Your fourth year in medical school can be a stressful time, especially when you’re on the interview trail. After going on 15 interviews in the past year, I eventually matched into a family medicine residency in New Jersey. Below is my advice for doing well on family medicine interviews, based on my own experiences and my conversations with several family medicine residency program directors.
Send a thank you card or email.
Asking a program its ranking intentions or preferences in regards to where you stand is forbidden and violates the match agreement, but a personalized “thank you for the interview” card or email is perfectly acceptable, and is generally considered to be courteous by all residency programs.
“To me, it doesn’t matter as much if it’s a card or an email, but it does matter what the student writes,” says Melanie Bortell, DO, the osteopathic program director in the dually accredited family medicine residency program at Summa Health System at Akron City Hospital in Ohio. “I prefer messages that are a little more personalized. A student might write, ‘I enjoyed when we discussed X,’ or ‘Thank you for answering my question about Y.’ It shows they remembered their conversation with me and it was helpful to them in some way.”
You want the program to like you for who you are.
“If we’ve invited you [for an interview], you’ve got the academics. Let your humanity shine through—don’t be afraid to be yourself. A little humor can be a good thing,” says Barbara McGarry, MD, program director of the family medicine residency at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Know your application well.
If you can’t elaborate on something, such as an extracurricular, hobby or interest, in your application, don’t include it. Also, be prepared to explain any “hiccups” on your application.
“I want to see maturity and ownership of your triumphs as well as your downfalls. If you’re unwilling to take responsibility for something when asked to relate a time when you have failed, that would make me very suspicious,” says Geraldine Urse, DO, the director of medical education of Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“We really like to see an interest in family medicine and community medicine—volunteering at a free or homeless clinic, working with underserved populations, taking medical mission trips, or volunteer teaching,” says Debbie Lupeika, MD, program director of Shasta Community Health Center family medicine residency in Redding, California.
Go with your gut.
Only rank programs that you would be happy to enter. Some programs may give you very strong hints, whereas others will not say a word, even if you are very high on their list. It is in your best interest to rank programs based on where you’d most like to go, and not where you think you’d most likely get in. Don’t try to “game” the system.
Remember that you are interviewing programs as much as they’re interviewing you.
That’s why it’s called a match! Can you see yourself practicing in this program for the next three years? Will you get along with the people there? Are the current residents happy in the program? Remember: Your residency program is responsible for shaping you into a full-fledged physician, so you want its goals to match up with your own.
If time permits and it’s a program that you’re particularly interested in, try to spend some extra time in the area to see if you’d enjoy living there.