• Rajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD

What Questions Should You Ask During Your Residency Interview



One of the Most Common Interview Questions: What questions do you have for me?


As you're preparing for interviews, it's important to be ready to answer a wide variety of potential questions. However, we've noticed that many of our students aren't prepared for one of the most common interview questions out there.


That question is this: "What questions do you have for me?" Almost every single interviewer will ask this question.

You May Only Have Enough Time to Ask One Question--or You May Have an Entire Interview to Ask Questions


During an interview you may only have enough time at the end to ask one or two questions. In other interviews, however, faculty may choose to give you a significant amount of time to ask your questions.


In fact, some interviewers will even begin the interview by asking "What questions do you have about our program?"



Applicant asking questions during a residency interview
It's important to be prepared to both answer AND ask questions during your residency interview


What does this mean for you? It means that you need to be prepared with multiple questions for your interviewer, and you need to be prepared to do so at any point of the interview.



What questions should I ask during my residency interview?


We're going to provide some suggestions below, but we have a warning first.


Only ask questions that you are sincerely interested in. An interviewer shouldn't feel that you're just working your way down a list that you found somewhere. Unfortunately, that's all too common.


You should definitely start with a list of potential questions to ask your interviewer, but you need to narrow down that list to the topics that you really want to learn more about.


In this post, we're going to highlight several examples for how to formulate unique, high-yield questions. If you'd like to see a comprehensive list of potential questions to ask your interviewers, we have a long list of potential questions in our book The Successful Match.



Don't Just Ask Questions from a List: Determine Which Questions are Important to You, and Then Ask Those Questions in a Memorable Way


As you read through lists of potential interview questions, take note of the ones that speak to you. Which of these questions are important to you?

Your job is to then ask those questions in a memorable and compelling manner. The key is to ask in such a way that you are highlighting something important about you, or your interests, or your future in the specialty.



An Example of How to Ask Questions:

How to Ask About Procedures in this Residency Program


If you were a family medicine residency applicant, part of what may have drawn you to the field is the opportunity to perform procedures. Perhaps you envision yourself practicing family medicine in a rural area. If that's the case, you may not have access to specialists when you start practice. Therefore, it may be particularly important to you to acquire strong procedural skills during your residency training. You are really aiming to be comfortable and confident in your ability to perform a variety of procedures by the time you finish your residency. With that being the case, you can ask questions about procedures during residency training.


Let's say Sergio, our superstar applicant, is asking this question. He may ask


  • "Dr. Patel, are there opportunities to perform procedures as a resident in your program?"

or

  • "Dr. Patel, can you tell me about the procedures residents take part in at your program?"



How to Significantly Enhance The Quality of Your Questions to The Interviewer


I want to point out that there's nothing at all wrong with these questions. However, you can make them significantly stronger. How? By giving the interviewer an idea of why this question is important to you.



A Much Better Question to Ask About Procedures in this Residency Program


"Dr. Patel, my hope is to practice family medicine in the area of Texas where I grew up. This is a very rural area with a lot of underserved patients. The area lacks specialists, so it will be important for me to become proficient with a variety of procedures. I was wondering if you can tell me about the procedural training that is available in your program and how residents can make the most of these opportunities."

In providing some context to the question that he's about to ask, Sergio has now communicated some very important points. We know that he's interested in caring for the underserved and we know that he has plans to practice in a rural area. If those factors are important to the program, then Sergio has just reminded the interviewer that he's a good fit for this particular program. From the interviewer's perspective, it now makes a lot of sense as to why he's asking a question about procedures.


By providing context, Sergio has also made it clear that he has a sincere interest in learning the answer to the question.



Another Way to Stand Out: Focus on Hot Topics in the Field That Are of Interest to You


Medicine is an always-evolving field, and every specialty has important developments, advances, and challenges. Let me give you some examples in the field of family medicine.


In the following examples, I'll start by introducing an important topic or issue in family medicine. I'll then give you an example of a standard question that applicants might ask, followed by a more unique, memorable question that applicants might ask.



Patient Safety Concerns are a Hot Topic in Many Fields:

How to Ask Questions About This Important Topic


In family medicine, a very important issue has to do with ensuring that patients have a smooth transition from the inpatient to outpatient setting. We know that this is an important time. If the transition period is handled well, it can make a huge difference in terms of patient outcomes and readmission rates. This is a very hot topic right now and hospitals are instituting and testing many programs and interventions that improve patient safety and outcomes. Recognizing the importance of educating residents about how to safely transition patients, programs are using a variety of methods in their efforts to educate learners. These methods include:

  • Didactic lectures

  • Case-based workshops

  • Role-playing

  • Some programs are even sending residents out into the homes of recently discharged patients to better understand the challenges that patients face when adjusting from the hospital to the home environment.

  • Other programs are encouraging their residents to perform quality improvement projects to enhance patient safety at this time of transition.

  • There are also efforts underway to show residents how a team-based approach which includes non-physician personnel can impact readmission rates, outcomes, and safety.

With this background in mind, Jennifer may be very interested in learning how this residency program is approaching this important topic.


"Dr. Strong, I've been reading a lot about patient safety issues and I know a difficult time for patients is when they move from the inpatient to outpatient setting. How can residents work with attendings and other support staff in your program to safely discharge patients so that they are more likely to do well and hopefully not be readmitted?"

In asking this question, Jennifer has just telegraphed that she's been reading about a very important issue and that she is committed to partnering with their staff to reduce readmission rates and enhance patient safety.



Another Hot Topic in Residency Programs: Collaboration with Other Care Providers


Another question you can ask has to do with inter-professional teams. This is another hot topic in family medicine. In fact, the ACGME encourages collaboration in family medicine residency programs between residents and other professionals including (but not limited to) social workers, discharge planners, pharmacists, and others. That's what we mean when we use the term inter-professional teams. Knowing this, you might choose to ask about opportunities to work with non-physician personnel and how these personnel are incorporated into the learning process and patient care. For example, an increasing number of family medicine programs are utilizing clinical pharmacists in the education of their residents. In some cases, they function as a family medicine residency faculty member. They may precept residents alongside family medicine physicians, they may deliver lectures, they may provide feedback to learners, and they may provide observation of resident patient encounters. Having such personnel involved in your education can definitely enhance your clinical training. So you could ask the following interview question:


"Dr. Merryman, I noticed that in your outpatient continuity clinics that you have on-site pharmacists, social workers, and behavioral medicine experts. Could you tell me if these professionals are involved in resident education? And if so, what are some of the ways in which they interact with residents?"



Moving Away from the Standard Questions Asked of Interviewers:

Questions That Highlight Personal Interests and Questions Related to Hot Topics in Medicine


So there you have it. Three important areas in family medicine and some examples of questions that you can ask in these areas. Note that these are not the standard questions that residency applicants ask.


Instead, by taking the time to research the program and develop these personal, thoughtful questions, you can improve your interview performance on multiple levels.

  • First, these types of questions can communicate fit between you and the program.

  • Second, you can convey that you are a future resident who is knowledgeable about important and timely topics in the field.

  • Third, you are able to stand out.



Residency applicant asking a question of her faculty interviewer
Asking questions that highlight your personal interests and knowledge of hot topics in the field can help you stand out during your residency interview

What do we mean by stand out? Imagine if you're an interviewer and you've just spent the day interviewing 10 applicants. Almost all have asked similar questions during the interview. "Do you anticipate any changes in the program over the next five years?" "What do you see as potential areas of improvement in the program?" "What do you think is the greatest strength of this program?" It's hard to stand out when everyone is asking these same questions. Although it certainly takes longer to craft the types of impactful, personal questions that we've highlighted here, it's an important part of your interview preparation.

If you'd like more resources for residency interview preparation, we have over 150 pages devoted to interview prep in our book The Successful Match. You'll also find additional resources at our website. We wish you the best of luck in your residency interview.



Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of The Residency Interview 101, the online course that helps applicants quickly and confidently prepare for their residency interviews. She is also the co-author of The Successful Match: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match and served as Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.


Dr. Samir Desai is the author of 21 books, including The Successful Match and The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 20 years and has won numerous teaching awards.



If you'd like to receive a free 100+ page excerpt of The Successful Match, please sign up here.



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