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Going Back to In-Person Residency Interviews: How to Prepare & What to Expect

You’ve worked hard and prepared well, gathering recommendation letters, building your resume and drafting your personal statement. You polished your ERAS application and triple-checked it for any mistakes. Then you applied to the programs you want to attend for residency, and even sent out your signals to the ones you like most.

And now, finally, after all that you’re ready to accept those interview invites! And they come, but not in the way you expected. Suddenly, you receive an in-person interview invite without the option to go virtual.

“What?” you say to yourself. “An in-person interview? In 2023?” 

What gives?

Well, as we’ll see, some residency programs are reverting to in-person interviews this cycle, leaving students understandably nervous about making time for short-notice travel and finding ways to pay for it. If you’re in this camp, don’t worry. We’re here to help!

This blog is about how to prepare for any in-person residency interviews you may have this cycle, and what you need to do to crush them. We’ll go over everything you need to know, so you can handle an in-person interview with confidence.

To place our discussion in context, let’s start by briefly looking at why some programs are still doing in-person interviews.

Going Back to In-Person Residency Interviews in 2023

A Little History: Residency Interviews Before COVID-19

Before COVID-19, in-person residency interviews were the norm. Travel restrictions in 2020 challenged programs to find alternative and creative ways to use virtual interview formats. Now, institutions have a choice between virtual and in-person interviews, and some programs prefer the pre-COVID way of doing things.

It should be noted, though, that while some programs are implementing pre-COVID practices when it comes to residency interviews, recent surveys revealed that most still prefer virtual formats, and for good reason. Applicants prefer virtual interviews due to their significantly decreased cost and ease of scheduling. Medical schools like them because students are able to participate more in clinical duties and need less time off for travel. And residency programs often prefer them as there are significant cost savings, and improved accessibility and equity that allow for more diverse applicants.

You can learn about virtual interviews and more by checking out our ultimate guide post on residency interviews.

Why Do Some Residency Programs Still Prefer in-Person Interviews?

There are a number of reasons why a program may favor in-person interviews over virtual ones. Virtual interviews make it harder to gauge interpersonal skills and interactions with faculty, staff, and residents.

According to data from the 2022 match cycle, residency program directors reported the main disadvantage of interviews hosted virtually was assessing applicants’ interpersonal skills, professionalism, interest in their specific program, and overall fit for it. Furthermore, virtual interviews are more prone to technical glitches, worsening online participation and engagement, and last minute applicant cancellations.

Applicants and programs alike have also complained that the virtual interviews don’t showcase all a residency program has to offer. Many applicants desire to learn about programs and their surrounding communities to understand the culture and how they will fit in. They want a vibe check, if you will. This is impossible to ascertain through a virtual interview.

Finally, for some programs, in-person interviews just make more sense. For example, rural programs that need to showcase their communities and have largely local applicants tend to prefer in-person interviews.

How to Prepare For In-Person Residency Interviews

Regardless of the specific reason, the fact is some programs are doing in-person interviews again. If you’re invited to one, here’s some advice for how to prepare for it:

1. Promptly accept the invitation.

Once you receive an invitation for an in-person interview, respond promptly to confirm your attendance and schedule your date. Programs have limited interview dates, so it’s important to secure one that works for you. It’s helpful to have an organized calendar, especially one for you and your partner, if you plan to participate in the couples match.

2. Research the program.

Familiarize yourself with the residency program as well as your interviewers. This will help you tailor your questions and responses on interview day. 

3. Make travel arrangements.

You’ll have to make travel plans, including booking flights or other transportation. And you’ll need to get approved time off from medical school for interview travel and make sure you are relieved of your clinical duties for this time. Plan ahead and string interviews together that are in similar locations so your travels are easier and you save some money.

Some programs partially or fully cover expenses for accommodations, travel, and sometimes even front the costs for meals and transportation. Just because some programs offer this, don’t expect that a program will and don’t ask if they will pay for any portion of your trip.

Plan to arrive in time for any program sponsored events. Ensure you have all necessary documents with you, including your ID, interview invitation, travel itinerary, and anything else requested by the program.

If the program is located in a different city or state, make travel arrangements well in advance. Consider alternate flights, accommodations, and transportation as this will help mitigate the incurred costs. Ensure you arrive at the location well ahead of your interview to account for any potential delays.

4. Review your application.

Go over your residency application, personal statement, and CV to refresh your memory on the experiences and qualifications you highlighted. Be prepared to discuss your application in-depth during the interview.

5. Prepare for common interview questions.

Practice answering common residency interview questions. Be ready to discuss your reasons for pursuing the program, your career goals, and how you handle challenges.

6. Prepare questions to ask. 

It’s essential to have thoughtful questions to ask the interviewers. In-person interviews offer a chance to learn more about the program. Ask about the curriculum, resident life, mentorship, and any other aspects that matter to you.

Take this Mock Residency Interview Quiz with the most common residency interview questions.Need some extra interview prep? We’ve got you covered. Boost your confidence with this FREE Residency Mock Interview and practice your responses to these common interview questions!

9 Tips for Residency Interview Day

The day of the interview itself, you want to bring your A-game. Here’s nine tips that will help you crush it:

1. Dress appropriately.

Dress professionally in business attire. You should look neat and well-groomed. This is crucial for creating a good first impression. 

Also, wear comfortable shoes as you may tour different hospitals and/or clinical sites. I’ve had students tell me they were able to close all of their rings on their Apple watch from tours on interview day.

2. Have the program’s contact information.

Ensure you have contact information for the program in case you encounter any issues.

3. Assess the program.

They’re judging you, and you’re judging them. Use the in-person interview as an opportunity to assess whether the program aligns with your goals and expectations. Pay attention to the culture, facilities, and how you feel interacting with the faculty and residents.

4. Stick to your schedule.

You will have a structured schedule for the day that includes a series of interviews, tours, and breaks. Lunch is often provided and you will have time to chat with residents, staff and other applicants.

5. Be prepared for different interview settings.

Your interviews will be held in various locations within the program’s facilities, and you’ll move between different interview rooms or interview panels. The interviews are likely to be one-on-one, though a few programs may elect to have a group interview.

6. Take your breaks.

In between interviews, you may have breaks where you can relax or interact with other candidates in a designated waiting area. You’re still on site, so remain professional.

7. Engage the interviewers.

Interviews are conducted face-to-face, and you’ll interact with program faculty, leadership (often the program director or associate program director), and current residents. A typical interview may last 15-30 minutes and you’ll have 3-5 interviews depending on program and specialty. Maintain good eye contact and a positive demeanor throughout the interview process.

8. Be personable and network.

In-person interviews allow for more informal interactions, such as attending social events or dinners, which can provide an opportunity to network and get a better feel for f the program’s vibe and culture. 

9. Remain courteous and professional at all times.

You’re on their turf and you never know who’s watching. Assume all interactions are part of the interview process. Greet everyone you meet with respect and professionalism, from the receptionist to the interviewers.

Speak clearly and smile often. Follow up the interview with a thank-you note or email to express your appreciation for the opportunity and reiterate your interest in the program.

Further Reading

While in-person interviews require more logistical planning, they offer a valuable chance to engage with the program in a tangible way. By being well-prepared and professional, you can present yourself as a strong candidate and gain a deeper understanding of the program’s suitability for your career goals. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to handle an in-person residency interview with confidence!

For more (free!) resources to help you during residency interview season, check out these other posts from Blueprint tutors on the Med School blog:

About the Author

Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.