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FB Live Q&A: Residency Interview Dos & Don’ts – Etiquette, Tough Questions, and What To Do After

Dr. Fred Bertino hosted a FB Live Q&A session entitled,  “FB Live Q&A: Residency Interview Dos & Don’ts – Etiquette, Tough Questions, and What to Do After.” 

Watch and listen as he discusses all topics related to residency interviews!

For those who prefer a written synopsis of Fred’s Residency Interview Q&A Facebook Live session, read on!


Fred Bertino is a tutor and an MSTC residency consultant with Med School Tutors. Since we are in peak residency interview season, today’s session covers medical residency interview dos and don’ts.

Residency interview season is a really exciting time. It’s a lot of fun, and it provides an opportunity to experience many new programs and places, meet new people, and experience what new-to-you cities have to offer. It is a great time to explore different parts of the country. Realize that interview season is not just an opportunity for a program to learn about you as an applicant, but also for you to learn about a city or a program. You, the resident-to-be, are also interviewing programs in the process. It would be a detriment to your experience to not have some prepared questions and inquiries, not only about the program itself, but what it’s like to live in a region or a new area.

Be Professional

Residency interviews are a professional situation. It is important to dress professionally and be on your best professional behavior. Go out and get a suit. Now is not necessarily the time to show the most extravagant aspects of your personality, because you want to keep things very controlled and respectful in this interview.

It almost goes without saying, but definitely don’t be late to the beginning of the interview for your residency. Show up a little bit early. Early is on time in this case. You want to put your best foot forward for meeting residency program directors.

When you arrive at the interview, you may not know where you’re going. Feel free to ask for directions. This emphasizes arriving earlier, for sure. Also know that when you go to a hospital for an interview experience, you’re going to come in contact with a lot of different people who work for the department or for the hospital in general. These include greeters, program directors, program coordinators, and people who may have corresponded with you to schedule being interviewed. It’s very important to maintain your most professional practices when you’re coming in contact with all of these people. People talk. People know each other inside hospitals, and it is very important that your image comes across as the professional or the young professional that I know you all are. Residency program directors want you to be there. You should show them that you want to be there also; it goes without saying that best behavior is definitely encouraged.

When you are attending interviews, you will have been invited. There are often opportunities to go to a pre-interview dinner the night before. I definitely recommend going to these events. They are really fun and it’s a great way to meet the residents and see what the quality of life is like in a town.

Talk with the Residents

Definitely take time to talk to the residents during your visit. See what they like and don’t like about the program. Most topics are fair game. As somebody who has gone to a lot of these resident interview dinners from both the interviewee and interviewer perspectives, I can tell you that it is a great opportunity for you to learn an unbiased perspective of the program. There’s really nothing that can be used for or against you in an interview setting, unless it’s a totally egregious act. Definitely be on your best behavior there, but it is also fine to show a little bit of your personality. You’ll be involved in some nice conversations as time goes on.

There will probably be some alcoholic beverages served at these interview dinners. Definitely know your limits. Control yourself and don’t overdo it when it comes to alcohol consumption. Unprofessional behavior will be noticed, and while residents have a limited ability to determine who should match into a program (that’s really decided based on the interview day), poor behavior at the pre-interview dinner or demonstrating a lack of self control can certainly be reported to a program director, and that will be taken seriously and could count negatively against you. So know your limits, know what is professional, and remain within that professional boundary.

The actual day of the interview is really exciting. There are different spectrums of questions that you could be asked by a varied number of people that will be interviewing you: faculty, program directors and coordinators, and potentially chief residents. It is an enjoyable experience. They really want to get to know you as a person and see how you will be a good fit for their residency training program.

It is important to come prepared for your interview. Know your CV and ERAS application backwards and forwards. Anything you have elected to show them is fair game for questions. Be able to discuss any research and achievements fluently and with confidence, knowing them inside and out. It is a red flag if something appears on your resume and you are not able to discuss it intelligently, so make sure that you know your accomplishments and that you’re able to discuss them in a professional and knowledgeable way.


When it comes to characteristic interview questions for which everybody should be expected to have a good answer, here are my top 4:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Definitely have a well-orchestrated answer to this question. This is an opportunity to tell people who you are, where you come from, what you know, and who you are as a person outside of medicine. It’s incredibly important. The people interviewing you want to meet people with whom they will be excited to work between three and seven years, depending on how long your training is. Tell a unique story to make yourself more memorable in that moment. That’s it. They are not looking for an autobiography that goes on for hours and hours; you might only have ten minutes with an interviewer. This question should be limited to 45 seconds to one minute at the most and should be a concise statement that outlines who you are.

2. Why would you choose this field?

What about this field interests you? It is important that you have a real reason why you chose your specialty. A lot of you probably wrote about your specialty choice in your personal statements, and it is perfectly okay to go back and reiterate what you’ve written by bringing it to life in your personal story. This gives the program director a sense of your self worth and self awareness. It’s going to show people that you know who you are and that you are confident that the field that you’ve chosen is perfect for you.

3. What are you particularly proud of?

Be prepared to discuss what you are really happy to have accomplished.

4. Tell me about your weaknesses.

Be prepared to discuss any weaknesses appropriately. You don’t want to be too self-deprecating during these interviews, since this is an opportunity for you to showcase your strengths. If you are able to turn a weakness into a learning opportunity, it is important to discuss this. If you have a blemish on your application, maybe failed a step exam, or performed poorly in a medical school course, own it. It is expected that you will address the issue during the interview honestly, with integrity, and knowing that you are capable of rising above whatever weakness there was. If you don’t mention it at all, this may appear as though you are hiding something about yourself. Explain what the situation was, how you rectified it, were a better person because of it, and how you will be set to be an excellent resident in a given program. Don’t dwell on the negative. Bring it up, address it well.


Residency Interview Curveball Questions

Every once in a while, you may get thrown a curveball. Somebody might ask you a clinical question. How would you manage a patient? These are also fair game and are more common in some specialties than others. If you encounter one, don’t freak out. A lot of times, they are just looking to see how you act under stress and if you have a good baseline knowledge of clinical reasoning to know what the next step would be. Know when to ask for help, if needed. If you are asked about an interesting case in medical school, be prepared to discuss it as though you were on rounds with that physician or as if you were answering a Step question. A lot of the times they’re asking you to present a patient because they want to see how well you can organize your thoughts when being put on the spot. Start with the patient history, move on to the relevant physical exam findings discussed, and their pertinent laboratory findings. You don’t need to memorize an entire CDC or a chemistry panel. But just know what’s notable, go on to any imaging findings as applicable, and then go into the clinical decision making in leading diagnosis and discuss what you’ve learned about the case. Why was it an interesting case? Connect it back to yourself and show that there’s a level of humanism in your work. It is important to remember to be human during these things. You are being evaluated in your best ability to be the best person for the position. And I emphasize the word “person.” People want to see you excel as a human being in your physician career. They want to see that you are able to show that you are capable of adapting to stress, are fun to be around, a good storyteller, and great to hang out with. They want to see if you’re the kind of person who is going to be excellent to learn from on rounds, but at the same time is wonderful to just shoot the breeze with at a bar after work. That’s what most residency programs are looking for.


Residency Interview Thank You Notes

It is possible that you will want to contact the program and ask them some other questions, or maybe just send a thank you note. Know the program’s policy for post-interview thank you notes. Some programs will outright tell you that they do not want any thank you notes or any correspondence following the interview. If you have any specific questions, they’re happy to answer them, but they do not want to receive letters. I would respect those guidelines. If they’re telling you outright that they do not want letters, they probably don’t put too much weight on how much correspondence they get. They may not even read it. If there is no explicit denial, I think a thank you note is perfectly professional and almost expected. The style of the thank you note is perfectly independent, although I have heard that people do appreciate the effort that goes into a handwritten thank you note to the program director or pertinent people who interviewed you that day. A short email to follow up on a discussion that you had during an interview is entirely reasonable if that is accepted in the interview situation. For example, when I was interviewing, we talked a little bit about my research, and some of my interviewers found it particularly fascinating and asked several questions about it. I said, “Well, I have a copy of the paper, but it’s in PDF format. I’m happy to send you an email with that as an attachment, if you are interested in looking at it.” Often times they would say, “Oh, yeah, that would be fine.” There’s no pressure on them to read it. You’re simply sending them something of interest. And in that short message, you can easily write, “Thank you again for interviewing me. As per our conversation, here is the paper that you and I discussed.”

Some Residency Interview Don’ts:

1. Don’t try to stalk the program.

Don’t repeatedly reach out to a program post-interview. It can negatively impact your chances of matching. It is reasonable to send an interest of interview if you have not heard a decision from a program. It is reasonable to expect responses from programs by mid- to late-November. Remember that interviews are still being scheduled through December and January, so it could still be too early to hear back from many programs.

However, if you are applying to a residency outside your home area, consider emailing a brief message of intent to the program in advance to let them know you are interested in their program and to help draw attention to your file. There have been a couple of papers that studied post-interview surveys and correspondence between residency program coordinators and their applicants. Letting your top choice program know that they are your top choice can impact your rankings. However any other emails of interest (to schools that are one of your top picks but not *the* top pick) will not help your chances. The studies also warn against contacting multiple schools to tell them that they are your top choice. Program directors know each other, and they talk. Do not do this.

You may receive love letters from host programs expressing their fondness for you. While it is extremely flattering to receive a letter like this, I think it should be taken with a grain of salt. Appreciate the compliment. And if you agree, you could reply to let them know. Do not let these letters inflate your ego. You are not the only person who received that email. Take it with a grain of salt and appreciate that things are going well for you.

The decision regarding where you match and where you rank is entirely up to you and the computer algorithm. There is not much that you can do to sway people’s opinions. The best thing you can do during interviews is to put your best foot forward, act entirely professional and have respectful post-interview conduct with the people who you’ve met that day. If you do everything right you shouldn’t have much to worry about. In my experience, interviews generally go quite well. Remember that it’s an opportunity for you to be yourself and show people that you are worth the position. You are all very talented people, and you’ve made it this far!

Remember that the best residency program is the one that matches you.


Further resources:

MST Mailbag: Residency Interview Edition

How to Plan for the Perfect Letter of Recommendation for Residency

Your Post-Residency Interview Follow-Up Plan

Being Kind: Med School and Residency Interview Edition