The residency interview is a critical step in the process of application. It has multiple purposes:

  • To broaden and deepen your knowledge of the program, its relative strengths and weaknesses, and your compatibility with it
  • To understand how well the program will live up to your expectations and assist you in meeting your professional goals
  • To assist you in ranking your programs of interest
  • To permit the program to assess your candidacy and suitability

In the interview process it is important not to overemphasize your search for uncovering weaknesses. You can often get at this information obliquely through residents and faculty by asking questions such as “How happy are the residents in the program?” or “Are there aspects of the program which the faculty or residents would want to change?”

Remember that the interview provides the program, faculty and housestaff a very brief interview to expand upon the information you have provided in your application. Programs are trying to determine how compatible you would be with their style of program, i.e., how well you would fit in. Ultimately, programs are using their assessment of you in the interview combined with the remainder of your application to develop their own rank order prioritization.

It is important to not allow the interview to be so stressful that you leave without fulfilling your need for information.


Most interviews will be conducted between October and January. There are no reliable data on which to base any realistic interpretation that it makes a difference to interview in the early part of the season, the middle part, or at the end. Do not obsess about this. It is wise to have had a couple of interviews before you embark upon an interview with a program that you really think has a high chance of being number one or two in your rank order list.


Before an interview with a particular program, take time to review the materials that the program has supplied and pay particular attention to the individuals that you are likely to meet during the interview day. It is important that you know the name of the department chairman and the residency program director. When attending interviews with individual faculty members or housestaff, it is appropriate to have a brief list of questions. These are best used as prompts to jog your memory and not as a score card.

It is worthwhile before undergoing the interview process to give thought to how you would answer or respond to certain lines of questioning. In providing prior reflection, however, it is best to avoid stereotypic memorized answers. Be honest and open during the interview. Some programs will ask you to present and discuss a case in which you have participated. It is wise to have such a case prepared beforehand.

Be Sure to…

  • Notify the course masters of your electives when you will be absent
  • Call to confirm the interview appointment seven to 10 days ahead to confirm all details, including parking instructions
  • Be neatly and professionally groomed for your interview
  • Be prompt for your interview or scheduled activities
  • Allow plenty of time for parking and finding your way to the interviews and locations of the days activities
  • Allow yourself ample time to find the next place you are supposed to be to avoid appearing rushed
  • Carry vital documents and articles with you on the airplane, if you are flying, rather than packing in checked luggage
  • Have with you on the interview: notes, paper and pen, and additional copies of your credentials

Interview Format

The format and content of the interviews will vary within and between programs. Many programs provide interviews with several faculty members, including, sometimes, the department chairman and/or the program director. Some programs use panels of interviewers, or question the applicants in groups.


  • Direct your questions to the appropriate individuals. For example, do not burden the department chairman with questions about the call schedule. Get such details from the chief residents or other members of the housestaff.
  • Allow the interview to flow smoothly.
  • Be prepared for the interview to start abruptly with open-ended questions to you from the interviewers such as “Tell me about yourself.” A blank stare in response to this question is not wise.

Common Interview Questions

  • Why did you choose this specialty?
  • Why did you choose our particular program?
  • What do you consider to be your strong points?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What are your career plans and goals?
  • How do you describe yourself?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • Describe a particularly important experience during your medical training.

Questions About Sensitive Topics

“Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, national origin or disability is prohibited by law.” The fact, however, that questions come up during an interview that may relate directly or indirectly to one or more of these factors may not mean that the employer intends to discriminate on the basis of the information. The handling of these questions should be executed with care. If you feel that there is an alternative agenda being played out, it is perfectly acceptable for you to politely decline to answer on the grounds that you feel it is not really pertinent to your candidacy, though your choice to do so may adversely impact this candidacy. A potentially awkward area of questions relates to issues of parental leave and child rearing plans. The prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of child rearing plans. You do not have to answer questions relating to marital status, numbers of children, or plans to have children, but it may be in your best interest to volunteer this information to prompt a discussion of the provisions for maternity/paternity leave and/or approaches to child care in the residency program. If you have formulated definite plans in relation to child bearing or child rearing during your residency, you would do well to gain some sense of the program’s approach to this issue before making your final decision about the suitability of that program to your career and personal development.

Special note

You should be aware that on January 1, 1996, the Medical Board of California, Assembly Bill 3497, added to Section 2089.5 of the Business and Professions Code a new requirement for four weeks of undergraduate clinical training in family medicine. This new family medicine requirement applies to all California licensing applicants who graduate from medical school after May 1, 1998.