The Best Residency Interview Questions to Ask

As a residency applicant, it’s easy to focus on trying to be the most desirable applicant possible. Remember, though, that you are interviewing the programs just as much as they are interviewing you! You also need to try to learn which programs will be the best fit for you, both in terms of academics/training, and in terms of the environment.

Preparation is key

It’s important to have a sense going into the interview of what is important to you, so that you can ask the best questions. Interviewers are likely to ask you about these things, but they also inform the questions that you should ask. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on understanding the differences between residencies and deciding what’s important to you (which will be linked here when it’s available).

So, before you go to the actual interview, be ready to answer these questions:

  • What size program are you looking for?
  • What other program characteristics are you most interested in?
  • Do you plan to do research after residency?
  • Do you plan to do fellowship? If so, which one?
  • Are there important geographic considerations, like being close to family, or being in a large city where a significant other can get a job?

Questions to ask the residents:

Many programs give you the chance to interact with residents, either through an actual interview or informally during a dinner. Either of these gives you a chance to talk to the residents and get their insights. Remember, though, that the residents are evaluating you, too – this is not the time to let your guard down or let your performance slip!

  • Could you tell me about your favorite faculty member?
  • What do you like most about this program?
  • What would you like to see change about the program?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • What do you like most about living in _____?
  • Where do most residents live? What is the commute like?
  • Do you feel like you will graduate comfortable with your skills in ____? (managing ICU patients, doing obstetric ultrasound, doing forceps deliveries, etc)

Questions to ask faculty:

  • In the next five years, what would you like to see change about this department/program? What would you like to see stay the same?
  • I see you have been here for ___ years, what brought you here? (for a faculty member who joined the department recently)
  • I see you have been here for ___ years (or since residency/fellowship), what about this department has most made you want to stay?
  • What does this department do especially well?
  • It seems that case numbers for abdominal hysterectomy and operative vaginal delivery are decreasing nationally – how has this impacted your program?
  • How is family planning training done here?

If a department chair can’t give a clear direction that they want to see the department go, does this mean they are really so amazing that they don’t have anything to improve? Or does it mean they don’t have a clear strength of their program’s strengths and weaknesses?

Most people can easily rattle off at least a few things they like about their program – if they are struggling, or their answers seem lame, this can be a red flag.

Of course, try not to get too hung up on this. For example, many people say that their favorite thing about their department is that they have amazing colleagues (or some variation on this theme). If no one at the program lists their colleagues as one of their favorite things, is that an indication that they don’t get along well? Maybe, but maybe they also just didn’t want to give the same canned answer as everyone else!

The bottom line

Remember that in the end, you will get perfectly adequate training in most specialties at any ACGME-accredited program. That being said, if you have specific interests, some programs will be able to accommodate those better than others. For example, in OB/GYN, if you have a big interest in family planning and really want to graduate comfortable doing termination procedures, a high-volume program with a great reputation that is located in a conservative area and doesn’t do a lot of terminations may not be a good fit. A smaller program with a strong family planning division may be a better fit, even if on paper they aren’t as “good” in other respects, or as well-known. If training in operative vaginal deliveries is especially important to you, look for a program that does a LOT of operative vaginal deliveries. If you really want a warm, supportive environment, look for that.

There is no such thing as one “best” program – just the best program for you. Hopefully these questions will help you get a better understanding on the programs where you are interviewing, whether online or in person!

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