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When It’s OK to Cancel Your Residency Interview

I have a good friend who applied to plastic surgery for residency. As is often the case for plastics, he applied to all 70-something programs in the country. He was a competitive applicant and ended up receiving multiple interviews.

One night as I sat watching Monsters, Inc. for the third time in a month (I applied for pediatrics), he was frantically trying to book a flight from St. Paul to San Antonio. As he began to realize that this would not be possible without the use of time travel, he asked me:

“Dude, Is it OK to cancel some of these residency interviews?”

From firsthand experience, I can say that the answer is yes.

Before I canceled my first interview, I was nervous that I was either going to alienate the program, fall in love with the program after I cancelled, or both. I spoke with a program director at my home institution and he gave me the following pearls of wisdom:

Research the program in depth before you cancel to help affirm your decision that you are not missing the program of your dreams.

If it truly sounds like a program you would be happy at, then keep the interview, but be honest with yourself. If you’re considering canceling the interview in the first place, it’s probably not the program for you.  

There’s a belief that scheduling interviews at your less-desired programs early in the season is good practice for the ones you do care about later on. This isn’t necessarily the case. 

While it may be nice to have one or two interviews under your belt before you start at the places you really like, these ones are generally much more relaxed. They don’t ask you tough ethical or “gotcha” questions and by your third interview you’ll have heard all their questions before. In short, they don’t really prepare you for the interviews you’re actually excited about as much as you might expect.

While interviewing will be fun, it also will be exhausting and expensive.

It’s hard to get as excited for your 11th interview as it is for your 1st and this burnout can eventually become apparent to the people interviewing you.

Canceling interviews for programs you are not serious about benefits both other students and the program itself.  

When you get an interview, that means someone else does not.  Canceling an interview means that another applicant is getting a chance to interview at a program that is top of their list and it means that the program is interviewing an individual who truly wants to be there.

Now that I’ve convinced you to cancel your interview, how should you do it?!

  • Cancel the interview as far in advance as you feel comfortable with your decision. This allows time for both the program and other students to make accommodations to fill your spot.
  • Send an email to the program coordinator so they can make the appropriate arrangements.  While many programs use online brokers to schedule and cancel the interviews, it’s still courteous to let them know you have cancelled. This email does not have to be long-winded; a simple thank you for their interest in your application will suffice.  

While the thought of canceling interviews can be terrifying, it shouldn’t be. Ultimately, it can be helpful for both your own application trail and to other applicants trying to get to where you are.