Your Medical Residency Interview Questions, Answered

Osmosis Team
Published on Oct 13, 2020. Updated on Mar 11, 2021.

Can you believe you are almost there? Just an inch away from getting matched into your dream specialty! The light is shining at the end of the tunnel—but you are not there just yet. You have to get through these interviews to test the waters before you match which residency program fits you best! For today’s blog, Blythe Davenport, will answer all your burning residency interview questions to be sure you are ready!

The day is finally here: you’ve arrived at your first residency program interview. You get there early, feeling ready, and you even have your lucky socks on.

Then the program director asks you the first question, and you draw a complete blank! You try to rub the sweat off your palms as you look around the room for inspiration. You stammer through your answer, but the rest of the interview seems to last an eternity.

What happened? Is it time for a new pair of socks?

Don’t let this happen to you! You can avoid this awkward situation by preparing carefully for your residency interviews. Are you wondering how to make your interview process go smoothly and successfully? Read on for the answers to all of your residency interview questions!

When should I expect medical residency interview invitations?

The interview invitation schedule depends on the specialty you’re applying for. The majority of specialties send invitations in October or November. Some specialization invites will not go out until December or even January. Especially with COVID-19, invitations might be sent out later than previous years. 

Residency programs conduct interviews through February. Students and programs then submit their ranking orders in late February. The matching process takes about a month, and students will find out which programs they matched with in late March.

That may sound like a long time, but you have plenty of ways to prepare while you’re waiting.  

How should I prepare for a medical residency interview?

First, remember that a medical residency interview is a very different situation from school application interviews. Residency interviews are more like job interviews, where a potential employer will be screening you for skills and personal fit in their team. You’re going to face questions about your working style, strengths and weaknesses, and how you face challenges on the job.

Practice your job interview answers. Have a friend or partner role play the position of the interviewer, or make use of your school’s mock interview service. Get a list of job interview questions and make sure you have solid answers for each one. Doing this with another person ahead of time will let you hear how your answers sound before the actual interview. 

Once your invitations roll in, pat yourself on the back! Getting the interview is the first big step. Your hard work in medical school has paid off.

As the interview day gets closer, do some research on the program you’re about to interview for. There is so much information online about nearly any residency you are curious about. Being armed with information ahead of time can set you apart from other candidates. There is a database called FREIDA that allows you to easily search and compare residency programs. 

A few important things to research include:

  • What is the reputation of the program? 

  • What is the research output of the hospital or clinic?

  • Are there particular physicians or faculty you’d like to work with at that program?

The day before your interview, take time to review your CV and personal statement. Refresh your memory on what is important to you and why you are working so hard. For a virtual interview, take time to test your technology!

Finally, breathe. Clear your mind and try to calm your nerves a little bit. This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s worth taking a moment of calm before walking in the door.

What should I wear to the interview?

The residency interview process usually can span over two days. It may include a resident's dinner or cocktail hour before or after the interview. Those events are important, but you can wear business casual clothes. However, with COVID-19, all programs have been advised to switch over to virtual interviews that can be done from the comfort of your home!

For the main interview event in person or virtually, choose a business formal outfit. Men should wear a suit, tie, and business-wear shoes. For women, a pant or skirt suit is standard with closed-toe shoes. 

Don’t try to stand out with your outfit. Let your character and persona shine through in your interactions with the interviewers. Your clothing and accessory choices should be formal, conservative, and understated.

Have your residency interview outfit ready a few days before your interview. Make sure everything is clean, ironed, and fits correctly. It may even be prudent to have a back-up shirt or outfit in case of stains or tears.

How long does a residency interview last?

The itinerary of your residency interview will vary from program to program, but most residency interviews include a few common elements. Each program you interview for should provide you an itinerary ahead of time. 

Most programs offer some informal time to speak to current residents. They may invite you to a dinner or cocktail hour the night before your actual interview or a casual zoom call with residents and their families. This time is invaluable and you should make every effort to attend. This will give you a chance to meet and ask questions of the people who you may be working with next year!

For the interview itself, plan for a full day. The program will usually give you a tour of their facilities and some opening welcome remarks. The morning and afternoon will include panel and individual interviews with faculty, physicians, and other residents. 

Breakfast and lunch are usually provided in person, but virtually you may need to plan your lunch the night before. Don’t forget to eat and stay hydrated! You may be nervous, but the long conversations you’ll be having will demand your focus. You won’t perform nearly to your potential if you are underfed, dehydrated, or under-caffeinated. 

How can I project confidence during residency interviews?

Your materials have gotten you the interview invitation because you’ve been working hard. You’ve scored well on exams and have excellent letters of recommendation. You’ve already made a good impression on the hiring committee. Knowing you’re a strong candidate can help you feel confident as you enter the interview.

That said, it’s important to maintain a professional and respectful demeanor throughout the interview process. Be courteous to all staff members that you interact with, even if they’re not on your committee. Your behavior towards administrative and front desk staff will be noted, so remember to treat everyone with respect.

Even when you’re nervous, there are ways to project confidence and professionalism. Some important actions to remember include for in person or virtual interviews:

  • Give a firm handshake 

  • Make eye contact (Look directly at camera)

  • Smile

  • Practice responses beforehand

  • Be open and honest

  • Use a stationary chair, not a swivel chair

  • Maintain power pose. Avoid resting your face on your hands.

It’s understandable to be nervous during the question part of the interview. Sometimes you may even draw a blank. Don’t panic!

You don’t have to jump right in with your answer. However, you shouldn’t just sit there silently, either. Here are a few perfectly reasonable ways to stall for time to answer:

  • Ask for clarification on the question

  • Repeat the question back to make sure you understand what’s being asked

  • Compliment: “That’s a good question…”

  • State you need a moment to think: “Great question, let me think on that for one moment.”

Even these extra few seconds can give you the time you need to get back on track, and avoid a long, awkward silence. This is also why you should practice a mock interview ahead of time. Those prepared answers will get you started, and your mind will spring to action!

What are the best questions to ask at a residency interview?

One of the foundational aspects of interviewing well is being curious and engaged. Your interviewers will expect you to have questions for them, and should set time aside at the end of your interview for you to ask them.

While some questions are common among interviewees, you shouldn’t appear like you’re just checking off a list of “should-ask” questions. This list will get you started, but be sure to add your own. Take notes during your interview as well, as something that is said might jog a spontaneous question!

  • Where do past graduates go after the program?

  • What specialties do graduates most often go into?

  • How is feedback given to residents?

  • What rotations do residents go through in this program?

Take advantage of any time with the current residents to ask about their experiences. Residents will be able to give you a realistic picture of the strengths and challenges of the program. Some questions you may want to hear about from residents include:

  • What is a typical day/week like?

  • How stressful is the job? How do residents manage stress levels?

  • What is the community like? 

  • What are residents’ plans for after graduation?

This information will help you understand how you’d fit in at the program, which is important. You’re going to be spending years in this job and this community, so it’s critical to get some first-hand accounts and compare them with your plans and ideal living situation.

What residency interview questions will I be asked?

While some of the questions from your interviewers will vary by the specialty you’re going into, expect many common job interview questions. 

Some of these will include Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) questions. Prepare for these by identifying a situation you were in, your responsibilities or role, the action you took in response, and what the end result was. A few examples of STAR questions include:

  • Describe a time you had to perform under enormous pressure

  • Tell me about a mistake you made and how you dealt with it

  • How have you resolved a conflict with a coworker?

In addition to the STAR questions, interviewers will want to know about your reasons for becoming a doctor. They will also ask you specialty-specific questions to gauge your interest in the field. Be ready to answer questions like these:

  • Why did you pick internal medicine/pediatrics/emergency medicine/etc…?

  • If you couldn’t become a physician, what profession would you choose?

  • Why are you interested in our program?

  • Are you interested in research or practice?

While you won’t be able to prepare for every single question, you can definitely practice many of these ahead of time. Looking online for other students’ experiences may also help you prepare for the types of questions each different program will ask.

What happens next?

What you do after the residency interview is nearly as important as the interview itself. Plan to follow up with everyone you meet during your residency interview by sending digital thank-you cards. These can be sent by email or use the Osmosis Spread Joy page for creative e-cards.

Keep in touch respectfully without being overbearing. Once you’ve reached out after the interview, your job is done. Now you just have to wait for Match day!

Additional Resources

Hopefully this guide has answered your most pressing residency interview questions. Need more information? Check out the helpful links below.

How to Build an Outstanding Curriculum Vitae During Medical School

Find the residency that’s right for you

Osmosis Ultimate Guide to the NRMP® Match


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