After medical school, the next milestone is residency – where you spend years learning to become a practicing doctor. The residency interview process may be tough, but it’s an important step for hospitals and clinics to find the best applicant. Getting familiar with common residency interview questions will help you put your best foot forward and avoid any surprises.
If you’ve obtained an interview, you’re already on the right track. In 2021, according to residency data reports, 42,508 applicants competed to fill 38,106 residency positions. Depending on the field and facilities, some residencies are more competitive than others.
If you’re worried about the application process, or you’re preparing to interview for a residency program that’s ideal for you, IMA’s medical residency admissions consulting services provides personalized guidance.
This article contains:
• 15 Important Residency Interview Questions to Help You Prepare
• Sample Questions to Ask at Your Residency Interview
• Common Slip-up Questions and Sample Answers
• Residency Interview Preparation FAQs
Why These Questions?
The questions below represent a combination of the most common and important residency interview questions, as reported by interviewers and interviewees alike. Many are included because they are particularly difficult to answer on the spot.
There are several common variations for each of these questions. So, any answers you prepare should be flexible. With that in mind, here are the most important residency interview questions you should prepare for in 2022.
1. “Tell us about yourself.”
The interviewer wants to get a sense of your personality, skills, and experiences. Your responses should be targeted to the specialty you’re pursuing and highlight aspects that make you a good fit for a particular program. If you have any special circumstances – personal or professional – feel free to mention them as well. For example, if you volunteer or are involved in research, these details can help your candidacy.
Some interviewers ask this question to hear about your credentials in your own words. Others are genuinely interested in you as a person, and they’re hoping to learn about your interests and opinions.
The best approach here is to find the right balance between personal and professional details. For instance, if you’re worried you’ll go on too long about your personal life, try to find a few anecdotes that convey your personality without being too lengthy. Make a list of key things you want to cover – tailored to the program, of course.
Next, work on structuring your key points narratively. It’s best to pivot to professional and academic details by the second half of your response. Consider how the order of this information communicates your personality. For instance, if you talk about your accomplishments before your professional goals and interests, this communicates that you are future-oriented rather than resting on your laurels.
At the end of the day, though, it’s more important to speak naturally. Go over your key points beforehand so you’re prepared, but don’t respond like you’re reading a script.
2. “What interests you about our program?”
Hospitals and clinics are looking for applicants who want to be a part of their community, so this is an opportunity to highlight your personal interest in the program. They also want to know if your interest is well-researched and matches their institution.
Your answer should come directly from what excites you most about the program – whether it’s learning opportunities, a particular department, the location, or the research opportunities.
Be sure to back up your answer with evidence you’ve gathered about the program (e.g., reviews online, interesting research, program size, etc.). This shows that you’re serious about this program in particular and demonstrates initiative.
It’s critical to avoid generalizations like “I’m passionate about medicine” or “I want to help people.” The best way to stand out is by demonstrating your enthusiasm for the field and showing that you’ve given serious consideration to which residency program best meets your needs.
It’s important to talk about the town or city the residency is based in. While you don’t want to make it seem like you’re overly motivated by how nice the weather is there, you do want to communicate that you’re looking forward to living in the area.
3. “How do you handle conflict?”
Questions about how you handle interpersonal conflict can be asked many ways, such as “What would you do if you and a [patient/doctor] had a personal conflict?” or “Tell me about a time when you had difficulty working with your [professor/coworker/classmate].”
Although it’s best to be honest, the key point is that you need to communicate that you have effective interpersonal skills. Conflict and anger are universal experiences, so your interviewer will likely empathize with any honest story you tell.
The best approach is to talk about an experience where you were part of the problem, not just a passive observer. Talk about what you could’ve done better and how you handled it afterward. Keep in mind that your interviewer is asking this question to learn about your communication skills as well as your temperament, so demonstrate that you’re able to be respectful and professional.
Coming up with an answer for this type of question may seem puzzling. However, in most cases, the interviewer is primarily looking for red flags. While a moving answer is certainly ideal, it’s more important to not come across as if you’re embellishing a situation.
The best way to approach this is by thinking about how your answer relates to patient care. Since this isn’t always clear, it’s important to think about what qualities are generally associated with good doctors and be sure they come across in your response. For instance, you could talk about
4. “Tell us about your research.”
A number of medical institutions, such as the Saint James School of Medicine and the Austrailian Medical Student Journal, have commented on the need for medical students to have more experience with research. So, while some programs emphasize patient care and others are more research-focused, you should always be prepared to explain your research experience.
Before the interview, review any research you participated in during medical school so it’s fresh in your mind. You should be able to discuss your role, describe what you learned, and tell the interviewer why it’s important.
Questions about your research can also be used to see how well you communicate. Research results can be complicated and difficult to explain in an accurate manner. Take this opportunity to show off how well you can communicate succinctly, and how well you can answer questions about complicated medical topics.
5. “Why did you choose your specialty?”
Questions like this one ask you to demonstrate your understanding of the specialty and how it relates to the field as a whole. It also gives you an opportunity to explain why you want to pursue that specific specialty and how the residency program relates to your pursuits.
You should be ready with information about what attracted you to your chosen specialty, why it interests you, what you see yourself doing in the future, and how it fits into the overall field of medicine. The interviewer wants to know that you have a long-term plan for your career path, so be sure to demonstrate this in your answer by mentioning specific goals.
6. “Tell us about your volunteer efforts.”
Although you can’t always predict how they’ll be phrased, questions asking for a description of your volunteer work are intended to learn more about your interpersonal skills and integrity. It’s a chance for you to explain how you prioritize your time outside of the hospital, as well as show that you have a passion for giving back to the community.
Even if you didn’t have a lot of time for volunteer work during medical school, your interviewer will still expect you to be able to discuss some sort of experience. It’s important that you do not lie about your involvement. Make sure that all statements are truthful and accurate, otherwise, the interviewer may wonder what else you’re lying about.
7. “What kind of doctor would you like to become?” and “What is your career path?”
There are several different ways this question can be asked. The interviewer wants to know how much thought you’ve given to what aspects of medicine interest you most. The answer should not only demonstrate that you’ve given careful consideration as to what values and skills suit your personality, but also show that you’ve given thought as to what kind of doctor best suits those values and skills.
It’s important to know what you want to do, but it’s equally important that you’re able to explain why. It may be useful to talk about how your values inform your decision or whether there are specific skills that are more useful for certain types of doctors than others.
Talk about your career path and where you see yourself in 10 years. The interviewer wants to know that you have long-term goals, but it’s also important for you to communicate whether you’re flexible or committed to a certain medical career.
8. “Why should we choose you over the other applicants?”
This is the crucial “sell me on yourself” question. The interviewer will want to know why you’re a great fit for their program and how they would benefit from having you. It’s important for you to be able to provide specific examples that demonstrate your personality, skills, and values.
This question gives you the opportunity to explain that your background and experience make you an ideal candidate for both their program and position. Be ready with evidence as to why you’d excel in this specific specialty or at their particular facility. Don’t be afraid to show off a little bit by mentioning things like publications, research work, presentations, awards, etc. If there’s something exceptional about your application, use this section as a chance
You should also focus on the positive aspects of your personality instead of simply naming off your achievements.
9. “What are your weaknesses?”
The interviewer wants to see that you have good insight into yourself and you’re aware of your flaws. They also want proof that you’ve been working on improving them in a constructive manner. And, of course, they want to know if your weaknesses make you a bad fit for their program.
Be honest, but also be relevant. It’s a good idea to be able to discuss how your weakness affects your performance in a medical work environment, what you’ve done to improve it, and how you’re being proactive about addressing possible issues. It may be helpful to use an example. You can talk about a time when you experienced a related setback or failure, how it affected you, and what steps you took to correct the problem.
This is a common question in many types of job interviews. Some people will advise you to turn your weakness into a strength. For instance, you could say you’re a perfectionist, or that you’re too hard on yourself. While this may seem like a win-win answer, be mindful that the interviewer is looking for honesty. And, for the most part, this kind of non-answer can be a pet peeve for some interviewers.
10. “Are you looking into other programs? Which ones?”
The interviewer wants to get an idea of how serious you are about their program. They also want to hear you talk about your options to see how dedicated you are to finding the perfect residency for you. If you’re not looking into other programs, this may indicate that you’re unaware of your options or haven’t taken the time to research them.
When talking about other programs, list a pro and a con for each one. This communicates that you’ve done your homework, but also that other programs leave you indecisive. This is an opportunity to reiterate why this residency is ideal for you. It’s another chance to sell yourself and showcase your enthusiasm for the program.
If you’re not applying to other programs, you should still talk about some. Explain why they initially interested you and why you decided against them.
11. “How well do you work with patients?”
This question is about your interpersonal and professional style of communication. If you haven’t already, take some time to think about how you relate to patients. You’ll want to highlight what you believe is important in doctor-patient relationships, such as empathy, cooperation, and active listening.
The answer to this question will depend on your personality, but make sure to include how you’ve demonstrated this in the past. This is a great chance to use an example from clinical experience or shadowing.
You should also be able to demonstrate that you’re capable of forming positive relationships with patients. Be ready for the questions that come after this one, which will likely address how you respond to difficult patients.
12. “Explain this shortcoming/discrepancy…”
If there are any problems areas in your academic or clinical history, it’s extremely important to be prepared to talk about them. You want to demonstrate you are aware of any shortcomings and take them seriously. This is also a chance for you to show that you’re self-reflective and learn from your mistakes.
You can highlight the strengths you have in light of these difficulties, while also showing that you’re proactive about addressing problems. If there’s a disciplinary action, for example, you could mention that it’s the only time this has ever happened and that you did everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
When talking about weaknesses in your studies, don’t be afraid to highlight your resilience and dedication, especially when things get tough. You want to demonstrate that you persevered and believe in your abilities moving forward.
For this one, the phrase, “If I could do it over again” is a good idea. It shows you’ve thoroughly reflected, and that you understand what you need to do differently next time.
13. “What do you think is the biggest challenge in your field?”
A contemporary and solid understanding of the field you’re training in is a requirement for any residency. The interviewer wants to see that you have a fundamental grasp of both clinical and academic issues and that you’re aware of how they play out.
It’s easy to find ruminations on modern medical challenges in journals and other specialist literature. Take some time to read up and discover challenges in your field that interest you most, and how they’re currently being addressed.
This question is likely to have a follow-up question. The interviewer will ask what you think is the solution to this issue might be. While you aren’t expected to solve the problem, you should have some ideas about what might help, or what direction future research should take.
14. “What’s your theme song?”
You’ll likely be asked a quirky interview question. These are used to get a sense of your personality, but also to lighten up the process and change the momentum of the interview.
There’s no need to overthink this question. Anything that comes to mind is a good idea, since you’re unlikely to be judged on the quality of your answer. Just have fun and try to express yourself.
15. “Are you more focused on patient care or research?”
This question addresses your priorities and helps the interviewer determine if the program fits your career path. Answer this question honestly and explain how you expect the program to help you achieve your goals.
If you choose patient care, be prepared to explain why this is your choice and how the program will help you pursue it. If research is your priority, demonstrate your passion and be ready to explain how the program will help you fulfill your research potential.
Reflecting on the relationship between research and patient care is a fine way to end an answer to this question. Perhaps you see the two as symbiotic and complementary, and therefore equally important to your career.
In any event, be honest and detailed. Ultimately, the interviewer wants to know that you’re applying to programs that meet your career goals.
Questions To Ask at Your Residency Interview
One of the most important moments to prepare for is when you’re asked, “Do you have any questions for us?”
You should aim to accomplish two things when answering this question. First, you want to demonstrate that you’ve researched the program. You want to avoid asking questions that are answered in the program’s site or literature.
Secondly, use this opportunity to ask any and all questions about the program that will help you make your decision. Here are some ideas.
• How does your program help students transition from medical school to residency?
• What are the biggest challenges faced by residents in this program?
• How is the team structure organized at the hospital?
• What is the work-life balance like for residents?
• What do the most successful students in this program have in common?
• Are there any opportunities I should know about, even if they aren’t listed on the website?
• How do you (the interviewer) like the city?
• Has this program changed in the past few years? Why? Are there any changes planned for the future?
• What is your advice for transitioning from medical school to residency?
• How many residents transition to faculty after the program?
• How does this residency compare to other programs you’re familiar with?
• What do you like about working here?
Finally, you can ask about later steps in the interview process, such as who to contact about moving forward, when you can expect a response, and what their timeline looks like for making decisions.
Common Slip-up Questions and Sample Answers
Medical students can oftentimes focus too heavily on academic and professional aspects of the residency interview and neglect reflecting on themselves as unique candidates. This can cause problems during the interview when students are asked a more personal question that they were not expecting.
It’s important to be able to talk about yourself in a compelling and informative way. After all, a lot of residency candidates will have similar qualifications. The personality, temperament, and interpersonal skills of the candidate are often what set them apart.
Here are the main types of residency interview questions about your personality that you can expect.
Getting to Know You
These questions are designed to help the interviewer get to know more about your life, personality, and goals. You want your answer to tell a good story about yourself that covers the past, present, and future. Express yourself, but be mindful of keeping your answer relevant to the residency program.
• “How would you describe yourself?”
• “How would your family and friends describe you?”
• “Tell me about yourself.”
“I mostly remember growing up in Wisconsin, but my family moved around quite a bit. I was always very driven and fascinated by science ever since I was little, and my parents were very encouraging. They’re both scientists themselves. My mom’s a microbiologist and my dad is an epidemiologist.
During college, I decided I wanted to focus on patient care, even though I always thought I’d be more of a researcher. It was my freshman year and I was actually hospitalized the day after orientation. I was out of school for weeks. The hospital staff was so caring and supportive in a way I had never experienced before. That was when I realized how powerful patient care was, and that I wanted to focus on that.
I am a very patient person and love being around people. I spend most of my free time with friends or family. I’m at a point in my life where I feel very clear-headed, focused, and ready to get down to business. I’m excited to be here with you and look forward to hearing your questions and learning more about the program.”
When discussing your strengths, try to give concrete and detailed answers. Avoid being too vague or giving generic answers. Remember, you want to leave the interviewer with a memorable impression. Be honest and personalize based on what you know about the program and its values.
• “What are your strengths?”
• “What separates you from other candidates?”
• “What skills are you bringing to the program?”
“My biggest strength is that I work well under pressure and rarely let stress get to me. My parents say this is because I had so much responsibility to take care of my siblings at such a young age. During my internship, one of the physicians I worked with told me that he had never seen anyone so calm during an emergency with a difficult patient. I was new at the time and had to step up because the other intern was overwhelmed.
I’m also a very good multi-tasker and enjoy juggling many responsibilities at once. Though I used to struggle with it, I learned to stay organized and prioritize my time in college. I had to balance work, school, and an internship, as well as learn my way around a big city. I actually came to love living in a big city, which is part of why I hope to do my residency here. And I know this is a very busy hospital, which is exactly the kind of place where I feel my talents can shine.”
When you talk about your weaknesses openly, it helps the interviewer judge if the program will be particularly challenging for you. You want to communicate reflection, humility, and your ability to grow. Ideally, your weakness also has a positive side.
• “What would you like to improve about yourself?”
• “Are there any professional or academic failures that have stuck with you?”
• “What would your friends say is your biggest weakness?”
“I’d say my biggest weakness is not prioritizing my social life. I’m very goal-oriented and get wrapped up in projects and work. During college, there was one year when I only talked to my family twice. I was taking school too seriously and trying to over-achieve. When I finally spent time with my family during the holidays, I realized how depressed I had become and how much friends and family can keep me grounded.
While I still have to snap myself out of it sometimes, I’m happy to say I’ve gotten much better at that in the last few years. Finding a healthy balance between work and play has been a challenge, but when I’m able to pull it off I’m very grateful for the effort I put into making it happen.”
FAQ: Residency Interview Preparation
How do I acquire medical residency admissions consulting?
Residency interview preparation is a crucial part of the application process. At International Medical Aid, we offer thorough and personalized medical residency admissions consulting to ensure you put your best foot forward.
What if I’m bad at interviews?
Being nervous, slipping up, or saying the wrong thing at your interview is very common. If you feel like you are uniquely challenged when it comes to interviewers, there are plenty of ways to prepare.
• Study this list of common residency interview questions often
• Consider these questions and your answers throughout the day
• Practice answering these questions out loud
• Conduct mock-interviews with friends, family, or colleagues
• Explore the campus beforehand and arrive early the day of the interview
• Do your best to manage stress by getting good sleep, staying hydrated, and taking breaks from work and chores
• Spend time with your support systems, such as friends or family
• Consider medical residency admissions consultation
• Stay organized and try to have free time in the days leading up to the interview
How important is my interview performance?
Your interview is often the final step of the application process and your last chance to stand out amongst all the other candidates. While aspects of your application may sway the institution’s decision to bring you aboard, ultimately, how you perform at your interview is what will get you an offer.
Should I bring anything to my interview?
Copies of your CV and any necessities will suffice. Try not to bring anything unnecessary, as you will be walking around quite a bit and want to feel comfortable.
How long should my responses be?
Generally speaking, your responses should be 2-4 minutes long. You want to be thorough, but not overly wordy. There’s no need to go into incredible amounts of detail, especially about information already listed on your application, unless it’s specifically asked for.
When practicing your responses, the key is to achieve organized and informative answers. Without proper organization, your strongest sentences may get lost in the shuffle, or you may miss the opportunity to properly emphasize a key point. Information is best absorbed when delivered in a narrative way, so respond accordingly.
Most of the questions you will be asked are designed to give you an opportunity to highlight your strengths and specify your interests. If your answers are too short, you’re missing an opportunity to leave a thorough impression.
Medical Residency Admissions Consulting
Being prepared for residency interview questions is one of the most important aspects of your medical residency application. We offer medical residency admissions consulting for those who need help getting ready for the interview process.
Residency interview preparation is only part of the puzzle. Our consultants include doctors and directors who conduct in-depth strategy sessions, review your applications, answer your questions, and guide you through the entire residency application process.
Medical Internships Abroad
Residency interview preparation isn’t everything – quality internship experience is a must for competitive residencies. For medical students searching for quality, exciting healthcare internships, we offer medical internships abroad. Our internships give you experience observing how healthcare functions in the parts of the world that need it most. These internships make for compelling applications to residency programs and allow students to learn how doctors around the world solve problems in different ways.