Residency Interviews: Preparing

Welcome to the Residency Interview Series. Be sure to check out the posts on what to wear to the interview, packing and traveling tips, and the crazy price of it all! I'm always happy to answer any questions in the comments section.



Let's start with the good stuff - the BEST piece of advice I received all season --

Figure out what you want from a program

Before my first interview, one of my mentors called to give me advice and the first question he asked was "Okay. What are you looking for from a program?" My response was "I just want to match." To which he responded "No. This is a two-way interview. Let's figure out what you're looking for." So, we came up with a list together --

  1. Excellent clinical training with well rounded exposure to general dermatology, pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology, and Mohs surgery.
  2. Significant exposure to skin of color
  3. Strong reputation
  4. Location
  5. VA
  6. Feel

This outline helped me categorize the information I received in distinct boxes. I pretty much dumped all of the extraneous information that wasn't really that important to me.  Academic half days, didactic schedules, resident vs. faculty led lectures -- these are all important things that define a program, but they weren't deal breakers for me. Once a program met all six of my essential criteria, I could look at the details.

After each interview, I would quickly jot down the program's name and check off all of the criteria they met. I would also rate each program on a general scale of 1-10 on feel, with my home program - which I loved greatly - as my anchor.

The person I developed this list with was recently done with dermatology residency so he was close enough to the match and residency process to remember how overwhelming it is, but far enough out that he also saw the value in things that he hated as a resident (for example - returning patient phone calls himself (instead of the clinic nurse) improved his in-office counseling skills because he is now able to anticipate the questions his patients will have when they get home). 


Preparation for each individual interview

This might be program specific, but I barely prepared. All of the programs run together during the season and you're so busy and tired. Plus, most programs give you a short introduction before interviews start (because they're selling their program to you as much as you are selling yourself to them). I had one program who did the introduction at lunch time, so you know what I asked about? My key points. "Are clinics resident or attending run?" "How does the patient population differ between sites?" You absolutely should have a few go to questions, but they shouldn't be questions for the sake of having questions. You only have a few hours with this program before you decide if you want to spend 3-7 years of your medical training there. This is a big deal. You should have questions.

I discussed this with a dermatology PGY-3; he looked everyone up on pubmed before interviews. This might be more doable if you're only interviewing with one or two people and you know who they are in advance. For dermatology interviews, you're spending 8-12 minutes with 10-16 faculty members. I wouldn't waste the time. Remember, this is about who you genuinely are - not who you think the person interviewing you will be interested in.


Preparation for interviews in general

First and foremost - Be honest. It is possible to be charismatic and genuine. I promise.

Second - You NEED to have brief, well-composed answers to the following questions:

  1. "Tell me about yourself"
  2. "How'd you get interested in [residency specialty]?"
  3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

You need to practice these answers out loud to a very honest friend/family member. If you do not, practice aloud, you will fumble because you think you know what you're going to say and then it's a mess. It's okay to repeat what's in your personal statement because most likely no one read your personal statement. #3 is especially important for you to determine what you're looking for in a residency program. My answer was "I don't know if I'll do a fellowship or not. I'm interested in all 3 of the specialty tracks, which makes me think I'll probably do general dermatology. For that reason, I need a well-rounded program that will give me adequate exposure to all 3 sub-specialties as well as general dermatology."


Most of my interviews were behavioral questions, such as "tell me about a time.." I would suggest reflecting on a few patient encounters that really shaped your view of medicine, specifically how that relates to the type of doctor you want to be. I told the same two stories throughout the season, not because I memorized them, but because they were such monumental encounters that will forever stay with me. I'll list below sample questions.


I would advice you to take the time you're waiting for interviews to become an interesting person. Indulge in pop culture. Read what people are reading. Watch what people are watching. I read a lot in the months before residency interviews, and that helped me bond with so many interviewers who'd read the same book. I also talked about running a lot. If you're fumbling on a question, find a way to tie in one of these pop culture references to maybe find a common thread. For example: I was asked to teach my interviewer how to do something, which I completely blanked on. After an awkward pause of 20 seconds, I said "well, i can teach you how to train for a marathon" which lead to lots of conversation because they were getting ready to train for a race and when did I run a marathon and what other tips do I have, etc, etc, etc.


On that awkward silence note. I encourage you to use the phrase "let me think about that for a second" if a question stumps you, but after about 30 seconds, just start talking and see where it leads you. 80% of the time, I found where I wanted to go in the middle of my rambling; the other 20% ended in total failure - but then the question is over and you move on to the next topic. (This attitude also works for life. Sometimes you fail, but it's okay!)


Be prepared to talk about everything on your CV. I did a lot of research during medical school, but one of the projects people were most interested in was a project that I had the least involvement with. Even if you were peripherally involved in something, if it's on your CV you should be able to discuss it with some degree of detail.


I've listed below a few questions I remember. I don't really recommend thinking too long on these. I think interviews go better if there's some spontaneity, but I also naturally interview very well. If interviewing isn't your strong suit, these might benefit you.

1. How would your friends describe you?

2. How would your worst enemy describe you?

3. If you weren't in medicine, what would you do?

4. Teach me how to do something.

5. What questions do you have for me?

6. What's something you're proud of outside of medicine?

7. What do you do in your free time?

8. Would you move here? - be prepared for this if you have no obvious ties to a city. Remember, this is a two way interview. They want to know that you would pack up all of your stuff and move to Minnesota for their program.

9. What's your weakness? - I recommend doing a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weakness, and opportunities for growth.

Please share any additional tips or questions you have in the comments section!