A medical student's final year of school is filled with excitement as they move toward graduation, finish important rotations and apply for residency. After poring over specialty programs and receiving an invitation, however, each MS4 needs to know how to prepare for a residency interview. Jason Scapa, MD, first-year pathology resident, and Karla Gonzalez, MD, first-year family-medicine resident, share their recommendations for nailing the interview.
Know the program
In every interview, regardless of format, it's important to become familiar with the program, the institution and its values. Dr. Gonzalez encourages candidates to study the program's website to help them fully understand its clinical focus and, if possible, learn about the interviewers' individual backgrounds. "I would also do some research on the city I was visiting," advises Dr. Scapa, referring to its unique activities and points of interest. "If you are applying out of California, you need to show why city 'X' would be a good fit for you."
When learning how to prepare for a residency interview, Dr. Scapa and Dr. Gonzalez suggest that students ask themselves, "Why am I choosing this specialty?" Through their answer, they demonstrate a passionate dedication to that branch of medicine. Reviewing the application material, preparing a personal statement and reflecting on similar curriculum vitae are all equally pertinent to one's presentation as well. If the student doesn't understand how he or she is representing him- or herself, neither will the residency program.
During her interview process, Dr. Gonzalez asked her own friends to look over her application and provide feedback. "It was so valuable because they read through the materials to assess if it was really me. My friends were also able to remind me of important events and things I may have left out."
Dr. Scapa is particularly grateful for the many resources he used to prepare for the residency interview process. "The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA does a very good job of preparing its students for the residency application process. The college I was a part of, the Applied Anatomy College, held monthly dinner seminars, usually focused on the application process." Some of these seminars include a dinner with physicians of various specialties at the home of a faculty member. Applicants may also undergo a mock residency interview with a physician in the specialty for which they are applying, as well as a question-and-answer session with a panel of current UCLA residents about their application process.
"The college also pairs each student with a faculty mentor in the specialty the student is applying into," he adds. "It's a source of advice [on] which programs to apply to, what to expect on the interview trail and help on assembling the final rank list."
Dr. Gonzalez spent a lot of time crafting her personal statement, and made use of a program wherein an English major edited and offered recommendations to improve her personal statement. "I got some really good feedback, it made my personal statement more interesting and relatable."
Nailing the interview
Rather than a two-hour Q&A with the program director, a residency interview is a day-long experience in which the formal interview plays a relatively small part. Dr. Gonzalez explains, "They may take you on a tour of the hospital or clinic ... have you watch a video or play a game. You'll have lunch together, in addition [to] sitting down with a current resident and faculty member. While all of this is going on, you are being evaluated on how you interact, and how interested you seem."
More than your credentials and research experience, residency programs are looking for people they want to work with, who fit with their work ethic, values and culture. The most important thing you can do? "Be yourself," says Dr. Scapa. "You owe it to yourself to find a program that fits your style, personality and values as much as you fit theirs."
By Kyleigh Roessner