Prepare for your medical residency interview with these common questions – and tips for how to answer them.
As you wrap up medical school and prepare to apply to residency programs, you’ll likely experience some deja vu to four years earlier when you were applying to medical school. You’ll use the ERAS, which is another standardized application system from the AAMC, you’ll have to write another personal statement (this time about how your time in medical school guided toward a particular specialty), and you’ll have to prepare for interviews with residency program directors.
In addition to being well-groomed, well-spoken, and making an overall great impression, how can you prepare for your residency interviews? Here are some of the most common interview questions we’ve heard over the years – and how to answer them.
First, the Impression You Make is More Important than the Answers You Give
Many of today’s residency ‘interviews’ are more like campus tours, with much of your time spent watching presentations, engaging with faculty, staff and other residents, and discovering whether the program is a good match for both of you. The formal interview process of sitting around a big table with program directors and staff firing questions at you is rather antiquated.
The interview really is to see if your personality and professionalism is a good fit for the program’s current team and patients. Ideally, you choose to stay at the same facility and practice after your residency is over, so the program is invested in choosing the best applicants for the job.
So it’s not so much a matter of what your answers actually are, but how you answer and engage with faculty and staff. It’s about the impression you make and whether you fit in with the company culture. This means that from the moment you receive an interview invitation until after you send a thank you, you should consider any and all interactions with anyone involved in the program before, during, and after the ‘interview’ all part of the interview process.
Everyone from front office staff to program directors and current residents will weigh in on whether they can see themselves working with you — just as you should use the interview time to decide if you can picture yourself there for the next 3+ years.
Common Residency Interview Questions & Answers
Now let’s dive into some of the common residency interview questions and answers we’ve heard over the years.
#1 – Tell me about yourself
The most ambiguous interview question ever! The mistake many residency applicants make here is assuming they should launch into their med school experiences. But that information is already on your application. If you made it through medical school and aced your boards, you’re clearly qualified to enter a residency training program. You’ve already made the clinical and academic cut, so be mindful that you don’t spend all of the interview talking about your accolades.
Instead, use this question to introduce yourself as a person rather than a future doctor. Talk about your upbringing, interests, hobbies, and your family. Talk about your hometown, how far you moved for medical school, and where you like to travel.
“Tell me about yourself” is supposed to be a conversation starter that segues into other topics — but it really is a getting-to-know-you-personally question more than anything.
#2 – Why did you choose this specialty?
This one is the equivalent to “why do you want to go to medical school” that you answered four years ago. It’s a biggie.
First, make sure you answer consistently with what you wrote in your residency personal statement. Of course, don’t memorize it and recite it word for word! Recount the experiences and anecdotes that you wrote about and expound on them in a conversational manner. Often there’s an ah-ha! moment when you discover your passion for a specific specialty — it’s ok to share this and exhibit some excitement and enjoy a moment of camaraderie with the people you’re talking to!
The goal is to be authentic and personable in your response.
#3 – Why are you interested in joining this particular program?
Remember that you’re interviewing the program as much as they’re interviewing you. Don’t feel the need to automatically list all of the favorable attributes the program is known for.
Before your interview, really research the program. Why ARE you genuinely interested in joining it??
#4 – What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This is another uncomfortable question that can be difficult to navigate.
For strengths, think of some things that you genuinely do well and use examples from your application or CV to support them. Expound on the experiences you listed and why your skills and traits make you well-equipped to handle those situations. For a weakness, think of something you have struggled with and share how you have worked to improve or overcome it. Maybe you have always had a “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” mentality, but certain team experiences during rotations changed your perspective and you’ve devised ways to effectively delegate.
#5 – Tell me about a time you struggled to work with a colleague — are there certain traits you dislike in coworkers?
Resist the urge to go off on a tangent about lazy, arrogant, or aloof people you’ve had to work with in the past. The purpose of this question is not actually about things you dislike, but how you manage to handle them with patience, grace, and professionalism.
As a physician, you don’t get to choose your patients or your colleagues (unless you eventually start your own practice). You will have to work with the full spectrum of personalities and dispositions, and you will no doubt encounter some unpleasantries on a daily basis. The interviewer wants to know that you can be professional in any situation.
Other questions to expect
You can also expect the interviewers to ask some common questions, such as:
- Tell us about your research. This is the time to talk about your med school experience, but be sure to add something more to the conversation that the interviewer couldn’t just read on your CV or application.
- Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years. This is a great opportunity to talk about your vision for your future in medicine, and it’s also ok (encouraged even!) to talk about your personal aspirations if you’re comfortable doing so.
- What is the most pressing health issue today. You’re not expected to cure cancer or right inequalities in healthcare tomorrow, but this question shows that your passion for medicine extends beyond a facility’s front doors.
- Scenario-based questions. Don’t be surprised if the interviewer poses a scenario and asks how you’d handle it. It could be a difficult patient, a clinical procedure, or a conflict between two coworkers. Just pause, gather your thoughts, and answer honestly about how you would handle it.
Read about Medical Residency Match.
Get Ready for Residency with Interview Preparation from MedSchoolCoach
Approach Match Day confidently with help from the physician advisors at MedSchoolCoach. Our consulting services don’t stop when you get into medical school – we offer complete residency match services to help you create a strong ERAS application and write a standout residency personal statement. We also offer realistic mock interview sessions with real physicians that have served on admissions committees and have conducted actual residency interviews. They will prepare you for residency interviews with real-time feedback and tips to nail your actual interview. Schedule a free consultation for residency match consulting today.