Rajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD
How to Respond to the Residency Interview Question "Why Are You Interested in Our Residency Program?
Updated: Sep 28, 2022
This question (or variations of this question) are one of the most commonly asked questions in the residency interview. Unfortunately, we've found that while the vast majority of applicants provide decent responses, those responses also tend to be pretty generic.
That's a big mistake.
Why This Residency Interview Question is So Important
This question is a fantastic chance to make a great impression on your interviewer. It offers the opportunity to really highlight how your interests, strengths, and goals are a great fit with the program's mission, offerings, and goals.
In this post, we're going to walk you through our step-by-step approach to crafting a powerful answer to this common question.
A Common Residency Interview Question: "Why did you apply to our residency program?"
We're the authors of the book The Successful Match: Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match. We've analyzed the literature, and we've interviewed and spoken with many, many residency applicants and admissions faculty. We've learned a lot about the common residency interview questions.
This question, it turns out, is one of the most common residency interview questions out there.
In fact, this question (or some variation thereof) is asked in almost every residency interview.
What are some other ways to ask this question?
How might programs phrase this question?
There are multiple ways that your interviewer might ask this question. Some variations should be easily recognized. For example, "Why do you want to be a resident here?"
But there are also other ways of asking this question. For example, programs might ask:
"Describe your ideal residency program"
"What qualities are you looking for in a residency?"
"What two or three things are important to you in a program?"
Or even questions such as:
"What interests you most about our residency program?"
"Tell me what you know about our program."
What are some of the common answers that students provide when asked this question?
We've conducted many mock interviews, and we always ask some version of this question. One of the things that consistently surprises us is how often a student's response sounds highly similar to the responses given by other, very different, students.
Here is one example of a typical response that we've received:
"I know that I would receive great training here. The residents speak so highly of the opportunities here, and between the diverse patient populations at your different affiliated hospitals and the different sub-specialty training offered by the faculty, I know that I would be fully prepared for practice. I've also heard a lot about how the faculty are so approachable and involved with the residents' training, and that's something that's very important to me."
Why generic answers are a major missed opportunity to stand out in your residency interview
I think if you're an applicant reading that response, it does sound like a good, solid response. And it is. But there's really nothing that stands out about this response.
Imagine yourself on the other side of the interviewer desk. If you're doing interviews and speaking to, let's say, 10 applicants in one day, it would be hard for us to pick out one applicant (from these types of responses) that really made an impact.
There's nothing here that would really help us remember this applicant. And that represents a wasted opportunity.
How one residency applicant transformed her decent (yet generic) initial response
into a powerful, compelling answer:
the before and after response
I want to present one of our amazing, dedicated, talented medical students, and show you how she was able to transform her interview response. I've changed all identifying details, but the underlying story here is a great example.
This was a medical student named "Taylor."
When I met with her in an unofficial capacity, I was just really blown away by her motivation and her drive. She had excelled academically in medical school. Beyond academics, she had really committed herself to learning about social determinants of health and had participated in multiple programs to provide care to the underserved. She was determined and committed, and I was so impressed with what she had already been able to accomplish.
The "Before" Answer:
Why a decent, yet generic, response can really weaken your interview performance
In our practice interview I asked, 'Why are you interested in our residency program?"
Here's a re-enactment of what she said:
BEFORE: I am so excited to be interviewing at your program. My mentor, Dr. Lenon, has talked about your program’s excellent national reputation. I am not sure if I want to go into primary care or another sub-specialty so I think it's wonderful that you have such a strong sub-specialty program. I especially found your HIV track to be of interest.
I also think it's wonderful that your residents get to work in four different hospitals and really get an array of patient care experiences ranging from the Bronx County Hospital to the VA hospital to the other private hospitals in New York City. I also know that your graduates have a track record of matching into competitive specialties and that just speaks to the excellence of your program.
I feel whether I choose a career in primary care or decide to go further into a fellowship, the training that I will receive at this program is going to prepare me well for my future.
In analyzing her answer, first note that this is a solid answer. However, there's nothing here that really stood out about her answer or helped distinguish her from other applicants. She did not really highlight her own strengths in any way. The bottom line is that this response represents a missed opportunity.
We have a saying in interview prep: If your response could have been given by another student, then it's just not strong enough.
How to use a step-by-step framework to strengthen your response
As faculty who have worked with numerous applicants over the years, we've worked hard to develop a step-by-step approach for each and every one of the common residency interview questions.
For Taylor, I really wanted to help not only improve her response, but also give the residency application committee a much better sense of her mission, her drive, and her hard work. Our goal was to develop her response to highlight the program, yes, but we also wanted to make sure that her answer wasn't just focused on the program itself.
For this particular question, I like a four-part approach.
Reflection on your accomplishments, mission, drive, and values is key to crafting a powerful interview response
Step 1 is reflection. I really wanted Taylor to sit down and write out what she had already accomplished in her career to date. And not just her accomplishments, but also her mission, her drive, her values. What had led her towards certain organizations or towards certain projects? It was important to really reflect back on what she had already done.
In-depth research of the residency program is an important facet of creating a powerful, customized response
Step 2 is research. And by research, I mean really go in-depth and research this particular program. It starts with going over the website of the program and it goes on from there to speaking with current residents, talking to alumni, talking to physicians in the community, and finding out what the program is known for.
Essentially, what you're researching is:
What is the program's mission?
What is the program's focus and values?
What are some of the initiatives that the program is working on?
What are some of the projects that are going on there?
What are some of the things that they are known for?
What is in the news about the program?
What can you find out about the curriculum?
There's really a lot that you can research about the program to find out what makes it unique, what makes it valuable, and really, overall, why you would want to attend this program.
You need to find out what makes this program such a great place to train.
Step 3: Areas of commonality between
your strengths and goals and
the program's strengths and mission
can highlight why you would be a perfect candidate for this program
Step 3 is tying it together. You're really looking for areas of commonality.
What do you have in your background that ties in with what the program is known for? Or what the program is aiming for?
As a simple example, what do you value and what does the program value?
What have you worked on that ties into what the program is working on?
Step 4: The last step
Tying it back to your future goals
The last step is to really bring it back to your future goals. These qualities and these strengths of the program--how can those help you in your own future career?
It's really important that a student steps back and really thinks about these four steps in the process.
The "After" Response:
How Taylor used this framework to transform her response and provide powerful, compelling reasons for why she would want to attend this program
After a great deal of reflection and research on the program, Taylor was able to transform her response.
AFTER: I am so excited to be interviewing at the Rice Internal Medicine Residency program and there are several reasons why.
Number one is that in reaching out to several current residents and recent graduates, I have learned that the support provided by the program to help residents become excellent clinicians is just outstanding.
One of your recent graduates, Dr. Martinez, talked about the mentoring that he received in his longitudinal primary care clinic and how that mentoring really helped him develop as a clinician. The residents also talked about how they felt supported by everyone, from the program coordinator to the nursing staff, and how it really brought home the program's focus on developing future clinicians.
The second reason is the multiple opportunities provided by your program to help develop the skills needed to provide care to an underserved population. During medical school, I spent six months working in a rural healthcare internship followed by 6 months working to care for the homeless through the Panabus foundation, and those experiences deeply impacted me. They are the main reason that providing care for the underserved is an area that I really want to make a future part of my career in some fashion.
In your program, I know that residents have the opportunity to work directly with underserved populations through their work at the Bexar County Hospital and the outpatient clinics in the South Madison area. In addition, I have learned that within the didactic lecture series, your program has a focus on social determinants of health and how medical professionals can work with social workers and community organizations to improve health outcomes.
On a personal note, I would love the chance to live in your city. My uncle and his family lived here and I would really welcome the chance to be close to my family as well as all the amazing cultural opportunities here in the city.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to interview at your program and I want to thank you again for this great opportunity.
This is a powerful answer. Notice how Taylor was able to demonstrate that she had researched the program, and how clearly she highlighted specific aspects of the program. This response also highlights her own accomplishments and interests. What this response does so well is really demonstrate to the interviewer that Taylor's strengths and interests aligns very well with the program's offerings and goals. She is clearly demonstrating "fit" with this program.
This is the type of answer that would not just resonate with your interviewer, but would resonate with other selection committee members in the admissions meeting.
In our other posts, we'll continue to explore how to craft the most compelling interview responses possible, so that you can become the unforgettable applicant.
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 20 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.