Interview prep

What to ask during residency interviews

Impress program directors by asking the right questions during interview season.

Asking the right questions is a critical component to finding the best residency program for you.

You’re interviewing the residency program just as much as the program is interviewing you, and this is your chance to find out everything you can about what the next three to seven years are going to be like as a resident.

“Ask about things that show what you’re interested in and will help you find out what life would be like as a resident there,” says Hope Ring, MD, an emergency medicine program director at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan.

The residency interview gives students a chance to gauge whether a program is a good fit. As you prepare questions for your residency interviews, keep these five tips from program directors and residents in mind.

1. Be specific

Ask questions that show you have done your research about the program.

“We get the same stereotypical questions over and over again, but if they’re asking me about something specific about our place, it shows me that they’re not just asking me a question to ask me a question,” says Michael Pallaci, DO, an emergency medicine program director at Adena Health System in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Example:  I was involved in research on ultrasound during medical school and coauthored a clinical review on the topic that was published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. I became very passionate about this topic and can see myself contributing to your institution’s ongoing research on it. How does your program support residents in their research efforts?

2. Find out what’s to come

Breanne Jaqua, DO, an emergency medicine resident at St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, says asking about the program’s future was one of her favorite questions to ask during interviews. It helped her know what she was getting into.

“I wanted to know if they planned to tear down half of their emergency department or start a brand new curriculum model or anything else they might not have said,” Dr. Jaqua says.

Example: What do you expect will change at this program from now until the end of my time in residency?

3. Be vulnerable

To gauge her potential weaknesses as a candidate, orthopedic surgery resident Emily Tan, DO, asked if there was anything on her application would make program directors hesitate to take her as a resident.

If you have a major application shortcoming such as low board scores or failing grades, you can show what you learned about yourself and how you fixed the problem.

“Self-confidence tempered with true self-awareness translates as maturity,” says Dr. Tan, who works for Kettering Health Network in Dayton, Ohio, and put together a residency interview course as a resource for students. Use the code WHITECOATCOACHING to take the course for free.

Ask your school and mentors if you’re unsure how to handle a specific shortcoming.

Example: You might have seen that my first COMLEX Level 1 score was low. At the time, I was unsure of which study resources to use. For COMLEX Level 2, I changed my study approach and my score went up significantly. It was a great learning experience for me and has made me a better test taker. Is there anything else on my application you’d like me to address further?

4. Ask leading questions

You can use questions to redirect the conversation to facets of yourself that you’d like to highlight.

“I realized my master’s in public health was one line of a 20-page document,” says Dr. Jaqua. “I didn’t take any extra time to graduate, and bringing it up showed program directors I was hard-working and could handle an above average workload.”

Example: As the health disparities director of SOMA, I organized several medical mission trips to rural and underserved parts of Appalachia. It made me realize I wanted to train at a Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program. As a resident in this THCGME program, how could I get involved in helping address health disparities in your patient population? 

5. Ask tough questions—tactfully

This is your time to ask about any concerns you have about a program.

“If they have low retention rates, give them an opportunity to explain how they’re fixing it or ask them to speak on that topic a little bit,” Dr. Jaqua says.

Timing is everything when asking questions. Ask residents reasonable questions about a negative aspect of a program if it doesn’t seem like the best time during the interview.

“If you have a question, be tactful and respectful. If there’s something you need or want to know, this is your time to find out,” Dr. Jaqua says.

Example: I noticed your program recently had several faculty members leave. Can you please talk about why they left?  

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