How to prepare for the Residency Interview
♫ It’s the most wonderful time of the year ♫
That’s right, the CARMS application deadline is coming up! And not long after that, come the residency interviews. Preparing for your CARMS interviews can be a daunting process. How can you prepare without knowing exactly what will be asked?
Ultimately, this comes down to strategy and knowing your own story inside out and backwards. In this post, we’ll walk you through some information that will make preparing for residency interviews a little less scary. We’ll break down the kinds of interview formats you might come across, some interview dos and don’ts, and we’ve even got some sample questions to help you out.
Ready? Great, let’s dive in.
The first thing you need to know is when and where interviews will be held. CARMS has already announced that all main residency match interviews in 2022 will be held online regardless of their format, so don’t worry about arranging transportation for any on-location interviews. The CARMS interview period in 2022 has also already been announced. Interviews will be taking place between February 28th and March 20th.
Now it’s time to start talking about strategy.
The first step of developing your strategy is knowing what kind of interview format to expect. There are three residency interview formats:
- One-on-One Interviews
- Panel Interviews
- Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
Let’s go through these three in a little more detail.
One-on-one interviews are exactly how they sound. It’s just you and a single interviewer. Generally speaking, interviewers have a pre-determined list of questions they ask each candidate. But they also might bounce off of the things you’ve said. For example, say you’ve talked about your experiences assisting one of your professors in their research. An interviewer might ask what your specific responsibilities were, what relevant skills you developed in that position, how you think the skills you developed in that role might be applicable to your future in medicine or in your residency.
Panel interviews are set up fairly similarly to one-on-one interviews. The main difference between the two is the number of interviewers. Instead of speaking to just one person, a panel most often consists of three or four interviewers. Panels are generally made up of some combination of faculty members, current residents, or practicing physicians. You can expect them to ask similar questions as you would in a one-on-one interview.
Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
MMIs were developed by McMaster university just under twenty years ago and have been gaining more popularity in medical and dental programs with each passing year. Despite being one of the more common interview formats, they are probably the hardest to prepare for. Every program that uses an MMI format has their own variation based on the specific skills they’re trying to assess.
Although there are so many variations, the general idea is that you rotate between about twelve stations where you have eight to ten minutes to deal with a given scenario. These scenarios might be standard interviews (either one-on-one or panels), role play scenarios involving actors, or even collaborative problem-solving efforts with other candidates.
Interviewers in any of these three formats may or may not have access to your CARMS file. Closed interviews are when they don’t have access to your file. In these cases, it’s especially important that you know exactly what is in your CV and what experiences or qualities make you an excellent candidate so that you can go into as much detail as necessary.
Open interviews are interviews where your interviewer has full access to your CARMS file. This doesn’t mean that you should be any less familiar with your own history. Rather, it means that you can spend a little less time going over the details of the history itself and a little more time discussing how the experiences listed in your file have prepared you for a residency at this particular program.
There is a middle ground between these two formats known as semi-open interviews. In these cases, interviewers will only have access to certain parts of your file. For example, they might have access to your CV but not your personal statement or reference letters.
Again, each program may rely on a different interview format. For example, UofT interviews are composed of two interviewers who only have access to candidates’ demographic information. Memorial’s interviews are about 30 minutes and their panels are made up of several faculty and residents.
Programs post the interview format they use on their website. They’ll either have a page titled “postgraduate medical education” or maybe just “residency.” You should be able to find what interview format they use either in an FAQ section or amongst their selection criteria.
How to approach residency interview questions
The next step in developing your interview strategy is knowing what kinds of questions you might be asked and how to approach answering them. A good place to start in looking for sample questions is the CARMS website. They regularly update their interview guidelines and include a list of sample questions.
The Association of American Colleges (AAMC) also has a list of commonly asked residency interview questions. Although they’re set up by and for American residency programs, they’re all still designed to assess your personality, your history, and your projected future. You can expect Canadian programs to ask similar questions.
Since there’s so much variation in MMI based on what the different programs are looking for, it’s a little harder to find resources. Harder, but not impossible! McGill has some great practice MMI scenarios. AAMC has some too near the bottom of their page on what to expect in an MMI.
Now it’s time to figure out how to approach these questions. Don’t try memorizing your answers – you don’t know if any or all of these questions will come up and this will just leave you totally stumped if you’re asked a question you weren’t expecting. It’ll also make you seem rehearsed and less genuine than you want to portray yourself. And don’t forget about MMI scenarios where you’re asked to collaborate or role play! These scenarios are unpredictable, so memorization won’t work here either.
We’ve got a better idea.
Before answering a question or approaching a scenario at an MMI station, try asking yourself the following questions:
- What CanMEDS roles are applicable to this question/scenario?
- Which of my experiences (personal or professional) helped me develop this quality?
- How can I draw on these relevant skills to solve the problem in front of me?
Let’s go through these questions in a little more detail.
What CanMEDS roles are applicable to this question/scenario?
Before answering this question, you need to be familiar with the CanMEDS framework. This framework outlines the necessary qualities practicing physicians must have in providing outstanding care for their patients and serves as the basis for Canadian medical education. The framework is split up into seven roles which doctors have to integrate into their patient care.
It’s important to keep this framework at the front of your mind throughout your residency application process because admissions committees are looking for people who are actively seeking ways to develop these qualities. It shows that you are already thinking like a medical professional and have the potential to further develop these skills.
Here’s a list of the seven CanMEDS roles:
- Medical Expert (the integrating role)
- Health Advocate
Which of my experiences (personal or professional) helped me develop this quality?
Now it’s time to start applying your experiences to the CanMEDS framework. Knowing in advance which of your experiences embody which role(s) will help you draw on these experiences more quickly once you’re in an interview setting. It’ll also help you draw on relevant situations or interactions that took place during that personal or professional experience so that you can have relevant anecdotal evidence during your interview.
How can I draw on these relevant skills to solve the problem in front of me?
This is where we bring it all together. Let’s use an example to demonstrate how this works, drawing on this list of questions for a sample question that is clearly asking about a CanMEDS role. Suppose you get asked what leadership roles you have held in the past.
Maybe you were the president of a club at your university. In this role, you would have had to plan events which would require the coordination of club members and resources as well as any external resources (venues, food, etc.) or personnel (speakers, volunteers, performers). You may also have had to resolve conflicts between other members of the club. Maybe you even had to collaborate with other clubs to pool your resources and host events. You also likely facilitated regular club meetings. In describing all of these responsibilities, you have demonstrated your experience not only as a leader but also as a communicator and collaborator which are two other CanMEDS roles.
This three question method can be applied to MMI scenarios as well. For example, if you’re given a hypothetical scenario involving ethical decision making in health care, you are also being asked to demonstrate your capability as a communicator, a health advocate, and a professional. When else have you had to embody these roles and how can you use your prior experience to answer the question currently in front of you?
Asking the right questions
Don’t forget to also prepare some of your own questions for your interviewers. You’ll be creating your rank order list not long after your interviews so it’s important for you to figure out which programs have what you are looking for in a residency experience. To develop these questions, ask yourself what you want to get out of a residency and what would help you get the most out of it. Is it important for you to have regular evaluations or mentorship opportunities? What does your ideal work-life balance look like? How much direct patient interaction and follow-up are you hoping to get? AAMC has a list of questions assembled by residents to assess residency programs that can serve as a great jumping off-point when coming up with your own questions.
Residency interview etiquette
Now that we’ve gone over some residency interview questions and answers, it’s time to go over some interview etiquette. Even though your interviews are going to be hosted online this year you still have to present yourself the way you would during an in-person interview. This means making sure you arrive as you would to a job interview – in dress-shirts and blazers and taking care of your personal hygiene.
Remember: interviewers are assessing your communication skills and body language, so watch out for your tone and posture throughout your interview. This means you should err on the side of formality and avoid fillers like “um” or “like.” There’s a lot of other advice to be given about effective communication during an interview and this will require an entirely different post. Keep an eye out for what our communication experts have to say (and trust us, they have a lot to say)!
Since your interviews are entirely virtual, you need to make sure that your environment is just as interview-ready as you are. Make sure you have a stable internet connection, are in a well-lit, distraction-free, private space. You’ll want to make sure the space is clean and double check that your technology works well in advance. If you don’t have a stable internet connection or a private space at home, talk to your local library. You might be able to book a study room for your interview, which would give you a private space and a stable internet connection.
You should find out in advance what platform the interview is being held on. If it isn’t a platform you’re familiar with, take some time to practice using it. From experience, we can tell you that nothing is more stressful than trying to figure out how to use Microsoft Teams five minutes before an interview. Maybe set up a trial-run with a friend to make sure you know how to use it and that it’s installed properly.
That’s all the advice we have for you today!
Make sure to take some time to figure out the format of your interviews. Once you know this, it comes down to developing the strategy that works best for you based on your unique skill sets and experiences. Regardless of the interview formats you’re preparing for, we hope that the strategies we listed in this post will help you develop your plan for success.
If you’re looking for additional residency interview prep, take a look at our interview preparation packages and consider setting up a free consultation with one of our specialists to help get you started.
Above all, good luck!