Home » Residency Matching: How to Cancel an Interview the Right Way

Residency Matching: How to Cancel an Interview the Right Way

A residency applicant speaking on her phone to cancel her residency interview.


After four years of college, four years of medical school, countless research projects and long hours shadowing you finally got a residency interview and you want to cancel it?!


Kidding, this is quite common and a great position to be in, congrats! Buuuut it’s very important to handle it in an appropriate way. This is especially important for the 2021 Match, as the vast majority of interviews this year are going to be conducted online. While you may think that cancelling an online interview is easier and requires less notice than cancelling an in-person interview, that is not necessarily the case.


Let’s first take a step back. 


When applying to residency, it’s true that it is important to apply broadly. Career counselors and program advisors can help with how many programs to apply to, but if you’ve applied broadly enough, you will inevitably have interviews invites you decide to not attend. In surgical sub-specialties for example, it is common to apply to 60 or more programs. But, even with the 2020 virtual application season, sitting through 60 interviews is probably not an option most applicants want to pursue.


So when does cancelling most commonly  arise?

  1. The interview conflicts with another interview
  2. You have been to a solid number of interviews and have decided not to attend an interview at a program you are unlikely to rank highly.


These two scenarios are slightly different. Let’s start with scenario #1.


Scenario #1: The interview conflicts with another interview (or is scheduled back to back)

Residencies set their interview dates in advance and do not coordinate with other programs. While students vie for a date that fits best in their schedule, ultimately programs know that if you are serious about their program you will bend over backward to attend. Therefore, if you have a conflicting interview or the interview it scheduled too close to your interview with another program, it is OK to request a date that is full. However, bear in mind that residencies do not often accommodate students with conflict as this shows you are less serious about their program. It is possible that this year programs may be more accommodating, but we do not know that for sure. Also remember, if you email a program asking to be accommodated for an interview, and the program accommodates you, you should not cancel. This is considered disrespectful. While it may not seem that this would have any bearing on your match, program directors do speak to each other and mistreating one program can spread to other programs. 

However, if you have been offered an interview and have a conflict it is OK to decide not to attend. Simply email back the program coordinator/director, extend your gratitude, and politely decline. 


Scenario #2: You have scheduled the interview but before attending have decided you have been to a solid number of interviews and are unlikely to rank this program highly.


This is a common scenario as the interview season goes on. I’ve heard rumors of program directors who purposefully interview later in the interview season, citing that students who come to a later interview day are more likely to be interested in the program, otherwise they would have been jaded by interview season and cancelled. This shows that it saves you, and the program, time and money by politely declining if you feel confident you are no longer interested in the program. The key is to do your research and cancel early


What sort of research?

Be sure you definitely wouldn’t want to match at this program. What if you don’t match at all? Would it be worth cancelling this interview?


How early is early enough?

A good rule of thumb would be at least three weeks in advance. Programs will have wait list spots for applicants, so you may as well give someone else the opportunity to interview. This being said, with interviews online this year, it may be tempting to give yourself more time to ponder if you want to do the interview and cancel less than 3 weeks out because its online and easy for them to reschedule– right? Wrong. We still recommend sticking to the 3 week rule because it is quite possible that program directors are going to be stressed out with the applicants who ignored our advice and decided to cancel 1 week before their online interview. Don’t be part of the problem. 


Just in case you skipped that last part, I repeat, it is not okay to cancel within one week of the interview. I can not stress how important it is to respect the time of the program and other applicants. While it is true that programs technically could find another person to fill your empty interview spot if you were to cancel a couple days before your interview, you run the major risk of upsetting program directors who will have to scramble or causing them to leave an empty spot.


As a final word, always, always, ALWAYS make sure to cancel interviews that you decide against. It looks extremely unprofessional and rude if you simply don’t show up. Especially since things are online, triple check time zone conversions and make sure you do not accidentally sleep through or forget about your meeting time.  


If you need help preparing for your residency interviews, contact Elite Medical Prep residency advising services to set up an online mock interview.

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