Residency interviews are typically an all-day process in which you’ll tour the hospital(s), perhaps sit in on grand rounds or an educational conference, and meet with several faculty members and the Program Director for formal interviews. You’ll also have many opportunities to visit with current interns and residents. This can be seen as an ‘informal interview,’ because some programs will ask residents to provide feedback on the candidates they met. But more importantly, talking to residents gives you invaluable insight into the program’s inner workings.
It almost goes without saying, but you should be pleasant and friendly with everyone you meet during the entire interview trip. You never know who you’ll meet along the way. You may sit next to one of the residents on a commuter train. The person next to you in line at Starbucks could be the Program Coordinator. You might even share a flight with the department chair or with a faculty member who will be interviewing you. The smallest unkind word or look might color their impression of you, and your chances of making a good first impression could be ruined.
By the same token, you should treat other interviewees with the utmost respect. Nobody really wants to work with someone who steps on others to better themselves. Medicine is a team sport, and you need to be seen as a good teammate.
THE SOCIAL HOUR
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.
I strongly recommend that you attend any ‘optional’ social events that are offered. These provide an excellent opportunity to talk to interns and residents informally, often without any attendings or administrative staff around, and get honest answers to important questions that may be difficult to ask at the formal interview. (“How much didactic teaching is there?” “What kinds of scut work are interns and residents required to do?” “How does the program deal with work hours restrictions?”) You’ll be tempted to ask brutally honest questions such as “What’s the worst part of this program,” but that can backfire. For starters, you aren’t likely to get the brutally honest answers that you seek. And perhaps more importantly, asking negative questions can give the impression that you are a negative, mistrusting person. You want to dig in and find those answers, but be careful how you steer the conversation in that direction.
The other crucial piece of information you can glean from these social events is whether or not the program’s residents are happy. They’ll be tired, overworked, and underpaid… but do they like the program? Remember, they were in your shoes just a few years earlier. Are they glad they matched here? Along the same lines, look for clues as to whether or not the residents seem to genuinely like each other? Do they build each other up, or tear each other down? These are going to be your colleagues, your mentors, and your family for the next few years. Is this a family you want to join?
Besides the social hour, you will probably have lots of little opportunities to visit with residents on the interview day. You want to be asking the same kinds of questions as at the social hour, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking the same question of several different people to get different perspectives.
Depending on the program and how much research you’ve done, you may have tons of questions that you need answered… or you may have very few. Even if you think you know everything you need to know, I would recommend asking a few questions about the structure of the program or resident life, just to keep the conversation moving. Applicants who ask no questions can seem standoffish, uninterested, or socially awkward.
Likewise, the kinds of questions you ask send a message about you and your priorities. If you only ask questions about the vacation policy and recreational opportunities or the local nightlife, you may come across as lazy or unwilling to work hard. Be sure to ask some questions about how procedures are assigned, the structure of subspecialty months and research opportunities as well. But at the same time, be sure to find out about the perks the program offers, because small amenities can make a big difference in your quality of life as a resident.
A final word of warning: if a program keeps the residents away from the interviews, that may suggest that there is some problem (such as low morale, etc.) the program is trying to hide.