Disclaimer: This post was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the interview information may not be relevant during the 2020-2021 academic year.
This is part 4 of a 4-part series on residency interview strategies from Dr. Stacy Goldbaum. If you’re just joining us, make sure to check ( Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) to learn about questions you may be asked on the big day, and questions to ask the residents and program director.
So you’ve made it to fourth year of medical school, and you can finally see the bright, glittery light at the end of the tunnel. You’ve worked your butt off and finally having D.O. (shout out to my tribe!) or M.D. after your name is only a few short months away. But first there’s one more hurdle to jump over before you reach the finish line—residency interviews.
Interview season is both exhilarating and exhausting. With every interview, it’s one more chance to achieve your dream of becoming a physician. But how do you prep? What should you expect? Who can you ask for help? The friends you made in med school who have been down this road are now interns and working 80-hour weeks. Getting a moment of their time—good luck.
Clicking submit on the ERAS application is nerve-wracking—having done it twice applying for both residency and fellowship, I know this firsthand. But now having completed my training, I’ve also had the opportunity to be on the other side. From reading applications to leading hospital tours to sitting in on med student interviews, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to interview days.
With all of this experience, I’m here to help calm your concerns and provide guidance on what to anticipate on interview day so you that you can put your best self forward and have multiple programs ranking you. In this mini-series, we’re going to touch on prep for the interview, questions to ask the program director, questions to ask the current residents, and questions you will likely be asked yourself.
BACK TO THE BASICS - Part 1 of 4
You’ve already completed at least one interview in your lifetime for medical school, so this isn’t your first rodeo. But we can all be reminded of the tips and tricks that will make your interview day as flawless as possible. Below are some helpful hints to keep in mind and make you shine!
1. Dress professionally, and comfortably.
A suit with either a skirt or dress pants are both appropriate today. If you do decide to wear a skirt, be mindful of the length and test it out sitting to avoid any embarrassing moments. If you wear pantyhose, bring some clear nail polish in case you get a run.
You’re likely going to tour the hospital and possibly other associated facilities that may require a far walk, so make sure you wear comfortable, somewhat quiet shoes. I can still remember on more than one tour during my residency interviews, the natural moments of silence in conversation were shattered by some girl’s clunky shoes as she walked the hallways. And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget to watch the height of your heels if you decide not to wear flats. Very high heels may not be appropriate, and have been judged on the interview trail.
2. Schedule your first interview at a program that might not be on the top of your list or is at a program you rotated at if possible.
The first interview is a little rough with nerves and anxiety and you may find yourself flustered. Get one out of the way to build your self-confidence.
3. Arrive on time.
I can’t believe this has to be mentioned. First impressions are everything. If you’re interviewing at a location you’ve never been to, either find the site the day before the interview or give yourself a large time buffer the day of, even if it means sitting in your car and waiting to go in. If an unforeseen circumstance arises and you are going to be late, be courteous and professional, and call to inform them.
4. No gum. Mints are preferred.
Most programs will provide you with breakfast and/or lunch on interview day, but they often don’t tell you what food you will be provided or if you’ll eat before or after the interview. No one wants to see you chomping on gum like a horse while you answer questions, but if you need a refreshment, pop a small mint or two instead for a more discrete breath refresher.
BONUS TIP: Get nauseous easily? Try ginger candies like Gin Gins.
5. ALWAYS go to residency dinners if they’re offered.
Current residents usually attend the dinners and you can see how well they interact with each other, which is crucial to seeing how the next three to five years of your life can be. Your co-residents can become lifelong friends. In fact, I still talk to my co-residents at least 2 – 3 times a week since graduating.
Trust your gut though. At one program I interviewed at, the faculty and program director who interviewed me were fabulous and I loved the program. Once I went to the dinner though, I could tell that the residents didn’t get along and weren’t thrilled with their training. They ended up at the bottom of my rank list.
6. Don’t forget a thank you note.
While program directors receive a ton of these after each interview day, you don’t want to be the person who doesn’t send one. Either a thank you card or e-mail are suitable. It’s nice to send one to the other physicians and/or residents who you met with on interview day too.
BONUS TIP: Mention something specific that you learned about the program and how you’ll think you benefit from this aspect of training.
7. Reach out again closer to the time of rank list submission.
Programs are not allowed to contact you to gauge your interest. If you’re considering ranking a program, e-mail the program director again and let them know that you’re still interested and can see yourself as a great fit. It increases your chances of getting ranked.
ONE LAST BONUS TIP: Always take a look at the cafeteria during your interview. If they don’t show it to you on the tour, go back and look at it after you’re done with the interview. This is the food you’ll be eating for the next 3 – 5 years—majorly important.
I’m confident that if you learn from my experiences sitting on both sides of the table, your day will go as smooth as possible and you’ll avoid some of the common pitfalls I’ve seen other medical students make. Trust your gut and be yourself, and before you know it, that dim light at the end of the tunnel will shine bright upon you on match day.
Be sure to check out part 2 where Dr. Goldbaum will help you prepare for some of the more common questions you’ll likely be asked on interview day.