Program directors will almost always ask candidates the “what are you looking for most in a residency program” interview question. The aim of this question is to learn how the candidate’s attributes and experiences align with the program’s projected outcomes. In your answer, there are several boxes you need to check, including that you know how to plan your future after residency. And to be clear, this is not a residency interview behavioral question, as some applicants might think.

This article reviews how you should structure your answer to this question and provides some sample answers to help you start practicing your residency mock interviews.

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Why the “What Are You Looking for Most in a Residency Program” Interview Question Is Asked How to Structure Your Answer Sample Answers to “What Are You Looking for Most in a Residency Program” Interview Question FAQs

Why the “What Are You Looking for Most in a Residency Program” Interview Question Is Asked

Interview questions can vary, but this is a residency interview question you must know. There are a few reasons for why this question is so consistently asked. First, program directors want to see that your choice of specialty and program match your goals, personality, and what the program has to offer. They also want to know that your decision wasn’t impetuous or misinformed – indications of which will be duly noted; not only is vagueness a red flag in a residency personal statement, but it’s also a red flag for the interview.

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Here are the top 10 most endorsed candidate personal characteristics for program directors reviewing applicant data, according to the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), some of which can be learned from your answer to this residency interview question:

  1. ERAS letters of recommendation
  2. Residency personal statement
  3. Diversity characteristics
  4. Perceived commitment to specialty
  5. Having overcome significant obstacles
  6. Perceived interest in the program
  7. Leadership qualities
  8. Volunteer/extracurricular experience
  9. Personal prior knowledge of applicant
  10. Other life experience

Given these findings, your answer should demonstrate some of these personal characteristics; of course, it might not be possible to get to each of them in a single answer, but you should know what to target using this information as a springboard.

How to Structure Your Answer

Sample Answers to “What Are You Looking for Most in a Residency Program” Interview Question

Example 1

I’m looking for an immersive residency experience with supportive student activities and extracurriculars, particularly in the research division. To refer to my undergraduate studies – I worked as a research assistant during the summer, which gave me an opportunity to explore a variety of different fields and research types but mostly lab work. One of my main duties was to present research findings and prepare written reports for department meetings, and I found that this activity improved my communication skills immensely.

I continued on the research track in medical school. I already knew at this point that I would want my career to involve experimentation, so I was mainly concerned with finding a field that I wanted to specialize in. Two areas that I encountered while investigating were angiogenesis in the female reproductive system and the relationship between alcohol and the male reproductive system. These experimental studies in particular influenced my decision to pursue internal medicine but also kindled a professional relationship with a mentor, Dr. Phillis, who helped me clarify my goals and direct my attention to different projects and opportunities I might enjoy.

All students can benefit from a mentor regardless of how sure they are about what path they want to pursue. There are many subtle nuances to research and training that can become confusing or overwhelming, which is why I think a residency program should have a strong support system. This is precisely why I think a residency mentorship with clear milestones for professional growth is crucial. In terms of research-specific attributes, I’m intrigued by the simulation lab available to students and residents at your institution. There are, undoubtedly, many potentially dangerous and urgent clinical scenarios physicians will encounter that would be unethical to replicate – and the simulation lab is a rare practice environment that would allow me to explore interesting research projects.

Example 2

What I hope to get out of a resident training program is patient and colleague diversity. I’m a strong believer in the power of perspective, which is why I think it’s important that my specialized training environment isn’t confined. When researching residency programs, I focused on subspecialty options and corresponding learning experiences.

After completing a clerkship in a rehabilitation center for brain injuries, I discovered that the clinical skill demand for neurology is quite dynamic. I encountered several seizure patients, some of whom were diagnosed with psychogenic non-epileptic seizures using tools like video-EEG. The intensity and analytical nature of epileptic treatment sparked an interest in epilepsy fellowship training, which is why as I’ve been applying to residency programs; I’ve been looking specifically at the quality and extent of advanced training options.

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However, I still think it’s important for my development as a neurologist to have exposure in all the major subspecialty areas of neurology. At your institution, I’ve noticed that residents will gain experience in the neurology ward, and the hospital environment. This training structure will grant special access to the related branches of interest, including neurosurgery and emergency medicine. I also like how the foundational year expands on skill-building experiences at the urgent neurology clinic, where residents widen their foundational circuit to prepare for inpatient and outpatient clinical experience in third, fourth, and fifth year.

Example 3

One thing I wish I’d done more of in medical school was get involved in student activities. I spent most of my free time on research because I was set on developing my research skills. I worked on a variety of projects that influenced my residency program selection criteria – for example, nutritional medicine as a treatment method in psychiatry was what not only inspired my specialty choice, but my research interests as well.

Despite taking advantage of the research opportunities available at my medical school, I made the choice not to participate in any extracurriculars except one – I was a member of the advocacy group for LGBTQ+ issues related to medicine. As an advocate, I worked on a number of campaigns both on and off campus to promote awareness of barriers in health affecting this group in particular; it was a fulfilling and meaningful activity, but, in retrospect, I wish I had sacrificed some of the time I was lending to research activities to explore other causes.

I am seeking a program that aligns with my research interests and provides an immersive training experience outside of clinical exposure. The teaching and mentorship aspect of your program appeals to these interests, and, I think, will be an opportunity to develop important soft skills like teamwork and communication. In addition to pairing with a medical student and taking on the role of a guide, participating in research meetings, where I’ll have the chance to present my research and potentially join new projects, is a training formula that I’d like to be a part of.

Example 4

My primary interest in a residency program is location: proximity to a support system outside of the training environment. Being close to my husband, who is a visiting lecturer at your institution, is an important part of why I made the decision to apply to your program. As I grew up in this city, I also know it quite well; during my premed studies, I worked as an elementary school tutor and volunteered as a patient visitor in a hospital. As I tutor, I worked with some students with learning disabilities, which opened my eyes to some of the challenges faced by educators and the need to give a voice to those who learn differently. As a patient visitor, I was responsible for organizing recreational activities for children and offering respite for families or caregivers.

During a pediatric clerkship, I had the opportunity to develop my communication and patient assessment skills for a variety of age groups. I learned, among other things, to assess whether a child is growing normally and identify cultural factors in patient management.

From this experience, I developed a few goals for what I wanted in my residency training: first, based on what I’ve learned in inpatient settings, that it would make sense for my training to take place at a stand-alone children’s hospital, which tends to provide a more comprehensive care package for pediatric patients. A suitable training environment for me will also have plenty of specialty exposure. The combined and more detailed and lengthy rotations are a compelling aspect of your program that wouldn’t necessarily be possible for single specialty rotations.

Example 5

As a young boy, I was incessantly curious. I could sit for hours playing word games and solving puzzles, much to the amusement and sometimes exasperation of my family. I wanted to understand everything; the bombardment of questions I had for my parents was at times, an impossible annoyance. In medical school, however, not only was this ravenous questioning not ignored, but it was encouraged.

During my premed studies, I volunteered at an HIV health network. My job was to promote public awareness about prevention and treatment, as well as fundraising awareness for treatment and research. Throughout medical school, I satisfied my intellectual hunger researching the pathogenesis of HIV using mathematical models of HIV dynamics and disease progression. I was determined, at that point, to find a residency program where I could explore this research area in more depth.

That’s when I came across your program’s computational and systems pathology lab. Some of the active research interests, such as developing image analysis approaches for digital pathology applications, sparked my interest. My inclination toward your program structure is mainly due to the training environment you offer, where I can use my mathematical proclivities to develop as a pathologist and as a researcher.


1. Why do residency programs want to know what I look for in a program?

Program directors mainly want to verify that your choices are deliberate. They will evaluate your answers based on the characteristics you demonstrate, such as leadership and motivation.

2. How much do I need to talk about my personal background?

Keep your discussion of your personal background to a minimum; you can describe aspects of your personal background only if they relate to your chosen specialty or what you’re looking for in a program.

3. What do program directors look for in a candidate?

There are many characteristics that program directors care about. A few of them are perceived commitment to chosen specialty; leadership skills; interpersonal skills; and diversity characteristics.

4. How should I structure my answer to this question?

First, discuss your educational background as it relates to your residency program criteria; then, get into the specifics of what exactly you want from a program; finally, relate your goals and aspirations to what the program offers. Be specific!

5. What should I be looking for in a program?

There are many factors that can inform your interest in a program, such as the opportunity to work with a specific patient population, the clinical experience format, the subspecialty focus, specific faculty members, and research productivity. Learn some of the best questions to ask residency programs to find out more.

6. Are there any other iterations of this question that I should be prepared for?

Yes, sometimes the wording of this question can vary. Here are some other versions of the question that you can apply the same structure to:

  • What are you hoping to gain from our residency program?
  • What makes our program right for you?
  • What do you hope to gain from your training in X specialty?
7. If I’ve met any of the faculty members personally, should I mention this in my answer?

You can sometimes reveal your relationship with faculty members or mentors, but keep it professional. For example, describe a particular research activity or clinical experience in which your mentor influenced your decision to pursue a certain educational path.

8. Should my answer be specific to the specialty?

Yes, your answer should demonstrate commitment to your specialty. You could, for instance, talk about the subspecialty rotation format, or the research areas specific to the specialty that you’re interested in.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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