Overall, I really enjoyed the interview trail. Much of that is attributable to my personality in general, and to the fact that I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories. Residency interviews are fun because they are as much about the program getting to know you as they are about you becoming familiar with the personality of the program.
For those of you not familiar with how the interviews work, here’s an example of one interview schedule:
4:00 PM, check into hotel. Steam suit if needed, look over pre-interview orientation materials
6:45 PM, meet for shuttle to dinner
7:00 PM, dinner with residents and sig o’s either at a restaurant or a resident’s house
9:00 PM, back to hotel
6:30 AM, check out of the hotel and store luggage
6:45 AM, shuttle to the hospital
7:00 AM, the day begins. Usually, in the mornings there is a continental breakfast, a presentation about the program from one of the program directors, then everyone goes to the residents’ morning education session.
9:00 AM, walking tour through the hospital and an additional presentation or chatting time with current residents.
10:30 AM, 25-min interviews with 2-3 faculty members, one of which is usually with a program director.
12:00 PM, lunchtime! Depending on the program, there is either a resident education session, a QnA, or just general socialization with the residents.
1:00 PM, anything they didn’t do in the afternoon, from Q and A sessions to looking over the contract to promoting special features of the program again.
3:00 PM, interview day ends. Time to go back to the hotel, change into traveling clothes, and start thinking about how that program compares to the others.
The dinners the evening before weren’t required, per se, but they were a really great way to judge the personality of the other residents at the program. They were also a free meal. The sit down meals at restaurants were nice, but I generally preferred the ones that were more free form, so it was easy to talk to lots of different people. My favorite dinner was one at a resident’s house where there was not only great catering and enough seating for everyone–which is key–but the residents switched up where they were sitting between the main course and the dessert. The worst was a combination interview social and Halloween party at one of the resident’s homes, which sounded like fun in theory until the residents ignored the applicants and we ended up standing in a circle and talking to each other the entire time.
In general, it was a lot of shout-talking about the same generic topics (“Where are you from?” and “What interests you about our program,” that sort of thing). During those times it took a lot of effort to keep holding my face in an expression of genuine interest while my brain was screaming “get me out!” Every once in a while you really connect with someone and have a quality conversation that makes it difficult to leave when the dinner ends. Those were the best.
I also enjoyed my actual one on one interviews with faculty members. They were in general very interesting people and it was fun to chat with them. One of my more memorable interviews was a discussion of my college football team’s season with an alumnus at a program far from there, and another was mostly about how difficult it is to make a good cannoli shell. In short, many of the conversations had nothing to do with medicine. The worst part about these was the worst part of any interview: answering the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.” Friends, no matter what the interview is for, always have the answer to this question ready. I read somewhere that it’s the most often asked interview question and the most often flubbed question at the same time. Despite the fact I always has my answer ready, it still felt strangely uncomfortable to give the same answer to multiple people and pretend like it was a novel response each time.
The tours were also enjoyable, although this was generally because it was some of the only time spent not sitting on my butt. Meandering around a hospital’s campus was also an excellent way of picturing whether I could see myself there. Least favorite part of the interview day? In general it was sitting through the educational conferences. Not as if i wasn’t interested in learning, I just didn’t love having to sit there quietly and pretend I was riveted for a solid hour.
So those are the basics, now for the more fun part of this post!
A few stories from the interview trail (interspersed with more nuggets of wisdom):
1. Witnessed a solid number of wardrobe malfunctions. During one tour, we were walking as a group between medical building, requiring everyone to traipse outside for half of a block. During tha time, one of the girls in the group managed to get her high-heeled shoe stuck in a street grate. It took a full 2 minutes to free it, which doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you’re the one who is the subject of everyone’s focus during that portion of a residency interview–which run on very tight schedules–that is a very long 2 minutes.
2. Another wardrobe malfunction: three of the candidates during my interview days ended up with lost luggage from flights, with their suits lost along with them. All took different approaches to solving this issue. The first girl arrived in town early and was able to go to a department store and purchase a new suit. The second person did what I do: travel in work attire that isn’t a suit, so he wore professional attire rather than a suit and looked presentable. The third person had neither options, ended up calling the program, and they gave him scrubs to wear rather than jeans and a hoodie. Bottom line: if you can, pack everything in a carry on; if you need a larger suitcase, get a separate garment bag and take your suit as a carry on.
3. Snafus will happen, especially when flying. On the shuttle back to a hotel following one interview, I received two automated phone messages from early in the day (I never checked my phone during an interview, it felt rude) saying that my flight out had been cancelled. Despite calling back immediately on hearing the message, it was still several hours after everyone else on the flight and so the only other flights for the night were already full. I ended up going to the airport without having any idea how long I would be there or what my destination was. It was actually kind of exciting. As with everything else in life, it worked out. I was able to get a flight back to a different city, my parents picked me up and took me to their house, I washed clothes, and the following morning we left on a previously planned road trip to a different interview. Other than a higher long term parking bill than I had anticipated, everything worked out well. Moral of this story: don’t panic, crap happens. At the same time you should always have back up plans for travel if possible.
4. Every once in a while, there are some really cool international students along the way. I befriended a man from Colombia during one of my interviews in the north. It happened to snow during the dinner and he got really excited- he had never seen snow before! By the time dinner was over there was about an inch and a half of snow on the ground. So the interviewees did the natural thing and had a brief snowball fight (which I instigated, every once in a while you need to make your own fun). It was a blast, and it was fun to be part of such a unique memory.
5. I was also fortunate enough to be able to take some time in almost every city to explore the area. Aside from time visiting with amazing family and friends, the highlight was definitely seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Also ranking high on the list were shopping at the Mall of America, walking on Beale Street in Memphis, and soaking up history in Washington, DC. In doing this I was able to get a small taste of what it would be like to live in each place. Some programs actually make activities like a trolley tour of the city part of the interview day. If not, try to take some time to at least sample a local beer if you can.
6. Illness happens, especially if you, like me, end up doing interviews in between pediatric rotations in the heart of cold and flu season. In my case, this meant doing one interview with raging laryngitis. My voice was totally shot, what came out of my mouth instead was a high-pitched squeaking and breaking sound that was not only painful for me, but painful to hear. It was a huge relief to realize that the program wasn’t a good fit for me anyway, so who cared what the interviewers thought.
7. Other things that can happen during interview travel: getting asked out on a date by a man you met on a plane. No joke, it happened. I said no for a couple of reasons, among them that I didn’t know the guy for more than 2 hours and his kind, army-uniformed exterior may have been masking a serial killer and that I was in a strange city with no nearby friends or family. The biggest reason? My first thought after he asked me out was “Ugh, no, not another interview.” Because that was how I saw it mid-interview season, as two interviews in one day. I don’t know if that’s what most people would do, but friends, if this happens to you, please use your own discretion.