As much as the residency program is trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for them, you need to figure out if they’re a good fit for you too.
During the interview day, you will have the opportunity to meet with current residents and ask them questions about their experience. Below is a list of essential questions that you should have answered by the end of your interview day. While a lot of these you may learn about during a presentation or tour, you’re going to want to know what to expect should you complete your training there. This is the perfect time to ask those who are in the trenches themselves, and often it is less intimidating to ask them rather than the program director. The ones that are starred (*) and in bold are my “MUST ASK” questions.
Also, keep in mind that I did my residency in Internal Medicine, so these may not all apply to your desired specialty, but can still help guide you when trying to figure out where to start.
BONUS TIP BEFORE WE BEGIN: Write down the answers while you’re there. It’s perfectly ok during the interview day to take notes and write things down as you hear them. In fact, most students don’t, and this will help you stand out even more. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, then write down everything you remember while sitting in the car after you’re done with the day. After completing multiple interviews (GO YOU!), it’s going to be tough to remember the details that distinguish each program from each other when it comes time to make a rank list four to five months later.
1. The Daily Schedule.
What time do you typically start your day? What time do you typically end your day?
If you are in a specialty that rounds, when do attending usually round? How does the rest of your day look? As an inpatient service, do you do admissions in the afternoon?
*How many patients do the interns/residents usually carry? Is there a cap? Do you feel comfortable managing this many patients?*
Making the transition from med student to intern is overwhelming no matter who you are, and you want to make sure that you’re set up for success in every way possible, including having a manageable amount of patients to take care of.
How often do you stay later than your scheduled shift?
Are notes completed on or after your shift.
How many patients do the residents usually see?
Is the clinic attached to the hospital or do you need to drive?
One program I rotated at had their clinic an hour away. Gas was not included in the stipend and weather (i.e. snow) needed to be taken into consideration.
3. Call Schedule.
For inpatient services, how does call work? Is it a short call/long call schedule, or just 24-hour shifts? (Correction: Both ACGME and AOA programs allow interns to cover 24 hour shifts. Thanks to Amy Oxentenko for bringing this to my attention.) Or is there a rotation of a month of nights so you don’t take night call the rest of the year?
Who covers the ICU at night, and who covers the floors?
Are there any attendings in the hospital at night? Or are you only taking call with a senior resident?
*What EMR do they use? *
This is perhaps the MOST important question you need to ask. It may not seem like it now, but your EMR and amount of clicking can add a significant amount of time to your day. After using five different EMR systems, (AND freaking paper notes), I personally prefer EPIC, and a lot of colleagues seem to agree.
Is this EMR the same in the hospital and clinic?
This is extremely helpful during admissions when trying to get a medical history.
Do you have remote access at home? This allows you to work on case presentations and finish notes from the comfort of your couch while watching Bravo or Netflix.
What types of resident education and lectures are typical for the program?
A good Internal Medicine program will have case-based morning report, lectures from various specialists, tumor board, morbidity and mortality, and grand rounds.
Are they led by residents, attendings of different specialties or both?
Do they include a formal board review, and what does this consist of?
Does the library have MKSAP/Audio Digest books and videos available to you for free?
Some programs make you do board review on your own, some have guided lessons, and some have online question banks for you to do.
6. Overnight Resources.
Is the library accessible 24 hours a day?
*Do they have UpToDate or Clinical Key when you need to look something up quickly?*
You’d be surprised at how many hospitals do NOT have these available to trainees, and to purchase on your own can cost hundreds of dollars.
7. Stipends. Typically books and board review products are covered, but there are additional items that you should ask about.
Do electronics count, such as an iPad?
Is there a separate stipend for travel for conferences?
Is Step 3 covered?
*Is food provided?*
Is it every day or only on days you’re on call?
Is the cafeteria open for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Some hospitals are NOT open for dinner which can affect your meals on call.
BONUS TIP: If going into primary care, ask about an out-of-state moving stipend or sign-on bonus. Some programs will offer this, especially if in a more rural area.
8. Procedures. i.e., Central lines, A-lines, intubations, emergency trach placement, NG/OG tubes, chest tubes, crics, etc.
If you’re at a hospital with multiple programs, who’s up first to doing them? Surgery, Internal Medicine, Anesthesia, Emergency Medicine?
Is there a simulation lab on-site for practicing procedures?
Who’s running codes?
9. Social Life.
You can tell right away how the residents get along if there’s more than one at an interview lunch or dinner.
Are there planned events through the program?
Do they hang out with residents in other specialties?
Some of my closest friends in residency were surgery and pharmacy residents who I still keep in contact with today.
10. Strengths and Weaknesses.
What are they?
*Have there been any major changes since starting the program?*
This can tell you if the program director listens to feedback and actually makes suggested changes.
*How available and approachable are the attendings?* Do you feel comfortable calling them in the middle of the night if needed?
Bonus Questions – These are pretty self-explanatory.
How many days off do you get for vacation? How do holidays work?
Do NOT be afraid to ask this question. Vacation and time away from work is needed to prevent burn-out!
Do residents have opportunities to go on a mission trip?
Are you able to moonlight?
Are residents required to do dictations/discharge summaries?
I know these questions seem like a lot and are overwhelming, but at the end of the day you need to make the most informed decision when choosing your rank list. Did my OCD, type A personality ask all of these questions? Of course. Do you yourself need to ask all of them? Probably not. But at least having a few in the back of your mind will not only help you stand out from the students who don’t ask anything, but also will make you more knowledgeable in terms of knowing what your life will be like for the next 3 – 5 years.
In Part 4 of our mini-series, I’ll discuss even more questions you should ask on the interview, but this time to the program director, so that you can make a lasting impression. Also, check out the #SheMDInterviewSeries special from a PROGRAM DIRECTOR!