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General Residency Questions

Written by Sydney Butts, MD

Question 1 Do you see any problems managing a professional and personal life?
For many of you, this is an issue with which you have grappled for many years, since you’ve most likely been a high achiever in high school, college and medical school. But you’ve also most likely been involved in some significant extra-curricular activities during many of these years. I would talk about how you’ve done this in the past.

Now, direct questions about your plans to get married if you are single, or to have children are personal ones. This question doesn’t ask about family directly and you shouldn’t feel compelled to volunteer any information here if you don’t want to. You could address this question by saying that while the timing of when and how your family takes shape is very personal, having a supportive family/support system is can be essential in attaining one’s professional goals. You could then go on to recount how a family member helped with a challenging academic problem you’ve faced in the past. Or, you could give an example of how values you learned at home or in a “personal situation” were translated into an experience at school or a job. (For example, how your Mom’s organization of the household helped you to become an organized student). You might also state how a parent’s professional accomplishments were inspirational to you (even if they are not in medicine). For example, my father’s integrity in medicine made it an attractive career choice for me. As a child, I derived immense pride from the fact that my parents had jobs that they took pride in.

I would conclude by saying something like “I see it more as a challenge” because to do it successfully while having a career you’re proud of, takes ingenuity. You must utilize many resources but ultimately a balanced life (family, a hobby you’re passionate about, travel, friends) makes you a more well-rounded doctor.

Question 2 – Are you prepared for the rigors of residency?
I think this question is really asking: Do you know what the rigors of residency are? I would start by saying (and if you haven’t done this already, you should) "I've talked to residents during medical school about this issue" ( by saying this to start, you show the questioner that you’ve thought about and have taken the initiative to find out about resident life). I think you want to address the physical rigors and the emotional/ethical ones. I would stress that you see it as a challenge more than a burden. In terms of physical rigors, I would respond by saying something like “I see that residency will force me to push myself in ways I never have before and that’s exciting.” However it will be up to you as a resident to appreciate when things are becoming overwhelming and seek out help during these times i.e. from colleagues, superiors, nursing staff, etc. By doing this you are acknowledging that residency training is hard and that you can’t do it all alone. So one way to deal with the “rigors of residency” is to get help from others.

It is important to have professional mentors and emotional support throughout residency. You will interact with people and form incredible relationships with your patients. Sometimes you will need to vent. Sometimes you will need guidance about how to deal with a difficult patient or their difficult family. So another way to deal with the emotional rigors of residency are to identify people early on at work and at home that you talk to about some of these issues.

Question 3 Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Have you thought about what interests you within the specialty to which you are applying? (for example, if you are applying in internal medicine do you think you like cardiology?)

The question is asking whether you have thought about whether you will practice in an academic or private practice setting. Of course, particularly these days, there are many options open to a person with an MD degree. Many physicians go into hospital administration, industry (i.e., pharmaceutical research and development) medical policy, healthcare consulting, or journalism.

Within academic medicine, you may do mainly clinical work although many in academics combine clinical work and research. Some physicians in academics focus primarily on clinical or basic science research. You can focus on these areas during your answer also.

Keep in mind, many residencies have a stake in training people that they think will ultimately go into academics because of their potential to pursue research and publish, develop new medical technology, etc. People in academics also like to teach/train residents and medical students. These are features of academics that appeal to many and you might want to highlight some of these in your answer. The appeals of private practice often center around the degree of autonomy and the ability to concentrate specifically on clinical work without having to split one’s interests between research and a clinical practice.

You may also want to describe the type of setting in which you see yourself practicing. You may have an interest in serving a rural community or working in an urban setting.

Question 4 – What questions do you have?
This is not a time to ask about vacation time or the quality of the on-call room. Any of these issues can be asked of residents. Please be aware that questions you ask of the residents do not fall on deaf ears. These are not your buddies and you should maintain a level of formality with them also. If you say something inappropriate, the interview committee will hear about it. Consider these questions:

  1. How are residents evaluated by the program on a regular basis?
  2. How do residents voice their opinions about aspects of the residency (i.e., do residents evaluate their rotations and does this translate into changes)?
  3. In which area do you think the residency is strongest/weakest?
  4. If you are going into a specialty where you frequently work with other specialties/ancillary services you might want to ask what type of relationship exists among these groups. For example, people in ENT often work with plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons, oral surgeons/dentists, even doing many operative cases jointly. If these specialties don't work well together, it can have a significant impact on your training.