Residency interviews are your opportunity to showcase your growth as a medical professional. You have put nearly a decade of painstaking work into your medical education, and now you’re working your way through the application process once again—this time for residency. Before you can become a full-fledged doctor, you have to face residency interviews. The interview process is a crucial step in landing yourself a match, which is why it’s imperative you prepare answers to common residency interview questions well in advance.
Below we share 14 of the most common residency interview questions, including why these questions are asked and how to answer them most effectively.
1. Describe Yourself…
The describe yourself prompt is typically the first kind of question that’s asked during an interview. It may be phrased as “Tell me about yourself…” or “Who are you,” but it’s all essentially the same question.
The interviewer is looking for some personal details about you. They want to know the basics of why you’re passionate about medicine and what led to you wanting to be a physician. Walk your interviewer through why you decided to become a doctor and why you’ve chosen your specialty.
This question is very broad, but don’t let it intimidate you. It’s a good thing the question is open-ended. This way, you can steer the interview where you want it to go. Pick a few interesting facts about yourself you can speak about comfortably and confidently. The interviewer can then choose what they want to explore more. Keep your answers general at first and see where the conversation goes. Make sure the personal details you share highlight your strengths and skills.
Start with a few facts that shape who you are. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? What did you study in college? What are you passionate about? What do you do for fun? What’s an interesting experience you want to share that highlights your maturity, integrity, or dedication to medicine?
“My name is _____ and I grew up in _____. My father was a _____ and my mother was a _____. Growing up, (insert life-changing event that led to medicine here). I went to college at _____ where I became exposed to _____. This experience had a huge impact on me, and inspired me to _____. In my free time I like to _____ (insert interesting hobbies or extracurricular activities).”
How will you respond if the interviewer asks you more about your family or to elaborate on your hobbies? It’s important to prepare a few different answers to potential follow-up questions beforehand. You don’t know precisely where the conversation will go, so be ready to elaborate on any personal fact you share. Don’t write yourself a script, but be familiar with what you want to say and where you want your answer to guide the conversation next.
2. Why Do You Want to Become a Physician?
This is potentially the most important question you will be asked, so it is essential that you take your time preparing it. Explaining why you want to be a doctor is not a question you can afford to mess up.
Now, it’s an unfortunate fact that many of your fellow applicants will have similar answers to this question. Keep your answer as personal as possible to differentiate yourself from your competition. As opposed to a generic answer about wanting to help people, speak about why it’s an ideal field for you as an individual. The most effective way to do this is with a personal anecdote that will keep your interviewer engaged.
Speaking about a meaningful experience from your own life will help you speak about yourself and the field, and you can use it to segue into all of the reasons why you believe you will make a fantastic physician. But in storytelling, don’t get carried away. Keep your answer succinct, ideally to one or two minutes.
Ensuring your answer is informative, engaging, and concise will require ample practice, so dedicate plenty of time to saying your answer out loud in front of a trusted audience, the mirror, or in front of your camera.
3. Why Did You Choose X Specialty?
You are no longer a wide-eyed premed. You are now a young professional who knows the direction you want to take your career. The focus of this answer should be on your professional development. How have your experiences in medical school and beyond demonstrated that you belong and will excel in your chosen specialty?
Outside of your residency personal statement, this is your chance to express exactly why you feel you will make a great fit. Be confident but humble. How have your accomplishments established your proficiency within this specialty? What excites you about your chosen specialty? What drew you to this specialty? Passionately explain what you hope to achieve with the residency program and with your future career.
4. What Are You Looking for From a Residency Program?
You know why you want to join the residency program you’re interviewing at. Why does each one attract you? Consider this deeply. Your response will say a lot about you. Are you looking for good mentors, good research opportunities, or a group of physicians you can work well with?
Avoid generic answers that illustrate you have not put thought into this. Dig deep. What precisely does the residency program have to offer that particularly intrigues you? If you’re unsure, take a deep dive on the program’s website, reach out to current and former students, and do whatever else you can to find the details.
The interviewer wants to see that you’ve put a lot of thought into which residency you want to match with. After doing your research, why has this residency come out on top? If this residency isn’t your first choice, ensure you have a carefully crafted yet still genuine answer that illustrates the values you share.
5. Why Would You Be a Good Fit for Our Program?
Why do you belong in this program? How will you make a strong addition to the residency community? What makes you unique? Why are you a better choice over other candidates?
Describe your values in relation to those of the program’s. Why do they stand out to you? How have you lived those values in your life and medical education? Which of your academic, research, volunteer, or clinical experiences complement the program’s offerings?
As always, remember to answer with a personal anecdote or experience from your life. Yes, you have values and a strong work ethic, but what event from your own life demonstrates this? Clear examples from your own life will best illustrate to the interviewer why you’re a good fit for their program.
6. Where Do You See Yourself in 5-10 Years?
It takes too many years of painstaking work and staggering expenses not to have deeply considered what you want your future career as a physician to look like. So, what does the future look like for you? What are your hopes and dreams for the years to come? Will you have your own practice, will you be neck deep in fascinating and rewarding research, or will you still be in residency? It all depends on your specialty of choice.
It’s important that your answer matches the type of program you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to a community program, don’t answer that you expect half of your job will be doing research. It is essential that you can explain the type of practice you see yourself working in, such as academic or clinical.
Don’t be wishy-washy or arrogant. If you’re hoping to be a neurosurgeon, you’re going to be in residency for a long time—seven years. So if you say you want to be a practicing neurosurgeon in five years, you’re going to make it clear to the interviewer you haven’t thought your choices through, which will paint you as immature.
Be confident but realistic. If you match into your chosen specialty, where will this medical education take you in five to ten years?
7. Who Is Your Biggest Inspiration?
This is an excellent opportunity to delve into who has made the greatest impact on your life. It’s better to pick someone you know well, such as an important teacher, mentor, or family member, as opposed to someone you have not met personally, such as Steve Jobs. Knowing someone well will allow you to speak about them and their impact in much more depth.
Break down how they embody the ideals you strive for, which enables you to discuss your own strengths, values, and unique qualities in relation to them. For example, you might say you admire your late grandmother’s empathy, and you strive to match that same level of empathy every day in order to keep her memory alive.
8. What Are Your Greatest Strengths or Weaknesses?
This question is challenging, as you don’t want to sound arrogant describing your strengths, and you don’t want your weaknesses to make you sound incompetent.
When it comes to your strengths, choose ones that are unique, but stay humble. It’s important to remember that the interviewer is not looking for you to list a bunch of attractive adjectives. Use real, tangible examples from your past that demonstrate your strengths. How do your strengths match those of the program’s? How do they signify that you will make a good addition to the program?
For obvious reasons, listing your weaknesses is a bit more challenging. It’s a good idea to select flaws that aren’t actually weaknesses, but subtlety is of the essence here. Do not say you’re a perfectionist or “some people say I work too hard.” Your interviewer has heard these responses before, time and time again, and they won’t fall for them.
Another way to tackle your weaknesses is by picking a minor flaw and discussing how you’re working to overcome it. This demonstrates maturity and shows the interviewer that you’re committed to continuous learning and improvement. Maturity is one of the most sought-after qualities in students applying to residency. So even though you’ll be mentioning one of your weaknesses, you’ll also be revealing your resolve to improve.
9. Describe a Challenge You Overcame. What Did You Learn?
The key here is to identify a real example of a challenging situation from your past in which you had to deal with a micromanaging leader, a difficult team member, or an otherwise unreasonable individual. How did you defuse the conflict? How did you reach an effective compromise? What strengths or values does your handling of the situation reveal about you?
What’s most important is to choose a genuine experience from your past that you can speak about comfortably and also demonstrates your personal and professional strengths. Prepare for this question beforehand by looking through your journal or the notes you kept during your research, clinical, or volunteering experiences.
10. Discuss One of Your Research Projects.
Anything you listed on your application is fair game to be asked about, so be sure to reread your entire CV and any related research projects or related publications so that you can discuss them in detail.
Prepare a succinct but thorough (less than one minute) overview of any project you have worked on. It should be an overview that someone without any prior knowledge of the topic will understand. The ball is then in the interviewer’s court. Based on their questions, you can delve into more details about different aspects of the project.
11. What Do You Think About [Current Event]?
Keep up with current affairs during the residency application cycle. Naturally, pay particular attention to headlines in the realm of healthcare and the healthcare system. Do not worry about forming a strong opinion. It’s better to represent yourself as well-informed and diplomatic as opposed to overly opinionated.
For example, you may encounter questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, whereas a few years ago, you would have faced questions about the Affordable Care Act. Stay on top of recent news, and be sure to practice evaluating both sides of the argument.
12. What Do You Like to Do for Fun Outside of Medicine?
Choose a handful of hobbies, around two to four, that you are comfortable discussing openly and can speak about passionately. What do you do for fun? Do you like to play sports? Do you play any instruments? Do you like to cook, read, write, watch movies, spend time with your family, garden, travel, sing, practice yoga, or dance like nobody’s watching?
Whatever hobbies you choose, prepare to speak about them in detail. If you’re a film fan, be prepared to talk about recent movies or your favorite actors. If you’re a big hockey fan, be prepared to talk about recent games or events in the world of hockey. It also never hurts to tell the interviewer that you’re always open to trying new things and give them an example of something new or interesting you recently did.
The key is expressing passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity. The interviewer is trying to get to know the real you. They’re also trying to determine if you’re someone who can take a break. If you don’t have any way to decompress from the stress of residency, you’re likely to burn out. You may feel like you’re expressing dedication by saying you have no hobbies other than medicine, but it could indicate to the interviewer that you’re either lying or likely to overwork yourself.
13. What’s the Last [Book/Movie/Show] You Read/Watched?
This question comes in many different forms, such as, “What’s the last book you read?” “What’s the last book you read for fun?” “What’s the last movie you watched?”
It’s not a trick question, and it’s very much like the “What do you do for fun” question. The interviewer is trying to get to know who you are beyond your grades and scholastic accomplishments. It’s another opportunity to show you have a life outside of medicine. Try to pick something intriguing that you’re excited to talk about, as this will help the conversation flow more organically.
If you didn’t like the last book you read or show/movie you watched, you could discuss that as well. Were the author’s arguments weak? Did you feel the characters were underdeveloped or inauthentic? Did you find the plot unbelievable? Answering the question in this way also gives you a chance to demonstrate your critical thinking skills.
14. What Questions Do You Have for Me/Us? (Interviewer)
By now, you probably know that you should never respond “no” to this question. Saying you don’t have any questions tells the interviewer that you’re not really interested in the program. Having a long list of detailed questions demonstrates that you’ve had a vested interest in the program for some time and have been eagerly awaiting the chance to discuss the program with someone in the know.
Avoid asking questions that can be easily answered by looking at the program’s website. This is your chance to exploit the interviewer’s expertise. Why is this an excellent program for both of your chosen specialties? Why did they choose this residency? What are they most proud of about this residency? Why did they decide to become an interviewer?
Asking detailed questions could be a way to turn the interviewer into a valuable supporter and mentor down the road.
Preparing for Residency Interviews
Think back to your days of interviewing for medical school. It’s time to look professional and be on your best behavior throughout the entire interview process.
- Dress appropriately in a sharp outfit.
- Test your outfit in advance to ensure it fits well and you are comfortable moving around in it. (Don’t assume the suit you wore for your medical school interviews still fits!)
- Don’t wear strong cologne or perfume.
- Don’t wear anything low cut or revealing.
- Avoid flashy clothing and accessories.
- DON’T BE LATE. Set multiple alarms and have contingency plans.
- Watch your body language. Avoid crossing your arms, slouching, and fiddling with items.
- Avoid looking at a watch or a clock, as this may signal you are bored or have better places to be.
- Don’t walk around with your head down.
- Be polite to everyone—staff, students, physicians, etc.
- Don’t scroll social media while waiting.
- Remember to silence or turn off your phone.
- Don’t chew gum during the interview.
- Never lie about or exaggerate your skills or experience.
- Don’t gossip about other medical schools, students, or physicians.
- Remember to ask informed questions about the program at the end of the interview.
Going into your residency interviews prepared is an absolute must. Practice your answers to common questions and ensure you are able to adapt your answers on the fly. Memorizing your answers will not serve you well—you’ll sound stiff and, well, rehearsed. Plus, you’ll be much more likely to fumble or get lost if you make a mistake or get caught off guard with a surprise question.
Instead, prepare general answers that you can evolve based on how the question is asked and what you learn about the interviewer. Practice answering common questions in front of trusted friends, family, or mentors, and film yourself and watch it back. How is your posture? Are you speaking clearly? Do you seem nervous? Or do you come off as authentic and confident?
Mock interviews are an ideal opportunity to put your skills to the test in an environment that simulates a real interview. Learn more about our Residency Admissions Consulting Services, including residency application editing, interview prep, and mock interviews.