Questions You Should Ask Your Prospective Residency Programs

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You’ve finally made it to your residency interviews. At this point, you’ve likely spent hours preparing for the interview and meticulously brainstorming answers to common interview questions. Although it is true that you need to be ready to answer questions about yourself, you also need to keep in mind that the interview is a 2-way process; the program isn’t just interviewing you (although it may feel like this); you are also interviewing the program. You need to make sure it is a good fit for you and it will allow you to thrive during your residency training. The interview is an opportunity to obtain the information you need to make an informed decision about where you would like to pursue your residency training. Having to spend anywhere between 3 to 7 years is a long time, and it’s important you use the interview as an opportunity to obtain the information you need to help you make your rank list. Your interview day is the perfect opportunity to get your questions answered.

 

You will have the opportunity to speak with residents, faculty, and likely the residency coordinator. Keep in mind that some questions are more appropriate for faculty whereas others are better suited for residents. Also, please remember that anything you ask may make its way back to the rank meeting–your questions are a reflection of your goals and interests. For example, asking a question like “What research opportunities in gastroenterology would I be able to pursue?” is much different than “Do you anticipate the residents to have an increased salary in the coming year?” 

 

Sample questions that you can ask faculty:

  • How and how often is feedback provided to residents? Do you get feedback on the go? Do you have regular meetings (monthly,
    bi-annually, etc) with your program director? Do you get written feedback after each rotation that outlines your progress? \

    • Feedback is important to help you grow as a resident and become proficient in your specialty, so it’s important to know what things you are doing well vs. what things you need to focus more on!

 

  • How would you describe the residents at your program?
    • This can shed light on what type of residents the program attracts and the relations they have with the faculty. Does it seem like the faculty enjoy working with the residents they are describing? Are the residents dedicated to patient care and to learning? Do the faculty mention anything about the residents spending time with each other outside of the hospital setting?

 

  •  What do you consider a strength of your residency program?
    • Is it the opportunities for research? Is it the unique patient population? Is it the exposure to a specific subspecialty within that field of medicine? After you have that information, you can think about whether the program’s strengths align with your interests. How can that particular strength help you grow as a resident? Also, consider whether the strength is unique to this particular residency program or if it’s something you would expect to be a strength in most programs.

 

  • What formal and informal learning opportunities can I expect?
    • What is the curriculum like? What is the ratio of didactics vs. independent learning? Are there any “after-hours” opportunities to meet with faculty to discuss cases or patient care? What is done to prepare residents for medical board exams? As a resident, you will be learning a plethora of new information so it is important that you can adapt to the structure of the residency program’s didactics and will be able to learn from them.

 

  • What types of practices and fellowships have residents gone into after residency?
    • Do most residents go into private practice vs academics? What is the success rate of residents matching into competitive specialties? How many graduates pursue additional training after graduating from residency? This can provide insight to the mentoring that residents get from faculty. You will be mentored by the same faculty, so it is helpful to know what prior graduates did because it is likely you may follow in their footsteps.

Sample questions that you can ask residents:

  • What is a typical week, month, and year for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year, 5 th , etc year resident?
    • It’s difficult to get this information from a website, so you want to make sure you ask the residents! What can you expect your daily responsibilities to be as a resident? How do these change between the 1 st and final year of residency? How much OR time should you expect if you are pursuing a surgical residency? How many procedures will you be able to do? Is there any administrative work you have to do that isn’t directly related to patientcare?

 

  • How does your call day look like?
    • Some programs are notoriously known to have very busy call days, whereas others are much lighter. Obviously, volume is important to hone your skills as a physician and should be welcomed, but the extent of volume can definitely affect quality of life or outside responsibilities. Does overnight call mean you sleep next to a pager that may go off once or twice, or does overnight call mean you are in the hospital constantly seeing new consults or patients? The responses to this question will also be specialty dependent.

 

  • Do you have a jeopardy system?
    o How often is jeopardy activated? How common is it for a resident to be on an “easier” elective rotation or research and be pulled to a busier service? If you are hoping to pursue research during residency, it will be important to know how much real “research” time you will have. Also, it’s good to know how often a program expects their residents to be okay getting swung to other rotations other than what they are assigned to.

 

  • What is your favorite thing about this program?
    • What do the residents seem excited about? Do they have a favorite thing? Does it seem like they enjoy residency and find it to be a constructive learning experience? Does it seem like there are several things they are choosing between for what they like most about the program, or does it seem like it is difficult for them to think of one thing they like? This can help you gain insight into how happy the residents are and what their residency experience is like overall.

 

  • What do you think is a weakness of your program?
    • No program is absolutely perfect! It’s important to try to find out what the “less-glamorous” aspects of a residency program are because you will be faced with them if you train as a resident there. A current resident should be able to tell you one or two things that are a weakness or a nuisance about the program—whether it’s something simple or more complex. Examples can range from no dedicated procedural elective, not enough money on the meal card, difficulty navigating the different clinic sites without a car, too many administrative duties, etc. Hopefully the current residents will be able to shed light on this so that you aren’t caught by surprise when residency starts.

 

  • What activities are residents involved in outside of the program?
    • These can be activities that the residents do with one another (group hangouts, happy hour, post-call brunch, etc) or on their own (hobbies, exercise, spend time with family, etc). This can shed light on how much free time a resident has outside of patient care/residency responsibilities and how they chose to spend it. If a program is located in Colorado, do the residents have time to take advantage of skiing/hiking opportunities, and is that something you would be even interested in?

 

  • Can you tell me about the balance between clinical work on service and education/lectures?
    • A resident can tell you what the ratio is of time dedicated to patient care vs. participating in didactics such as morning report, grand rounds, and dedicated lectures. Not all residencies are structured the same, so if you know you prefer to read textbooks individually rather than be lectured at in a group setting, you may want to find a program that has less emphasis on this. That being said, all residency programs that are approved by the ACGME need to uphold to a specific standard and residents are expected to accomplish specific milestones, thus there will usually be a decent amount of similarity in curriculums between programs.

 

That’s all we have! In summary, during your residency interviews, it is important to ask the faculty and residents questions that will help you get a better understanding of the inner workings of each residency program. You may wonder what type of information some of these questions can provide, and hopefully this post has been helpful in generating some ideas for great questions to ask programs and current residents. As always, if you need any assistance navigating the residency matching process, don’t hesitate to contact us here!

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About the Author

Alexandra R., MD

After completing her coursework a semester early in December of 2013, Alexandra Rzepecki officially graduated with the University of Michigan Class of 2014 with Summa…

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