American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

What is the residency interview process like?

In most instances appropriate candidates for surgical residency positions are contacted for a personal interview by a committee that is assembled by the institution's director of graduate medical education. While you may think that your research is over once you apply for residency positions, the interview is actually a good time for you to learn more by asking questions about the institutions and their residency programs. Obviously, choosing the residency that is right for you can be a difficult task, but it is one that can be made easier by finding out all of the information beforehand. The interview allows the program administrators the opportunity to question you, which may be a cause for nervousness, but if you take the time to think of the interview as a chance to have some of your questions answered, you may begin to feel that you are an active participant in the process.

The following link will take you to questions that you may find it helpful to ask. You may want to ask all of them, some of them, or none of them, and you will probably come up with some questions on your own as you prepare for the interview phase of residency selection.

The interview for a residency position can be a stressful time, but one that can be dealt with through preparation and good advice from those who have been there. Following are excerpts from a lecture given by L.D. Brit, MD, FACS, regarding How to Interview for a Residency Position.

Get Information About the Program Beforehand

  • Contact the Department chair and faculty
  • Talk to senior medical students at your school who have matched in the programs that you are interested in
  • Talk to current residents in the programs
  • Get information about several programs, don't set your sights on one to the exclusion of others
  • Interview at 10-12 programs maximum

Set Priorities to Find the Program that Suits You

  • Type of environment
  • Size of the program
  • Surrounding community
  • Is the program committed to the residents?
  • Which program falls in line with your goals?
  • Is there a message of balance in the program?

Strengths of the Program

  • Educational curriculum
  • Clinical diversity and volume
  • Work environment
    • Set interview for the time of day when grand rounds are done
    • Take a tour of the clinical facility
  • What is the national presence of the program?

Personal Statement–be prepared to answer questions about it

  • Why did you choose surgery?
  • What you want in a residency program
  • What your long range career plans are
  • What, if any, research you have done
  • Unusual hobbies and/or accomplishments
  • Biographical sketch

Letters of Recommendation

  • At least three
  • Do not send more letters than they require
  • A letter from the department chair at your school is important
  • Faculty members who know you well

Also Important

  • USMLE–dates you passed
  • AOA
  • Photo–often overlooked by applicants because it is not always required, but it is important


  • Block six weeks of time to do all of your interviews, if possible

Application Follow-up

  • Applications are not screened until they are complete, so it is up to you to call the program to inquire about whether or not all or your documents were received; usually a call to the secretary/assistant of the program chair will do
  • Follow up with the people you have asked to write letters of recommendation, to make sure that they completed and sent the letters

Scheduling Interviews

  • Programs schedule interviews in certain blocks of time; keep this in mind and avoid making special requests for times outside of those that the program sets
  • Schedule interviews with "less desirable" programs first–to get practice interviewing

The Interview Trail

  • Now is not the time to be cheap; "break out the VISA" in order to be dressed properly and well groomed

Travel Tips

  • Drive whenever possible, it saves money
  • Use or sign up for frequent flyer programs if getting to the interviews require plane travel
  • Use the alumni directory of your school; if there are alums that live in the area of one of your interviews, they may be willing to give you a place to stay
  • Many medical schools offer financial assistance for students who need to travel to interviews; be sure to inquire about this
  • Ask the secretaries/assistants of program chairs for suggestions about traveling to and from, and places to stay
  • Consider taking the bus or train to cut travel costs
  • Plan on arriving the night before a morning appointment and...
  • Plan to spend most of the day engaged in the interview process
  • Be punctual

Prep Tips

  • Practice the interview with family and/or friends
  • Show up for the interview
  • Review material from the program before the interview so that you have knowledge of the program in mind; use downtime in airports, on planes, and during travel time for this purpose
  • Telephone the program to confirm the interview date and time, and call if you have to cancel
  • Dress appropriately–this means conservatively

The Importance of the Interview

  • Don't underestimate the importance of the interview
  • After you have been selected for an interview, remember that the interview is the only time you have left to make an impression
  • Don't be nervous about being nervous; some nervousness is to be expected

What the Interviewers Are Looking for

  • Maturity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Articulateness
  • Interests in terms of medicine and outside of medicine
  • Professionalism
  • Responsibility
  • How you fit in with the program
  • Sense of teamwork

What You Should Ask

  • What is the program's accreditation status, and have there been any citations?
  • What is the American Board of Surgery (ABS) exam pass rate?
  • How many of the program's graduates go on to do fellowships?
  • Are there any anticipated changes in the program–curriculum, faculty?
  • What are the in-service exam requirements, and how are the residents' performing?
  • What is the curriculum, and what about the didactic component?

What Interviewers Want to Know

  • Your career and long-term goals
  • Research you have done
  • Why they should choose you
  • What can you bring to their program
  • What you are looking for in a program
  • Why their program is of interest to you
  • Who recommended the program to you
  • How did you learn about the program
  • Why do you want to be a surgeon
  • Be prepared to tell them about yourself

Turn offs

  • Sloppy appearance
  • Being overly aggressive
  • Condemnation of other specialties
  • Name dropping
  • Looking at watches–don't wear one

Post Interview

  • Get the name and number of a resident as a contact person
  • Arrange a follow-up visit
  • Record your impressions about the interview and the program immediately
  • Use a consistent format to make your notes, so that programs can be looked at with the same criteria
  • Write thank you notes to all of the programs that interviewed you
  • Talk with residents to get their feelings about the program; they will be your most accurate source of information