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What Residency Programs Really Want to Learn About You during the Residency Interview

The finish line is in sight: You’ve survived three years of medical school, passed your board exams and spent hours – and dollars – on residency applications. As you receive your interview invitations, it’s natural to feel a little nervous. For many future physicians, these opportunities mark their very first professional interviews. Even for those with years of work experience, the unique, high-pressure dynamic of residency interviews can be incredibly worrying.

While there is certainly a lot riding on these interviews, it’s important to keep perspective. The goal of any residency interview is to get to know the candidate and what they’ll bring to the table – compatibility, not perfection, is key here. As you prepare for your interviews, it may help to get inside the minds of the stakeholders. Here are just a few of the most burning things interviewers want to know about you:

Be Prepared to Articulate Your Goals

The mission of any residency interviewer is to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for their program. If your goals aren’t aligned, neither party will have a good experience. Prepare for questions on why you chose to apply, what made you interested in your particular specialty area and what motivated you to become a doctor in the first place. 

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Honest answers are always best when it comes to questions about your goals – they are perhaps the most important topic of the interview, after all. By sharing your hopes, dreams and professional objectives with interviewers, you’ll set yourself up for a residency experience that’s perfectly aligned to your career goals. Interviewers respect that honesty, and when your personal hopes for a residency match the mission of the program, the fit becomes obvious.

Show Your Compatibility with a Program 

Goals are just one aspect of your overall compatibility with a residency program. You’ll also need to fulfill certain professional requirements to fit each program’s needs. Practice area, clinical experience, visa sponsorship, and time since graduation are all factored into the program’s decision to match with a resident. To ensure you’re highlighting all your professional achievements, be sure to study your personal statement and noteworthy characteristics ahead of time. While it seems like it should be second-nature, you’d be surprised at just how many candidates struggle to speak eloquently about their experience.

Compatibility goes beyond mere achievements and accolades. To really connect with a residency program interviewer, ask honest questions about any concerns you might have. While it’s tough to remember sometimes, you’re interviewing the program just as much as they are interviewing you! By posing specific questions about what lies ahead, you’ll come across as transparent, honest and inquisitive – all highly prized traits of residents.

Demonstrate Your Commitment to Your Specialty

Residency programs want to work with professionals who are committed to their mission above all else. While you might see the program as the next stepping stone in your career, interviewers want to match with residents that are truly passionate about the opportunity. This matching process is incredibly competitive, and to stand out from the pack, you’ll need to demonstrate a real commitment to your specialty.

There’s no better way to showcase your passion than by nailing specific questions about your subject area. Do your homework ahead of time to learn the most common kinds of questions asked of residents in your specialty area, then practice responding in a confident, thorough manner. Exude confidence in your replies and your commitment will speak for itself.

Let Your Personality Shine but Keep it Professional

A doctor’s bedside manner isn’t reserved just for patients. Residency interviewers will be looking for your professionalism, personality and overall demeanor during your conversation. This can be challenging to prepare for – no matter how many practice questions you answer, your overall demeanor won’t change much. The key to acing this aspect of the interview? Take a deep breath and relax.

While it’s easier said than done, relaxing before and during your residency interview is vital to your success. Ultimately, interviews are just conversations. By taking a more even-keeled approach to the conversation, your personality will be able to shine through. Always maintain a respectful, polite tone, but don’t be afraid to chat with interviewers about your passions, your motivations and what excites you most. 

Hint at Your Post-Residency Plans

No interviewer expects you to have your entire career figured out. That said, be ready to speak about your post-residency goals and interests. If you have an interest in working in a major academic center doing research, you’ll want to address these hopes should they come up. Even if you’re not sure on exactly what you see yourself doing in 10 years, it’s important to have some idea of your professional goals. 

While it’s important to be honest about your hopes for the future, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make a decision for the interview. When it comes time to make such a choice, residency interviews will be in your rearview. Still, it helps to have a talking point prepared to ensure your goals are aligned with the mission of the program. 

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