Interviewing for physician residency programs


First impressions are critical during your physician residency interview. In fact, the interview process begins as soon as you make contact with the program. You should treat everyone you encounter with patience and respect, from the receptionist you speak with on the phone to the program coordinator who greets you in the lobby. 

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Besides observing the golden rule, however, it can be difficult to know how to navigate the time leading up to and including an interview. Following are some tips.

Thoroughly research each residency program before your interview. Learn about the institution, its residency program and the faculty and staff to identify topics or issues to explore during the interview. Your research should include the specialty for which you are applying. Are there trends or specific qualities the specialty is looking for in new physicians? Knowing this information can help you emphasize experiences that meet their criteria.

Residents currently in the program will be additional sources of information to help you prepare. They will be your best window into the quality of life among residents in the program. Interact with current residents to ask questions that you may not want to ask during an interview. These might include questions about social opportunities, the city where the program is located or practical issues like how the program accommodates time off for emergencies or illness.

Check out what applicants should know about physician residency interview invitations.

When interview day arrives—whether it happening in person or virtually, through videoconference—you should dress to reflect the seriousness of the occasion. In other words, formal business attire is appropriate. And remember to smile and maintain eye contact with your interviewer.

As you get further into the interview, you might feel on edge at times. Know how to deal with it:

  • It’s natural to be nervous during an interview—calm your nerves with a few deep breaths.
  • Be familiar with your application packet, and prepare for questions about your background.
  • Practice answering common residency interview questions. Spend some time reflecting on questions you might be asked. These include: Why do you want to be a doctor? Tell me about yourself. What is your greatest personal weakness?

If you are asked what your personal weakness is, consider using this type of question as an opportunity to discuss a shortcoming that could be developed into a strength.

Learn why M4s should be prepared for these three residency interview questions

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Interviewers are likely to ask if you have questions for them. This is a perfect opportunity to seek vital information about the program, so be prepared. Consider these topics:

  • Types of required rotations.
  • Amount and type of elective rotations.
  • Resident responsibilities for patient management.
  • Amount of turnover in residency program directors and faculty.
  • Balance of inpatient and outpatient responsibilities on various rotations, including clinic.
  • Structure and topics of formal educational curriculum.
  • Leave policies for vacation, parental leave, and participation in education conferences.
  • Moonlighting policy after the first year of residency.
  • Topics of particular interest to you.

Also, be tactful when asking your questions. Instead of asking how many hours you will have to work, consider phrasing your question as, “What is expected of a first-year resident?” Another way of phrasing the question: “What is the resident lifestyle like here?”

Learn how to handle these three residency interview questions.

Federal law prohibits prospective employers from asking certain types of questions during an interview. Prepare ahead of time by consulting the prohibited employment policies and practices from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Interviewers should not ask about your rank-list priorities, although you are free to share this information. It is important that you convey your interest to the program you most want to match with so they know you are serious, but you can do this without revealing your rank list. If you choose to share your list, be consistent from residency program to residency program.

Read about what residency applicants should know before interviews.

It is important to maintain a professional and appropriate social media presence. Some interviewers review social media sites to learn more about their potential residents. Medical boards are also increasingly monitoring physician activity online.

Set your accounts so they are private or ensure your public posts only include information you would not mind a potential employer viewing, and of course you should ensure that they comply with HIPAA. Consult the “Report and Recommendations of the Federation of State Medical Boards Ethics and Professionalism Committee” (PDF) for more guidance.