When Should I Schedule Residency Interviews?

close up of watch mechanismYou are a fourth year medical student, less than a year from graduation.  You have taken Step 2 (CK and CS). You have chosen a specialty and have applied to countless programs.  All that stands between you and the residency program of your dreams is… the interview trail.

If you are fortunate enough to have arranged your fourth year schedule so that you have a couple of light months (or even an entire month off), you’ll probably try to schedule interviews in such a way as to minimize and complete them in as short a time as possible.  There are certainly advantages to this (such as saving time and money in crisscrossing the country), but it may not be the best approach. Many programs interview a group of candidates on the same day each week, for several weeks in a row, and each interview day may last 6 hours or more.  Additionally, some programs offer an optional “social hour” to allow candidates to meet a few residents for dinner or hors d’oeuvres on the evening before the formal interview. Thus, each interview “day” may require a part of 2-3 days (1 day for travel and social hour; 1 day for the formal interview; and 1 day for return travel, depending on what time the interview ends and whether you need to meet airline schedules and such).

If the interview gods smile upon you, you might be able to schedule 2 or even 3 interviews in a single week, especially if they are near enough that you don’t have major travel between. But this may be the exception rather than the rule, and you may find yourself having to do a lot of ‘singles’: trips to and from one program at a time. The good news is that your attendings recognize that interviews are a necessary part of the fourth year experience, and they are generally understanding as long as you don’t give the appearance of taking advantage.

When scheduling your travel, be sure to give yourself ample travel time, both in terms of getting to the city where the program is located and in terms of getting to the location on the day of the interview. You don’t want to miss an interview because you missed a connecting flight or because of an unexpected rush hour traffic jam. You don’t want to be changing from your travel clothes into your interview suit in your car or in the airport restroom.  Do what it takes to get where you need to be in plenty of time. There is no such thing as ‘fashionably late’ when you are interviewing.

There is no consensus on whether it is better to interview early or late in the interview season.  Some say that it is best to interview early when the interviewers are fresh and still excited about meeting applicants… because they’re less likely to be impressed by anyone that interviews in mid-February when they just want it to be over. Others suggest that those who interview early will be largely forgotten when it comes time for programs to submit their Rank Order Lists, while those who interview later will remain in the forefront of interviewers minds.  Both strategies seem to make some sense, but I’m not sure that either is a sure-fire winner.  If you are planning (hoping) to interview at a large number of programs, it makes sense to start as soon as possible, or at some point late in the season you may find yourself unable to attend every interview day that you want to.

One tried-and-true piece of advice, however, is to avoid interviewing at one of your top-choice programs until you have at least one interview day under your belt.  You will be more nervous and less confident at that first interview, so if possible, try to do that first one somewhere that isn’t as important to you.

This is part 1 in a 3-part series. Read more from Dr. McInnis:
6 Tips for Residency Interviews
How to Interact with Residents During Residency Interviews

About Mike McInnis

Dr. McInnis is a chief educator for Doctors In Training’s USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK Review Courses. You can also follow Dr McInnis on Twitter (@DrMcInnisDIT).


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