• Rajani Katta MD and Samir Desai MD

How to Respond to the Residency Interview Question "Why Are You Interested in Our Residency Program?

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.

Dedicated committed medical student answering residency interview question
"Taylor" was a committed, dedicated resident applicant who worked hard to transform her residency interview response

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.

Step 1:

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.

Step 2:

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