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SheMD Interview Tips Part 2: What You Will Be Asked

QUESTIONS YOU’LL LIKELY BE ASKED ON INTERVIEWS - Part 2 of 4. If you haven’t yet read part 1, make sure to go back to last week’s blog to learn about interview basics.

You’ve confirmed your interview, found the perfect suit (and quiet shoes), and stocked up on mints, but now the jitters are settling in as you try to anticipate what questions you’ll likely be asked. After interviewing at multiple programs for residency and fellowship, and also conducting some of these interviews, I’ve found that there are some pretty standard questions that you’ll be asked at almost each program.

Today we’ll go through the more common ones so that you can prepare some kick-ass answers instead of getting all flustered and tongue-tied. While I can’t guarantee that you will be asked all of these, rehearsing what you’re going to say to some of the basics, without sounding too scripted, can help build your confidence on the big day.

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1. Tell me about yourself.

  • I personally HATE this one. It’s not a question, it’s a vague statement pretending to be a question. But it’s a lead-in to the rest of the interview, so be prepared for this to start you off. You should be able to come up with 3 or 4 sentences that briefly describe who you are and what interests you. Try talking about where you’re from, if you’re an only child or have siblings, why medicine. These responses can help guide the next set of questions they were planning on asking anyways – what drew you to this area if you’re not a local? What do you like to do in your spare time?

2. Why {Insert your preferred specialty}? i.e. Why Internal Medicine?

  • Of course they want to know why you applied for this specialty. Was there a case during your third-year rotations that drew you to this? Was a family member affected by a certain disease that pertains to this specialty? Use a story to draw the interviewer in.  

    • My (very brief) Endocrinology story: I’ve always had a love for puzzles since I was probably three years old and the excitement of completing one has never stopped. Endocrinology is like figuring out a puzzle—where in the hormonal pathway is the breakdown? Is it in the primary organ itself? Or do I need to backtrack to the pituitary? Endocrine is cerebral and rational, and fulfills my love for completing a challenge, with the reward of successfully helping to improve my patients’ lives.

BONUS TIP: They may also reverse this and ask you if you weren’t going into medicine, what would you do?

3. Why our program? What are you looking for in a program?

  • Do your research and look up the program’s website prior to interview day. Is there something specific that they mention that separates them from other places your applying? Mention these details in your answer and how you see it significantly improving your training.

    • At one program, rapids and codes were run by the senior residents the first half of the year, with the interns taking over in January while a senior was by their side. This allowed the interns to get comfortable running one before they started their second year. I thought this was a fabulous see one, do one, teach one philosophy and really set them apart from other places I interviewed at.

BONUS TIP: Look up the program’s or hospital’s mission statement, and slip in some key

buzz words in your answer that you know align with their views.

4. Describe your strengths and weaknesses.

  • You knew this one was coming. Ask your siblings and best friends to help you with this. They’ll be honest and provide you with great answers that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

  • It’s also good to find a weakness that can sometimes be a strength – Sometimes my perfectionist behavior prevents me from delegating and distracts from the bigger picture.  

5. Describe an obstacle you’ve overcome and how you dealt with it. What did you learn?

  • Again, come up with a story that’s relatable and how you learned new skills that will make you a better physician.

  • Another version of this for those who are not stellar test takers is that you may be asked to explain your board scores. Don’t freak out—you’re already at the interview so now you have an opportunity to explain the situation. Maybe discuss your resilience to overcome a not-so-hot score and what you learned from it. Did you fail step 1 the first time you took it, but pass step 2 right away? Discuss your adaptability in changing your study strategy and how you feel this is a strong attribute that a physician should have.

BONUS TIP: Make sure you aren’t recycling the same story as an answer to each of these questions. A variety of stories that display your different attributes make you look more qualified to be a part of their training program.

6. Case-based Questions: Usually these are ethical questions where they want to assess your critical thinking skills, but they can also ask medical-knowledge based questions as well. If the latter is the case, it’s ok to say “I don’t know” to a question. Remember, you’re still a student learning daily and being honest is something we look for in trainees. Themes often asked:

  • Collaboration: How would you deal with a situation in which you and a surgical intern have differing opinions on treating a patient with an acute abdomen?

  • Communication and Conflict Resolution: A nurse changes your orders; how do you approach the situation?

  • Leadership: A fellow resident isn’t pulling their weight, what do you do?

  • Describe an interesting case.

    • Did you get to see a zebra like a pheochromocytoma? Did a patient you formed a bond with pass away suddenly? Did a general surgeon perform an emergency c-section at a hospital where there wasn’t OBGYN?

      • Why did these things peak your interest? Provide this as part of your story as well.

7. For my osteopathic trainees, especially if applying to AOA programs:

  • Why DO?

  • How important is osteopathic training to you?

  • How do you plan to incorporate OMT into your future practice?

8. The Random Questions. These have nothing to do with medicine but are geared towards gauging your personality and interests.

  • What social event do you plan for you and your fellow interns after working a 12-hour shift?

  • If you could have one wish, what would it be? (Cannot be more wishes)

  • If you were on a deserted island, what one item would you bring?

9. Questions you should NEVER be asked. These are huge red flags you need to consider when making your rank list.

  • Where else are you applying?

  • Are you married? (although they may be able to gather this from glancing at your left hand)

  • Are you planning pregnancy during your training?

  • Will you be ranking us? Asked to me by a program director at the end of the interview day.

ONE LAST BONUS TIP: Anything you put in your ERAS application is fair game. Make sure to read this over before interview day. They may ask you to describe your undergraduate research, leadership opportunities, poster presentations, etc.

You may think it’s easy to talk about yourself and answer the above questions, but with nerves settling in, your answers can get messy very quickly. Remember to sit up straight, lean forward to show interest, and make eye contact. Practice really does make perfect. Rehearse with a friend or family member. Make a coffee (or wine) date with one of your peers and ask each other some of these questions, of course providing honest feedback. With your answers in mind, you’re well on your way to a successful interview season!

Be sure to check out part 3 and part 4 of our mini-series for when it’s now your turn to ask the questions on interview day. We’ll delve into what questions you should ask the current residents and the program directors, so that you can make the most informed decision when making your rank list.

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