Are you preparing for your residency interview? Read MUA’s guide on how to prepare and what questions to ask.
After getting into medical school in the first place — and surviving your first hectic rotation — securing a residency in a postgraduate program will be one of the greatest achievements in your journey to becoming a fully qualified MD. Some doctors describe the process as like applying to medical school all over again, but with harder questions. While it is undoubtedly a rigorous process, remembering some crucial basics will help you to cut through the crowds and achieve a residency most suited to your skills.
What are residency interviews like?
Residency interviews take place between you, the candidate, and a panel assembled by the director of postgraduate studies at the institution you have been matched with. They vary in length but they will consist of similar kinds of questions.
Most of the interview will be taken up with their questions to you and you should expect the majority of these to be open ended. The panel will want to see where you take the questions and how you come across. There will also be time for you to ask your own questions, which you can read more about below. It’s important to be aware that the interviewers are learning about you from your answers and questions, while also gauging who you are as an individual. One of the mistakes that anxious interviewees can make is being over-ambitious with how much detail they plan to convey in a short interview. Too much unnecessary detail is unmemorable and conveys that you can’t prioritize.
When do residency interviews start?
The majority of residency interviews take place between October and January because of the “Match” process that most institutions have signed up to. Short for ‘Main Residency Match’ — this is a mechanism that uses an algorithm to sort through all applicant specialisms and rankings, and all available residency places. Apparently, it takes just 3 to 5 minutes for all this data to be sorted, and at the end of the process, all applicants have a list of matches, and all programs have a list of interviewees.
You will then be contacted by the institutions you match with and given an interview time and place.
Common residency interview questions
Before going into some of the common questions you may be asked in your interview, it is important to note that ‘one size fits all’ preparation is not going to cut it. Of course, the experiences you bring to the process won’t change but when preparing, you should be thinking about these interviews as completely separate events.
Typical questions will be open-ended like:
1. Tell us about yourself
Packing your answer with as much detail about your achievements at medical school is an easy way to switch people off. They will have read your personal statement, CV and letters of recommendation. What they are really wanting to find out is how you’ll be to work with. Give them some personal context and by all means connect any story you tell to your interest in medicine, if there is a natural link to be found.
2. Why are you applying to this specialty?
You will already have addressed this in your personal statement, and it is important not to introduce entirely new reasons. Think about your journey through medical school. Were there any patients, staff members, diagnostic victories or other learning experiences that contributed to that realization? This is the time to join the dots using volunteering or pre-Med work experience, if it’s relevant to the specialty.
3. What do you think your weaknesses are?
So much is written about this point in interviews more generally. It is not helpful to try and disguise a strength as a weakness. The panel will catch it and you risk coming across as disingenuous.
“I work too hard” as code for “you can depend on me”, won’t work. Burn out is a real problem in medicine. Far better to talk about how you have taken up a sport or a hobby to support your wellbeing and explain how this has made you a better practitioner.
What questions should you ask during residency interview?
Asking a really good question is one of the best ways to make a good impression. Make sure you read every word on the institution’s website because asking for easily available information can just come across as lazy. Actively research the program and the staff who run it. If you can direct a good question at a specific member of the panel then they will at least remember you.
Asking for advice is also fine, it demonstrates humility, but try and think of an interesting way to put the question.
Example: If you will be serving a particular community, ask what particular qualities or practices help a new resident to serve that community well?
Make sure that you listen to the answers that you are given, and if you need a short pause before asking a follow up question, take one. Try not to prepare follow-up questions beforehand because they can stop you from actually listening to the responses you get.
How to make sure you are successful: final tips
The most successful candidates are the ones who present as genuine people who will be easy to get along with on a daily basis. You will be nervous, so expect to be nervous. Here are some further tips to help you make the dream residency yours:
1. Practice with people who don’t know you well
They will give you the best and most real advice. The camera doesn’t lie either. Record you practicing and prepare to be honest with yourself about areas to improve. This is not the time for family and friends, who may only see the best of you.
2. Read the ‘values’ or ‘mission statement’ of your interview institutions
They may have them, they may not. These can seem a bit vague and non-specific when read at first, but you can guarantee that all the important staff members will have been involved in creating them and signing them off. You don’t have to be able to evidence how you fly the flag for each value, but try making one into a talking point in a practice interview.
3. Take notes
Practice this in mock interviews. Don’t make this important interview your first one! Taking a few brief notes will help you refer to something specific if you chose to send a thank you note or email (which you should). When they speak, making notes will show you are taking them seriously. Also try to look up for eye contact.
4. All contact is part of the interview
The emails you send to arrange time and place should be warm, polite and typo-free. Any phone contact with the institution makes an impression. Consider all optional events as mandatory. Not everyone will. These are a chance to meet faculty and maybe even spend some one-on-one time with the people who then interview you.
Treat everyone you come across with respect, including all fellow applicants. You could be working with them in future and you never know who might be watching.
5. Most importantly, give yourself time
This applies at every stage. Schedule time for prep, mock interviews and research. Arrive in the city the night before, leave plenty of time to get there so you do not appear rushed or disheveled.
Your journey towards securing the best residency program for you starts with a great medical school. So, if you want to boost your career, contact us today to find out more about our MD programs.