Buckle up — the interview trail for residency is a bumpy ride. It is time consuming, costly and stressful. There are things you should know beforehand so it won’t be so overwhelming.
First things first, submit your ERAS application. It’s crickets after that. Then, a barrage of emails come soliciting you for an interview spot. Depending on the specialty and program you apply to, there may only be two or three interview dates offered. You may not get your preferred date or any date at all if you don’t sign up quickly. Check your email daily.
You can get interview invitations at any time and can even be last minute. If you have to cancel, give the program at least a week’s notice so that someone else has the opportunity to take your spot. A lot of dates open up towards the end of the cycle, around January, since people cancel because they’re tired or don’t have any money left or both. So, there is hope. You can also call or email the program to check the status of your application and see if it’s possible for you to get an interview. Some programs will offer you an interview date on the spot or move you up on their waitlist and you will get one as soon as a spot opens up.
If you haven’t received an invitation, or very few, check that your application is complete. Some programs will not send you an invite unless all of your materials are turned in, including letters of recommendations. Or, maybe you didn’t apply to enough programs, or worse, you are not a good candidate. Discuss this with your advisor and resolve the issue ASAP.
People tend to apply to 20 to 40 programs but, of course, it varies depending on the specialty and how competitive an applicant you are. Check the NRMP for its yearly reports on applicants so you can compare yourself. The Charting Outcomes in the Match report is particularly useful.
Interview date threads for each specialty are posted by applicants on Student Doctor Network. This can help in planning since invites will come on a rolling basis. You may end up interviewing all over the country so try to pick dates where you can interview at multiple programs in one trip instead of flying back and forth.
Now, that you have some prospective interview dates, you are ready to start the trail. You have to think of the logistics before you even get to the interview. You need transportation to get to the social, hotel, interview day and airport. Rent a car if public transportation is not convenient.
You will need an interview suit and shoes. Conservative and professional dress is the way to go. Let your application showcase you. Demonstrate your personality through conversation during the interview.
Many programs will offer a social the night before the interview — appetizers and cocktails or a sit-down dinner. They are not mandatory but most applicants will go, unless they can’t make it because they are flying in from another interview. The social is actually fun. It’s a casual way for you to learn about the program by interacting with the residents. Faculty may be there, too. You will also meet other applicants, who will be your future colleagues. Instead of sizing up the competition, get to know the other applicants because you will be running into them again on the trail and who knows, you may end up in the same program! You can also find a buddy to carpool with or crash at their place on your next interview.
Your main focus, though, should be to talk to the residents. You can gauge how happy they are with the program and if the residents get along. This is the time to ask all those nitty-gritty questions, which could be awkward to ask an attending during your interview. Make it a goal to talk with at least one resident at each level so you can learn what each year is like.
It is paramount that you don’t get drunk during the social! This is an automatic reason to be rejected from the program even if you interview the next day. This actually happens to applicants. Don’t let your actions during the social ruin your interview day.
Be on time for interview day! If you stroll in during the orientation part, then you are wasting your time. Program directors have stated that people who are late have already lost their chance of matching to that program.
The interview day can be long and tedious because it can consist of multiple parts, including an orientation, breakfast, grand rounds, tours, interviews and lunch. Wear comfortable shoes because you will probably have to walk a lot (ladies, leave the stiletto heels at home).
After jumping a couple of hurdles, you finally get to what you came for: the interview. Interviews can be from about five to 30 minutes and you can have about one to six in a day. The majority of my interviews were 15 minutes long and I interviewed with about four different people each time for general surgery.
Know what’s in your application because you will be asked to talk about things you mentioned in it. Be prepared to answer the “tell me about yourself” question. It’s cliché to say this, but be yourself. Answer questions honestly. Provide an example of a similar situation when answering ethical questions. You may get typical intern scenarios to test how you would react. Don’t forget to be respectful, courteous and professional.
If you feel like you’re living out of your suitcase, then you are definitely on the interview trail. Talk with colleagues, attendings and residents to get advice. Meet with your financial aid advisor if you need counseling on how to cover expenses. The Careers in Medicine site by the AAMC has a lot of information about picking a specialty, sample interview questions, the match process and creating a rank list. After each of your (hopefully many) interviews, make notes about each location. What did you like and not like? What was the hospital like? Could you see yourself there for the four to five years? Ultimately when it comes time to rank the programs this information will prove extremely useful.
Best of luck and remember: Keep calm and carry on.
A Taste Of Your Own Medicine is a column that gives you a taste of medicine. It focuses on important and interesting topics relating to medicine and being a medical student.