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Medical Residency Admissions Interview Questions

Admissions Overview

A medical residency is a period of three-to-five years spent working and learning in a hospital setting. The length of a residency depends on the specialty the medical student is working on. Three years is the minimum for general practice and five years or more for surgical specialties. Medical students typically begin their applications for medical residency in the fourth year of medical school.


Medical residents are required to have completed medical school and hold an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or MO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. They must also pass the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) in order to get their medical license and begin practicing medicine. A written application and letters of recommendation are required as well.

How to Prepare for Medical Residency Admissions

Preparing for a medical residency begins with the completion of medical school and earning a medical license. After that, an applicant must research residency programs and apply to the ones that fit the applicant’s desired specialty. 

A written application must then be submitted and an interview process with hospital staff scheduled. Applicants will need to get letters of recommendation from professors and teachers from their time in medical school in order to be considered for the interview process.

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Medical Residency Admissions Interview Questions

Question: What is something unique about you that will enhance our program?

Explanation: This is a general question which you are likely to hear early in the interview. The purpose of the question is to learn more about your background and determine what makes you different from the other candidates applying to the program. You can use this opportunity to make a statement about your qualifications and provide the interviewer with information they can use for subsequent questions that you would be comfortable answering.

Example: "I believe a unique thing about my background is growing up in a foreign country, emigrating to the United States, and fully integrating myself into this society. While I am proud of my heritage, I am also proud to be an American who has adopted American culture and customs. This has given me a unique perspective which enables me to relate to the patients I serve as well as the colleagues I work with."

Question: Looking back on your medical school education, what would you do differently?

Explanation: The purpose of this question is twofold. The first is to determine if you're able to be reflective and evaluate yourself. This is an important trait for physicians to have. The other purpose is to identify any issues with your medical school education which may impact your residency qualifications. Your answer should be positive, identifying something that would enhance your education rather than something that was negative and needed to be fixed.

Example: "The one thing I would probably change about my medical school experience is to have had more opportunities to explore specialties within the medical profession. This is the main thing I'm looking forward to during my residency. If I could have learned more about various specialties during medical school, I think I would be more focused in my residency program and could better concentrate on the specialties I'd already chosen. I'm confident the rotations I do during residency will be greatly beneficial."

Question: What are your plans if you don't get accepted into a medical residency program?

Explanation: This question explores a medical student's biggest fear. Not being accepted into a residency program could be catastrophic and delay the candidate's career for months, if not years. What the interviewer is interested in is whether you have contingency plans if this were to occur. Doctors need to be able to have alternatives when prescribing treatments or caring for patients. This question confirms you make provisions when things don't go the way you anticipate they will.

Example: "While not getting into a medical residency program would be a big disappointment, it would not dissuade me from pursuing a career as a physician. The first thing I would do would be to conduct follow-up interviews with program administrators to determine why I wasn't accepted and where I may have shortcomings. I would then either return to school or find an alternative position within the healthcare industry to acquire the experience and skills needed to qualify for a residency program. I would then reapply and expect to be accepted."

Question: Who in the medical profession would you like to have lunch with, and what would you hope to learn from them?

Explanation: The purpose of this question is to determine who you admire as a role model, their traits, and your aspirations as a physician. Identifying someone you would like to meet and learn from helps the interviewer understand your career goals and how you see yourself once you become a practicing physician. It would be best if you kept this in mind when answering the question.

Example: "Given the opportunity to have lunch with a prominent physician, either living or dead, I would probably choose Sir William Osler. I want to meet him and learn more from him because he developed the clinical experience and bedside learning practice for students. I've read his book, The Principles and Practice of Medicine for the Use of Practitioners and Students of Medicine, several times. It has become an important reference for me during my medical education. I would love the opportunity to ask him how best to use my time in a medical residency program to acquire the skills I need to become an excellent physician."

Question: What has been the biggest mistake you made while caring for a patient?

Explanation: This is another question that requires you to be reflective and self-aware. Most people do not like to admit weaknesses or mistakes they've made. However, physicians need to learn from their mistakes so they do not repeat them. Failure is acceptable as long as it becomes a learning experience. It is okay to fail as a medical student under the supervision of qualified doctors to prevent failing while practicing medicine and possibly risking a patient's welfare.

Example: "My greatest failure as a medical student was prescribing a medication for a patient that would have interacted with some other medications they were currently taking and may have caused them to fall into a coma. Fortunately, this happened under the supervision of a qualified physician who caught the mistake and corrected it immediately. What I learned from this experience is to carefully review a patient's medical record and the list of medications they are currently taking before prescribing a new medication."

Question: What are some things you have heard about our medical residency program, good or bad?

Explanation: When applying to a medical residency program and being interviewed, the admissions counselor will be interested in what you've heard about the program and what attracted you to it. They would also like to hear any feedback that would help them improve the program and correct any shortcomings. When answering this question, try to focus on the good things you have heard. If there are negative things, state these plainly, and then recommend ways to improve them.

Example: "Almost everything I've heard about your program has been very positive. The supervising physicians are some of the best in the healthcare industry. The rotations you offer cover virtually every aspect of medical practice. The cases residents are exposed to help them develop the skills needed to become a first-rate doctor. The only negative thing I've heard is schedules are challenging and first-year residents are usually placed on the midnight shift."

Question: Can you discuss some characteristics your colleagues have which you dislike?

Explanation: You have to be very careful when answering this question. Nobody likes people who talk negatively about their colleagues. However, everyone recognizes that we don't get along with everybody we work with. If you identify characteristics you don't like in the people you work with, they should be mildly negative, correctable, and not specific to any individual the interviewer may be able to identify.

Example: "I usually get along very well with the people I work with. I recognize that everybody is an individual and has traits that may differ from my own. Some negative traits that I don't like to see in my colleagues include being lazy, lacking integrity, and being unwilling to learn new things which will help them become better physicians. I rarely encounter negative traits, but when I do, I believe the person's supervisor also recognizes them and will take steps to correct it."

Question: How would you describe your bedside manner when working with patients?

Explanation: In addition to having the most up-to-date knowledge of healthcare practices and the ability to diagnose and treat patients, a physician needs to demonstrate a bedside manner which helps patients relax, feel they are cared for, and accept the recommendations of the medical staff. When describing your bedside manner, you should identify how you achieve these objectives when providing care for your patients.

Example: "I would describe my bedside manner as being focused, outcome-oriented, caring, and patient-focused. When working with patients, my first objective is to help them relax so they will be open to the recommendations the entire medical staff makes. I try to communicate clearly and effectively and keep the interaction light, occasionally using humor. Finally, I am an active listener and use the information I get from patients and other staff members when creating a plan of care for the patient."

Question: Tell me about the most recent book you've read and why you chose to read it.

Explanation: The interviewer will ask this type of question at any time during the interview. In addition to wanting talented and qualified medical students in their program, admissions officers also look for people who will complement the program's culture, fit in well with the other staff members and participants, and have intangible qualities which will enhance the experience of everyone associated with the medical residency program.

Example: I am currently rereading Michael Crichton's book Swarm. I enjoy Crichton's books due to his medical background. I am especially fascinated by this one because it explores nanotechnology. I believe nanotechnology has great potential in the practice of medicine and would like to learn more about it. Reading this book also allows me to relax and step away from the demanding schedule of a medical school student and prospective resident."

Question: What do you do in your spare time when you're not on duty or studying?

Explanation: This is another question designed to explore your nonmedical background and learn more about you as a whole person. The purpose of this is the same as the previous question - to determine how you will fit into the residency program as a medical student and as a person. It is vitally important that you answer this question honestly since once you're accepted to the program, you're off-duty activity will become apparent.

Example: "Spare time is a luxury for medical students. It seems like we are always studying, attending classes, or doing rounds. When I have spare time, I like to spend it with friends and family, read non-scientific books, surf, and play guitar. All of these activities help me relax and recharge my batteries so I will be ready to resume the demanding schedule required of a medical resident."

Additional Medical Residency Admissions Interview Questions

  • Why do you want to be a physician?

  • What specialty do you want to pursue in medicine?

  • Why did you choose to apply for this residency?

  • What are your short- and long-term goals in medicine?

  • Where did you attend medical school?

  • What medical school experiences do you think will help you during your residency?

  • What is your biggest fear about practicing medicine?

  • What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

  • How do you feel about the current state of the medical profession?

  • Have you considered research as part of your career in the future?

A word of warning when using question lists.

Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.

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