy. This question can also be used to easily segway into the , so make sure you review sample answers for that question in tandem.
This is your opportunity to showcase your insight when it comes to your specialty of choice and relay an understanding of what you like and dislike about it. You might also consider discussing some of your ambitions, such as a . Finally, it is imperative to have an understanding of the challenges associated with the specialty, what changes might be on the horizon, and how they will impact future practice. Whether you are applying to the , prepare to talk about the nuances of your specialty.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "Why would you like to pursue this specialty?":
I decided to pursue anesthesiology because it demands a unique blend of technical skill and medical knowledge. Anesthesiologists need to be highly capable in a physical sense, but in a mental sense as well, as they must be able to endure high-pressure situations with a calm demeanor. They must recognize and respond to a problem very quickly, absorb the necessary information, make decisions, and follow through.
During X medical school rotation, I was actively involved in a complex spinal surgery's anesthetic management. Under supervision, I helped tailor an anesthesia plan, ensuring the patient's safety, comfort, and optimal surgical conditions. This hands-on experience crystallized the blend of pharmacology, physiology, and critical care that anesthesiology offers. Our collaboration underscored anesthesiology's role as perioperative physicians. This immersion taught me that anesthesiology is where I can directly impact patient outcomes, merging the intricacies of science with the profound responsibility of patient care during vulnerable moments.
This type of fast-paced, demanding work is appealing to me, as it presents new challenges with every case, but at the same time, it allows me to exercise my strengths. Anesthesiology is humbling, too, in that I know I still have so much to learn about this specialty and can always improve my performance and my treatment of patients. It is a specialty that is often on the cutting edge of medical research, which is a great interest of mine, too, so it has been my first choice since my X medical school rotation.
At the end of the day, remember that you are seeking a good match; decision makers are assessing whether you will be a good fit for their program, but you are also evaluating whether the program will be a good fit for you. Showing the interviewers that you know their program and their city or town and have thought about how this will contribute to making you a great resident will convey a powerful impression of your strengths and insights as a candidate. This question is also very similar to . However, these are not to be confused with
This question has a two-part answer: a) aspects of the program that you like and b) aspects of the location that you like. First, make sure that you have thoroughly researched the program and have prepared an answer that includes what you like about it. For example, you could comment on aspects such as resident peer and mentor support, global health, research support, the resident affairs office, protected research and academic time, program size (small or big), diversity of clinical experience, or licensing preparation support. Second, when discussing location, you could comment on the presence of friends or family who will be a good support system for you during residency, any personal connection you have to the place, and aspects of the location you believe will enrich your life.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "Why would you like to join our program?":
When I first started researching residency programs, this one made it to the top of my list due to the opportunity to learn from the best of the best in internal medicine. I like that this is a smaller program but offers diverse clinical experiences and thorough coaching from its attending physicians. This program’s board pass rate is also high, which tells me the program has excellent teaching methods for its residents.
My goal is to become a top cardiologist, and I know the best way to begin is by learning from those who are already at the top of the field in internal medicine. I know through exposure to excellent coaches and unique clinical environments that I will be fully immersed in everything this specialty has to offer. I am especially attracted to the mentor support in this program and the fact that the program has protected time for mentors and residents to have one-on-one discussion and feedback on a fairly regular basis. I think receiving feedback and being able to ask questions of my mentor are critically important, and it's a good sign that your program recognizes the need for this. The diversity of clinical experiences is also a plus for me; as your program is located near a large urban center, I expect there will be no shortage of new and interesting cases. Although I plan to pursue a career in cardiology, internal medicine is a diverse and challenging field, and being exposed to a large spectrum of patients and cases will only help me develop as a doctor.
Additionally, choosing this program aligns deeply with my personal goals. I'm originally from this area, and this location is not just convenient but signifies home. Beyond the program's outstanding reputation, my familial and geographical ties here are strong. It's my intention to remain (city/state) for practice, committing to the community I deeply connect with. This program serves as the ideal foundation for my long-term goals.
While this question might not be asked directly, a lot of questions explore this angle. It is important to understand that most candidates who have made it to the interview stage will make great physicians. This leaves other key aspects of a good trainee besides strong academics to be desired or sought after.
Remember, this is a unique form of job interview. Programs are looking for candidates who will perform clinical duties but are also good learners. With that in mind, what do you think makes a good resident? From the work perspective, a diligent, hard-working candidate with attention to detail is important. From a learner perspective, it is important to be self-aware, understand your limitations, and know when to call for help if required.
Additionally, candidates who are open to feedback and coachable are always a plus. It’s very hard to teach someone who is not humble and appreciative about new ways to do things. Finally, residencies can range from 2 to 6 years and being personable goes a very long way. If I will be working with you for such a long period, I would want someone who is adaptable and easy to get along with.
Here's a sample expert response to residency interview question "What differentiates you from other candidates?":
Unlike many candidates I know, I have been working since I was 15, long before many of my classmates started looking for part-time jobs. I first began working in an animal shelter, thinking I would apply to vet school after graduating college. However, when I finished high school, I got a job as a small office receptionist in a rural health clinic and found I enjoyed working with human patients far more. During my undergraduate degree I transitioned to working as a medical scribe and committed to shadowing a physician at our rural mobile health clinic.
Because I entered the workforce early, I discovered the value of working hard, committing to the tasks I am assigned, and approaching everything with a positive attitude and willingness to learn. I think my extensive work history and the aptitudes I have gained from years of employment, both in and out of the medical field, have prepared me mentally and physically for the hard work of residency. Even throughout medical school, which placed great demands on my time and energy, I continued to work a part-time job at the university hospital to support myself and gain clinical experience. I was committed to using every bit of time I had to become a better physician. Residency will require even more of my time, energy, and commitment, but I am ready to dedicate everything I have to this next chapter.
Not every candidate has something on their or application that warrants discussing or clarification during the interview. However, you would be surprised what programs are interested in clarifying when it comes to one’s application. Residency selection committees and program directors want to give you an opportunity to explain any discrepancies or red flags on your application. These things could be obvious, such as taking a year off, failure of an exam or the identification of lots of elective time spent in a different specialty. The less obvious questions can revolve around lots of research experience in a school that focuses more on clinical practice, or rural vs. urban experiences in schools which serve the opposite demographic. For questions related to academic performance or red flags, programs want to know a little bit more about the circumstances surrounding the event. Were you going through a rough time? If so, tell us about it and how you handled that time of your life? What did you learn from the experience and how are you a stronger candidate today? Residency training programs are tough, proving to result in ample demand on both your time and cognitive load. Programs want to ensure that candidates will be able to endure the academic rigors of their program.
With regard to the less-obvious questions stated above, ultimately, programs want to make sure that you are a good fit for the program and, generally, that’s where these questions stem from. For example, non-research-oriented programs want to make sure that research-oriented candidates understand that their program is mostly focused on clinical practice to avoid disappointment later down the line. The reverse is true as well; research-heavy programs want to make sure that candidates understand research is a big part of the program they hope to join. Similarly, questions regarding rural vs. urban experiences center around expectations of the type of clinical practice and the opportunities which will be available to the resident. Remember, this is your opportunity to explain to the selection committee how you are a good candidate for their program. With that being said, this is a two-way street. If you find that a program is focused more on academic activities or experiences which don’t suit your goals of what type of clinician you want to be, then most likely, this training program is not for you.
Here's a sample expert response to a residency interview question about slightly lower USMLE scores:
While my USMLE scores may not be at the pinnacle, they don't define my full potential as a pediatrician. During a memorable rotation at Children's Health Center, I managed a challenging case of a toddler with an atypical presentation of Kawasaki disease. My proactive approach, combined with collaborative consultations, led to a timely diagnosis and intervention, preventing potential cardiac complications. Such experiences, alongside others, have honed my clinical skills in pediatrics. The pediatricians I've worked under have recognized this, and their endorsements in my and letters of recommendation attest to my competence, commitment, and hands-on capabilities.
Here are some of the residency interview questions you need to know!
Residency Interview Question #11: Tell me about a time when you mediated a conflict between two people. This can be family members, co-workers, teammates, etc.
Sample answer: During my undergraduate studies, I worked for a food delivery service and as a freelance taxi driver – usually at night or on weekends. I needed some way to make money to support myself without giving up the time I needed to study and attend classes throughout the day, so this was a flexible and mostly enjoyable option. However, there was one conflict that stood out to me. I had a customer who ordered groceries from a store on the other side of town that took my thirty minutes to get to. A few of the items on their list weren’t at the store, and when I tried calling them, they didn’t answer. That’s when I decided to simply purchase the same items from a different brand, making sure the prices were the same or at least no higher. When I arrived at the client’s house, I knocked on the door and handed them their groceries. The customer was a middle-aged man and woman. They immediately started sifting through the groceries to make sure I brought everything, and when they noticed some of the items had been swapped out, they started berating me for my choices. I tried explaining that the items were the same, only different brands, and that the items they preferred were missing; I also mentioned that the ones I found were also cheaper.
They didn’t care. They were just upset that I didn’t get the items they wanted. They told me that they were going to report me and have me fired. I tried to put myself in their position, and I explained that I was sorry for making an assumption, that I apologize for my mistake and that I can try to find the items they prefer at another store. They weren’t interested in that, however, and instead asked me to leave. I drove away from their property. Later, I found out that they did report me and that I wasn’t paid for the service I provided them. Fortunately, I spoke to my employer about the incident and I kept my job. After this experience, I never made any assumptions about what the customer might want when faced with a similar dilemma. Instead, I try to contact the customer by phone and text, and if I can’t get a hold of them, I simply don’t purchase any replacement items.
Residency Interview Question 12: What courses and clerkships did you like the best and least?
Sample answer: One of my favorite clerkships was psychiatry. I was assigned to a psychiatry outpatient clinic in the city close to the university. We provided care for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly, although we mostly saw young adults and adolescents. I loved meeting new patients, who would often express symptoms of psychiatric illness in ways that were rarely straightforward and simple to interpret, making it a challenge every day to explore the patient’s condition through mental status examinations, physical assessment, and collateral history. My role was surprisingly multidisciplinary, which shattered my initial presumption that most of the work would be one-on-one. I referred many patients to counsellors, social workers, or other community resources. I also worked closely with my supervisor and other psychiatrists to help optimize the quality of care for patients and their families.
One elective that was interesting, but not exactly as engaging as other courses and clerkships, was my medical genetics elective. The duration of that course was spent working on cases such as cancer genetics, prenatal diagnosis, and errors of metabolism in both adult and pediatric patients. The patient variance was one positive aspect of this experience, as cases were always challenging; I learned, for example, how to recognize patterns of inheritance for both Mendelian and non-Mendelian genetics, which was stimulating and relevant to most other disciplines. The reason this elective wasn’t my favorite was that there wasn’t as much interaction as I’d hoped. I enjoy communicating with patients and working with them to discover causes and solutions, but in medical genetics, this was generally a lesser component, although it was certainly a crucial aspect – just not to the degree that I’d prefer.
Residency Interview Question #13: What problems do you think this specialty will face in the future?
Sample answer: I think one of the biggest concerns I have for the pediatrics specialty is the declining rate of students choosing it. The reason why this has the potential to become a major issue in the coming years is that if we don’t have enough pediatric health care workers, then our ability to meet the patient, research, and advocacy demands will diminish. There was that showed that pediatric subspecialists devote less time in direct patient care than a survey from 1998 indicates. The relationship may appear temporal, but I think concerns about the lack of representation in the pediatric workforce and the needs of children living in rural communities make the results of the data more urgent.
There are a number of proposed solutions to address this growing concern, but I think there are a few that are worth mentioning: first, the contribution of DO medical graduates needs to be underscored. Currently, there is a reasonably high percentage of DO medical graduates who pursue pediatrics or a pediatric subspecialty. Many of these graduates, however, will contribute to the geographic maldistribution of pediatric workers because they prefer to work in underserved areas. I think we should focus on developing better partnerships between DO school leaders and MD school leaders can help mediate the distribution and training environment. To increase diversity among pediatric workers, I think it’s important to look at establishing better sponsors. For example, pediatric departments can help organize sponsorship programs as a result of successful mentorship programs to promote better professional development. Better incentives and protocols will need to be implemented with a sense of urgency, I believe, as the lowering the proportion of pediatric health care workers is beginning to affect quality of care.
Residency Interview Question #14: You’re a senior resident and a junior resident shows up late. What do you do?
Sample answer: In this situation, I think it would depend on how frequent the junior resident is showing up late. It might be the case that this is just a one-time thing that happened due to unforeseen circumstances that were out of the resident’s control. So, the first thing I would do is take the junior resident aside when the two of us have a moment to speak in a private setting. I don’t want to embarrass or demoralize them. If the resident explains that the reason they were late was due to an external cause, perhaps an emergency, then I would ask them if they need any support or if they want to talk about what happened. Then, I would remind them that while I understand that being late is sometimes unavoidable, it’s important to take the right steps to avoid it in the future.
If the resident doesn’t have a reasonable excuse for being late, or if this has happened multiple times, I would have to consider going to the chief resident for disciplinary action. If the resident is underperforming in their duties or not keeping up with their administrative tasks, this poses an additional threat to the other residents, patients, and students trying to function in a group-dependent environment. The nature of the disciplinary action will depend on the severity of the case, and the system enforced by the chief resident and program director, but I believe the best option would be to review the residents’ performance based on the objective criteria and issue a verbal warning if this is their first offense.
Residency Interview Question #15: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Sample answer: Once I complete an internal medicine residency, my goal is to start a fellowship in cardiology. Ever since I completed the adult cardiology elective during medical school, I’ve been set on pursuing a career as a cardiologist. Initially, I was thinking about working at a private practice, or perhaps even eventually opening my own. However, I gained a lot of hospital experience during my rotations and electives, and I really enjoyed the work environment. I met so many different patients, nurses, assistants, and other specialists that made it an enriching and stimulating experience. After residency, in the next three years or so I’d like to be working in a fellowship program. I would consider subspecializing further into areas such as interventional cardiology or advanced cardiac imaging, but I don’t have enough experience in those areas yet to know if that’s something I would like to do. I can say with some certainty that in the next ten years, I would like to settle down in the city with my partner close to the hospital where I end up working at. The city will give me access to a more diverse patient population and an opportunity to pursue research during my fellowship training.
Residency Interview Question #16: What is something that people don’t know about you?
Sample answer: Most people don’t know that I suffer from chronic pain. I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 20 after years of dealing with unexplainable joint pain, especially in my knees. I actually stopped playing hockey because the demand on my body was too much to handle. That’s what prompted me to see a specialist and also the reason why I chose to pursue an orthopedic residency. I talked to a few doctors before I was referred to this specialist who didn’t suspect arthritis, but eventually, other causes were ruled out. He was exceptionally kind and understanding; he made me feel sane and like there was hope for me to get better and be the active person I always was and wanted to be. I had arthroscopy on my knees, and the doctor found the inflammation and determined that additional surgery would be needed, which they were able to complete the same day.
The relief has been long-term. Though I still have days where I’m in pain, most of the time, it is manageable with the right tools and treatment. As someone who’s had to endure a condition that has interfered with so much of my life, I know that people often hide their emotional and physical pain. In a weird way, I don’t mind having arthritis, as it has given me the opportunity to learn about human nature, resiliency, hope, and compassion for those who are suffering. I believe that this life experience has given me the ability to detect hidden emotional or physical pain, and therefore adept at showing sympathy and understanding to patients.
Residency Interview Question #17: Tell me about a rewarding patient experience.
Sample answer: I was working with one particular patient who was enrolled in a cancer clinical trial when I was doing an oncology elective. The patient had arrived at the office early in the morning, and by the time she received a dose of the mRNA vaccine being trialed, she’d been in and out of so many offices to see some of the people working on her case, including me. She spent about five hours at the hospital in total, which made her understandably frustrated, confused, and stressed. After she received the dose she came for, I was discharging her when I decided to ask how the day went, even though she looked tired and annoyed. I wanted to give her an opportunity to vent, as I understood that patients in clinical trials often seek it as a last resort, which can often feel dehumanizing or hopeless. She sighed and explained that the day had gone horribly, that she was told she wouldn’t have to be here long, and that she’d been moved around all day without anyone’s help, without an ounce of sympathy shown from any of the doctors she spoke with. She was angry but composed in a defeated sort of way.
I told her that the way she’d been treated wasn’t right, but that I was determined to make the experience better for her. I asked what we could’ve done better, and she listed off a few things; most importantly, the amount of time it took. I told her that I would go straight away to my supervisor to discuss what caused the delays and the lethargic pace of the administration of treatment so she wouldn’t have to worry about it in the future. She didn’t thank me, but her expression suddenly looked lighter; she seemed to breathe easier, and it looked as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. I think this was such a memorable moment for me because I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of communicating with patients and allowing them to vent their frustrations. It’s an unappreciated aspect of care, I think, and I want to emphasize its role in the treatment of my future patients.
Residency Interview Question #18: What was the hardest decision you ever made?
Sample answer: One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was to put down my dog. I think what made it so difficult was its unexpected nature. My dog was old, blind, and had some pretty bad joint pain in her last two or three years. But she was on medication to help with the pain, and in general, she was a happy and energetic dog. One day when I came home from work, I found her lying on her side, panting. I didn’t know what happened, but she looked dazed and almost paralyzed, so I took her to the emergency vet clinic. As we entered the exam room, she had a seizure. The vet gave her some anti-seizure medicine, but she was in a state of anxiety. Nothing would calm her down, and she was suddenly unable to walk. The vet did an MRI, and the next day, they found a tumor on her brain. The vet explained that there was probably a very small chance of the treatment working, and even if it did, her injuries are extensive and debilitating. In tears, I decided right then to put her down. I didn’t want her to have to suffer anymore, so I did what I thought was right. A decision like this requires a complete lack of self-interest; even though this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, I learned a lot about the emotional aspects involved in something like euthanasia or other life-altering decisions, which has allowed me to sympathize with my patients more easily.
Do you want more practice? Check out this video:
1. What should I do after my residency interview?
One of the most important things to do after the interview is to note down your impressions of a program and the responses to the questions you asked. Remember, after your residency interviews, you'll need to create your Rank Order List (ROL). If you have multiple interviews, it can be difficult to remember the pros and cons of a particular program unless you have notes to refer back to. So, it's important to take notes on the program, faculty, school, location, along with anything that stood out in a good or bad way.
It's also a good idea to spend any free time you have talking with other faculty members or residents, asking questions, and viewing the hospital or clinic facilities. You want to get an overall impression of where you'll be spending your time in order to get a feel for the work environment.
2. Are there residency interview questions I don't have to answer?
Yes, interviewers are not permitted to ask you questions about race, religion, sex, age, national origin, or disabilities, so if any of these questions come up, you do not have to answer them.
In addition, you also don't have to answer questions about marital status, number of children or plans to start a family. However, you want to have a professional way of deflecting questions like this. Try something like: “I prefer to focus today on my professional and academic goals, and why I would make a strong candidate for this specialty and program. I am happy to answer questions that will help you determine that.”
3. Who will I be interviewing with?
It totally depends on the program, but you should be prepared to meet with program directors, faculty members, and residents at different stages in their training. In addition, members of the community or allied health professionals (RN, physiotherapists, etc.) are also possible.
4. What should I wear to my residency interview?
Medicine is still a conservative profession. Your personality should shine through your answers, not your appearance. For this reason, it’s important to dress professionally for your residency interview. A neutral pantsuit or skirt suit for women and a neutral suit and tie for men would be appropriate.
It's also important to make sure your outfit is both comfortable and breathable. Shoes should also be comfortable, neutral, and closed-toed – you'll be doing a lot of walking so you definitely don't want to be dealing with pain and blisters. Jewelry should be small and unobtrusive. Watches, small earrings or necklaces, and wedding bands are acceptable jewelry. Makeup should be light and natural-looking. Cover tattoos with clothing and your hair should be neat and off your face.
5. What additional questions should I ask my residency interviewers?
You want to ask questions that help you learn about a program's opportunities, residents, and faculty, in addition to questions relating to the location, patient population, extracurriculars, etc. Anything that is important to you and will help you put together your ROL is a good question to ask – as long as this information isn't obviously in plain sight on their website. The questions you ask will not only show your interest and enthusiasm towards a program, but it will also show the level of research you've done prior to arriving. Here are some examples of the
What is the patient population like?
What research programs are the faculty and residents currently working on?
How do residents do on board exams?
Is research required?
What is the call schedule like?
What do residents go on to do?
What are the types of clinical experiences I can expect?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this residency program?
How many full-time and part-time staff are there?
Are residents expected to help teach medical students?
What percentage of graduates from this program move to fellowships instead of practice?
What opportunities for there to get involved in the community?
How do residents achieve work-life balance?
Do residents have dedicated time for research projects and continuing education, as well as studying for board exams?
6. What is the most common residency interview format?
Most residency interviews are traditional one on one interviews or panel interviews – where two or more interviewers are asking questions. With this said, MMI interviews are becoming increasingly popular and are commonly used for larger programs with more residency spots such as internal medicine and family medicine.
7. What should I bring to my residency interview?
It's a good idea to bring a few extra copies of your CV in a folder as well as a notepad and a pen for taking notes afterward. Avoid bringing your luggage. Not only does it look unprofessional, but you'll be doing a lot of walking around and meeting people, you don't want to have to drag your luggage around all day. If you're catching your flight the same day as your interview, put your luggage in storage or ask your hotel to store it for you until after the interview.
Note that programs know a lot of travel is involved during interview season and they may have indicated a secure place where your luggage can be stored during your interview. Be sure to verify whether or not this is available before your interview.
8. What if I need to cancel my residency interview?
If you have to cancel your interview due to unforeseeable circumstances, ensure that you cancel as soon as possible so that program directors can offer your spot to another applicant. Obviously, canceling last minute does not reflect well on you and at no point should you fail to show up on interview day, unless an emergency situation has come up. If you have to cancel on the day of your interview, ensure that you call the program to let them know.
If you canceling with a week or a few week’s notice, you can send an email. For example, you could write “Good morning Dr. X, my name is A and I am an applicant to your family medicine program. Due to illness/natural disaster/family emergency, unfortunately, I cannot attend today’s interview. I apologize for this last-minute notification and I would not cancel unless it was an emergency. If it is possible to reschedule my interview, please let me know of an alternate date and time. I look forward to giving my best and showing my interest in your program.”
9. Do I need to introduce myself during my residency interview?
Yes! It is so important to make an excellent first and last impression because this is what interviewers will remember the most. For example, as an introduction, you could say “Hello, my name is X, thank you for interviewing me today. May I have your name?”. Then, you could conclude by saying “Thank you, Dr. B, for taking the time to interview me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you.”
10. Am I expected to shake hands with my interviewers?
Some programs prefer to let their applicant take the lead, this is especially true of MMIs. So, you can certainly instigate if you prefer shaking hands. Obviously, on a panel or traditional interview, if the interviewer sticks out their hand, it is unprofessional to not shake it. So, go ahead and do so if they offer.
11. What are some common question types I can expect during my residency interview?
Personal, program-based, scenario, and policy questions are the most common types of residency interview questions. However, it’s also possible to encounter task-based questions during the , video, or photo-based and written questions. If you would like to see more common residency interview questions, you can check out our list of .
12. I got asked something out of left field. Help!
If you are asked a quirky question, such as what kind of superhero would you be, or to perform a task you weren't expecting, the first step is to stay calm. Take a moment and don't be afraid to ask for one out loud to give yourself a chance to come up with an approach. When answering a quirky question, be sure to display an aspect of your personality. For example, if you're asked what organ in the body you would be, note that it’s not important which organ you pick, but what matters is that you address the why behind it.
So, if you say the liver, tie that back to how resilient you are by giving an example. To answer a task-based question, take a systematic approach. Solving the problem is usually less important than explaining why you are choosing to take certain steps and being clear in your actions. For example, if you are asked to build a Lego model, again, the goal is not accomplishing the task, but first clarifying the end goal and making a plan of manageable steps to get there, then tackling each step one by one.
13. How important is the residency interview really?
Once you are called for an interview, your performance can make up to 100% of your total score and will likely be the determining factor of receiving an acceptance. So, it’s extremely important! If you are applying to residency programs in Canada, be sure to review our ultimate interview prep guide.
14. I feel stressed about my residency interview! What do I do?
Firstly, feeling stressed is normal. Acknowledge that these are normal feelings for high-stakes interviews! In the long-term, preparation and strategy are essential. Ensure that you are practicing effectively by taking part in realistic mock interviews with expert personalized feedback.
Next, approach your practice in manageable chunks, instead of doing endless hours each day and burning yourself out. Lastly, exercise, eating right, and sleeping well are essential for managing stress. For short term stress management the day before and day of, make sure that you check out the campus if you have never been so you know where to go for your interview. Get a good night's sleep the night before and be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to allow time for parking and navigating to your interview room. If you're feeling nervous outside of the interview room, try these relaxation tips:
- Take small sips of water.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Visualize a calming scene (vacation spot) or receiving the match result of your choice to boost confidence.
- Relax your jaw by smiling.
15. Can I just read about residency interview questions online or do I really have to practice?
You should practice out loud, ideally using a realistic simulation – so it should be timed, should replicate actual interview conditions and you should dress appropriately. It's also smart to receive feedback from an objective, knowledgeable professional so you know what you did well and what to improve, otherwise, you risk cementing bad habits. You can’t learn to ride a bike by just reading about it online and so interviews are no different.
16. I use lots of “ums” or “likes” when I talk during interviews. Help!
Filler words are common in day-to-day speech. First, become aware of what your filler word is (um, uh, like, so, you know, etc). Next, work to eliminate these from your day-to-day speech by taking a brief pause instead of saying the filler word, and then continue with the rest of your sentence. You can monitor your filler word use by recording your answers and watching them back; count how many filler words you use per answer and work to cut that number down gradually.
17. How long should my residency interview answers be?
Always remember to prioritize quality over quantity. It’s much better to give a concise answer instead of rambling as a skilled physician must be able to communicate effectively with patients, colleagues, and other health care professionals.
For MMIs which have set times, it’s important to note that you do NOT have to use the whole time if you have given a well-rounded and comprehensive answer. For traditional or panel interviews, anywhere from 2-4 minutes may be appropriate, depending on the question. Again, having a concise but well-organized answer is key.
18. What follow-up should I do after my residency interview?
It’s a good idea to send your very first choice program a to inform them of your intention to rank them number one. For all other programs, it’s a nice touch to send a note thanking them for taking the opportunity and the time to interview you.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
The University of Arizona
University of Ottawa
Baylor College of Medicine