Guest post from Dr. Joseph Mazzei, D.O., Medical Director, BodyLogicMD of Chicago
Interviewing for residency programs can be a pressure-packed, daunting task. Try to take a deep breath, relax and keep it simple. The process is necessary, affording you the opportunity to find a program that fits your needs, while each program finds residents that fit their needs.
Advice from Experience
The most important thing remember during each interview is to be yourself. You could stress yourself out trying to determine who a particular program wants you to be or you can try to act like someone else in order to land a spot - however these tactics will not serve you well in the end. An interview that is less than genuine will hinder your performance during the actual interview and potentially throughout the residency. For example, if a residency program places great emphasis upon your participation in research, and you are not interested in doing research, this is not a good fit for you. You may want to be in the program because they possess a great reputation, but their reputation may not be the best thing for you. It would be best to find a program that fits you, rather changing who you are to fit the program. This does not mean, however that you should not care about what a particular program is looking for in a resident.
Another important aspect of your interview is to be knowledgeable about their specific program. It is very important to be prepared. The more you know about the residency, the better equipped you will be to ask intelligent questions, gain information about the program and sell them on why they need you in their program. Asking questions is important. There are nuts and bolts questions, like “How much will I get paid?” or “How much call will I have?” and other similar questions. These can be answered by the human resources personnel.
During the interview, you want to ask questions that mean something to you and the people in charge of deciding whether or not you will get into the program. For instance, you may have a strong interest in public health and are interviewing for an internal medicine program. You might ask, “I understand that you have a center for HIV treatment at your hospital. I have worked with this population in the past and have a strong interest in expanding my experience in this area. Will I have the opportunity to focus on this area of medicine during my time as a resident?” Questions like these open the door for you to talk about yourself and your unique qualities. It shows you are motivated and have taken time to learn about their program - you are not just going through the motions of multiple interviews. Interviewers see a lot of people - you need to know what makes you stand out from the other candidates and let it shine - give them a reason to choose you over anyone else. These questions also offer you the opportunity to gather more information about the program and determine if it is the right fit for you. Remember, the interview process is a two way street.
Be certain to ask about all the aspects of the residency, such as the work environment and community. Resident programs are trying to find people they want to spend the next several years with, i.e., people they enjoy being around. You will be spending a great deal of time with your fellow residents, therefore it is a good idea to choose residents who “play well with others.”
You may also want to consider inquiring about the social aspects of residency. For example, you might ask, “I want to work in an environment where residents are supportive of each other. Is the environment thought of as friendly and are their planned social events for residents and staff?” This shows that you want to be a part of their community. If this is important to the residency and you, it is a good question to ask. I had a buddy in medical school that was applying out west and was an avid rock climber. He asked during his interview if any other residents were into rock climbing. It turns out that the residency director was a big time rock climber and was very happy to welcome someone with common interests into his program. Again, be yourself. Be genuine.
When I interviewed with what turned out to be my residency program, the interview panel was pressing me on my grades in medical school. I was an average student with average board scores, however I had other qualities that I felt were my strong points. During the interview, several members of the interview panel, wanted to know if I had any excuses for my average grades - were there family stresses, illnesses, or other circumstances that interfered with my academic performance? I explained that I was proud of my medical school performance and that my goals were not to achieve high scores on tests, but to get the most out of my journey through medical school, which I achieved. They continued to press me on this. I knew a few things about this program. Residents were required to train at over 10 different sites at high volume emergency rooms in the Inner City. They needed someone who could adjust to new environments on a regular basis. They needed someone who was open-minded, flexible and who could learn best with hands-on experience and without rigid structure. They did not need people who only felt comfortable with their face buried in a book. They needed a person who could get along with a variety of personalities. I learned this from talking with residents within the program before my interview. I felt this would be the type of program that would benefit me the most and allow me to succeed. I responded to their questions about my grades by respectfully stating that if they are simply looking for a book smart student with high grades, then I am not the right person for their program. I then discussed what I had to offer and why I would benefit their program. There was a short silence and the next question came from the residency director. “What do you like to do outside of medicine?” he asked. I told him that I liked to brew beer, which we talked about for the next ten minutes. I was later offered a spot.
My advice can be summed up as follows: know the program, know yourself, and be yourself. Things will work out.
Joseph Mazzei, D.O.