Residency Interview Questions & Answers

With the CaRMS R-1 residency match deadlines fast approaching, there are several key steps for you to take. It’s time to put the finishing touches on your personal statements, submit your applications, and start preparing for any interviews you may be invited to. 

We’ve already given you a few residency interview tips, so now we’ll go over some of the common residency interview questions and how to effectively answer them. We’ll select our interview prep questions from this extensive list from the Association of American Colleges (AAMC). 

Let’s briefly go over the different types of interviews used throughout the residency match process to refresh your memory and make sure you know what kinds of formats you’ll be facing. 

The three types of interviews are…

  1. One-on-One Interviews 
  2. Panel Interviews 
  3. Multiple Mini Interviews 

One-on-One Interviews 

In this format, you’ll be interviewed by a single person. They might ask you questions based on your past experiences (school, work, life, etc.) or they might give you behavioural questions (tell me about a time when…) to see how you react to certain situations. We’ve got a few sample questions coming up that will demonstrate the difference between these questions a little more clearly. 

Panel Interviews 

You’ll be asked many of the same questions in a panel interview as you would in a one-on-one interview. The big difference between the two is the number of interviewers. A panel is generally made up of three or four interviewers who are selected from faculty members, current medical residents, and/or practicing physicians 

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)

MMIs are the least predictable interview format. They’re made up of about twelve stations that applicants rotate through. There’s an interviewer (or perhaps multiple interviewers) at each station who present you with either a scenario to which you have to react or a standard interview question that you have to  answer. You might even have to role-play scenarios.

It sounds fairly straightforward. 

But here’s the catch: every program has its own variation of the MMI format to help them test and identify the qualities that are most important to them. This means you could go through two different MMIs that each have a different number of stations and totally unrelated questions. 

So let’s say that you’ve applied to two different programs in the same specialty, but that one program is more research based whereas the other is more clinical based. The research program might present more situations in their MMI that tests your critical thinking skills whereas the clinical program’s MMI might test more of your knowledge of the healthcare system. There will also likely be some overlap. For example, you might find that both of these programs also test your communication skills. 

Now that we’ve refreshed your memory on the different interview formats, let’s go over some of the most common residency interview questions.

Question 1: Tell me about yourself.

This is probably one of the most intimidating questions that someone could ask you, even outside of an interview setting. One of two things is bound to happen. Either you draw a total blank, struggling to remember what you had for breakfast let alone your entire life story or you end up ranting for half an hour and going into way too much detail. 

Either reaction is drawn from the same uncertainty: what do people actually want to know when they ask this question? 

The University of Ottawa has a helpful guide to interview questions that outlines a great approach to this question. Start by giving a brief background about who you were before university. Talk about things like where you’re from or any childhood interests that led you to your current medical career path. 

Next, talk a little about your undergraduate degree. Why did you choose to pursue that degree? How did it prepare you for medical school and your upcoming residency?

Then discuss some of your proudest medical accomplishments. The University of Ottawa suggests discussing three accomplishments and not to go into too much detail at this point. You might be asked to elaborate on them a little later on.  

Programs want to gauge the kind of person you are beyond your academic and professional life. So, to end your answer to this question, go through some of your personality traits and hobbies. What do you get up to in your free time? 

Remember: keep your answer short. They don’t want your whole biography at this point, just a glimpse at the kind of person you are. Try timing yourself to see how long it takes you to answer this question. Once you have an idea of how long your response is, start whittling it down until it’s under two minutes.

Question 2: Can you explain this part of your transcript/CV? 

This is a question about any areas on your record that seem questionable. The point of this question isn’t to make you feel inferior or intimidated. Interviewers are assessing whether or not this particular area of your record is a red flag by giving you the opportunity to provide context; they’re ensuring that it’s not a sign that you might not be up to the challenge of training at their program. 

To prepare for this question, go back through your transcript and CV and highlight any areas that might be of concern to admissions committees. Are there any grades that are lower than your general average? Are there any major gaps in either your academic or your employment history? What were the circumstances around these moments? 

This is your opportunity to potentially demonstrate how you bounced back from a tough spot. Let’s use the example of having a gap year on your transcript. Maybe you were really struggling with your mental health and needed a little time to figure out what a healthy work-life balance looks like. So you took a year off to take care of yourself. But how did that time off impact the next few years on your transcript? How did it add value to your later academic years?

Well, having taken that time to take care of your mental health, you ended up returning  to school with a series of coping strategies and study habits that made school work more manageable. At this point in your answer, you might point out that the following years demonstrated an increase in your academic average due to the time you took off and the new skills/habits that you developed. 

An answer like this demonstrates that you’re committed to developing healthy habits that allow you to excel in life and take on new challenges. By answering like this, you’ve proven that not only was this gap year not an issue, it actually better prepared you for the upcoming challenges involved in a residency program!  

Question 3: What are you looking for in a program?

Different programs offer different learning opportunities and nurture residents’ growth in different ways. Some might have a lot of research opportunities. Others might require you to take on a lot of teaching responsibilities for medical students. There might even be differences in how often residents are evaluated and what the evaluation/feedback process looks like. 

Ultimately, interviewers are looking for residents who will flourish within the structure of their  specific program. So the best thing you can do when answering this question is to be honest in what you need to get the most out of your residency experience. 

To figure this out, take some time to think about the tools that you need to grow as a student. If you need more hands-on experience, say so. If you prefer a research based environment over a clinical one, that’s a fair preference and you should make that clear.  

Remember, interviews are also your opportunity to find out which of the programs you applied to are well-suited to your needs. So, if faced with this question, be honest. This will help the residency programs in creating their rank order lists and it’ll also help the CaRMS match algorithm pair you with the programs that will allow you to become the best doctor you possibly can. 

Question 4: What are some of your strengths and/or weaknesses? 

With this kind of question, it’s crucial that you only answer what is asked of you. If they only ask about your strengths, only list strengths. If they only ask about weaknesses, only list weaknesses. They might ask you about both, in which case, list them all!

When listing strengths, avoid just listing things that generally make you look good. Only list qualities that are related to the specialty you’re applying to. Anything else isn’t really of interest to your interviewers. 

For example, let’s say that you’re applying to family medicine programs. In this specialty, you’ll need to be great at working in a variety of situations with both doctors and patients. You might say you pride yourself on your interpersonal skills, you love to learn, and you’re always a glass half full kind of person. 

What about weaknesses? How can you possibly frame those in a positive light? 

The trick is to (briefly) talk about how you’re working on them. For example, maybe one of the weaknesses you list is that you struggle to give feedback because you worry about hurting people’s feelings. But you recently read about the glow-grow-glow method (sandwiching feedback between two pieces of praise) of giving feedback that you’ve been trying out and it’s made it easier for you. An answer like this demonstrates your capacity for growth. 

Question 5: Do you have any questions?  

Just like question number 3, this question is a chance to figure out whether this program is the right fit for you. Don’t waste it!

There are so many questions you might ask. To avoid getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions you could possibly ask, take some time before your interview to brainstorm the qualities that your ideal program would possess. 

Once you have an idea of what they are, start framing some questions around them. If you’re feeling a little stuck in putting some questions together, take a look at this list of questions assembled by some residents for AAMC. It covers everything from clinical duties to orientation programs for incoming residents. There’s even a list of questions you might ask residents currently attending the programs you’re interviewing for!

We’ve gone over some of the most common questions you’ll face during your CaRMS interviews but we haven’t covered any behavioural questions. Let’s quickly go over how to approach these kinds of questions. 

Answering Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions are the ones where interviewers ask something like “Tell me about a time you did XYZ.” So, for example, you might be asked about a time when you were in a leadership position or a time when you had to deal with conflict.

Ultimately, residency interviewers are asking these kinds of questions to assess which of the CanMEDS roles you possess. These are the tenets that form the foundation of modern Canadian health care and medical education. 

The best way to answer these questions is to prepare at least one story for each of the seven CanMEDS roles. This way, you’re ready for whatever behavioural question comes your way. Now all that’s left is to figure out how to structure your story so that you don’t ramble during your interviews. 

The most effective way of structuring your answers is to use the STAR method. Start by describing the situation. When and where did the story take place? Who was involved? Then you move into describing the task. Here, you need to outline what it is you had to do and what challenges you may have faced in the process. Next, you need to describe the actions you took. And finally, outline the results of your actions. Did it turn out how you wanted it to? What did you learn from the experience?

And now you know all the major interview questions!

Now that you know what kinds of questions might come up in your interviews, consider taking a look at some of our virtual interview tips to make sure your interview etiquette is top notch. 

If you’re looking for more advice, consider our residency interview preparation service or set up a free consultation with one of our specialists. Our team is ready to help refine your communication skills and boost your confidence so you can take on any interview scenario that comes your way. 

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