News & Press: eConnections

The Surgical Residency Interview Process

Wednesday, December 26, 2012  
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Advice From AWS Attendings and Residents for the Female Applicant

By Gloria R. Sue, MA
AWS Student Committee Member

The residency interview process can seem like a daunting experience to rising fourth-year medical students. To help alleviate some of these qualms the AWS Student Committee conducted a survey of AWS attending surgeon and resident members, soliciting advice on the interview process with particular consideration of matters of interest to female applicants. We received an overwhelming amount of survey responses from all across the country, with 69 completed surveys from attending surgeons and 13 from residents.

Resident Interview ProcessThe surveys contained five open-ended questions, covering areas such as attending surgeon specialty, hair and suit preferences for female applicants, and general interview tips. Among the surveys completed by attending surgeons, 60 (87.0%) were completed by surgeons who conduct interviews for general surgery residency programs, four (5.8%) were completed by surgeons who interview for plastic surgery residency programs, and five (7.2%) were completed by surgeons interviewing in a variety of other surgical subspecialty fields.

Regarding whether an applicant with long hair should put her hair up or leave her hair down for the interview, the vast majority of surgeons gave a response similar to "it does not matter, as long as the hair is neat," though five (7.2%) recommended that the applicant wear her hair up to remove a potential distraction of having "hair falling down around the face" or "being fiddled with." Regarding whether a female applicant should wear a skirt suit or a pant suit to the interview, again the vast majority replied along the lines of "it does not matter, as long as the look is professional," though three (4.3%) stated that the skirt suit was a personal preference, while no respondent advocated for the pant suit as a personal preference.

There was also a consensus on the types of questions that attending surgeons felt that students should not ask of their interviewer. The majority of respondents felt that questions along the lines of "how much time off do we get" or "what is the call schedule like" to be inappropriate. Some respondents also discouraged the interviewee from asking questions about maternity leave and resident lifestyle.

Additionally, several attending surgeons recommended that the applicant "research the program ahead of time," "be prepared with questions," "be honest," "make eye contact," and "participate in mock interviews" (Table). One respondent even pointed out that applicants should strive to be excellent as the residency program is more or less "adopting" them.

The responses from the 13 AWS residents offer advice from the perspective of recent interviewees. The most commonly asked questions that the residents reported being asked were "why do you want to go into surgery" and "why did you apply to our program." Among the respondents, five (38.5%) reported being asked about either marital status and/or planning for children. Other unexpected questions encountered on the interview trail included "what are you the most proud of," "what was your biggest mistake," and "where will you rank us."

The vast majority of residents also felt that optional dinners or cocktail receptions associated with the interview day were worthwhile to attend, giving the applicants the opportunity to determine whether they can get along with the residents, get a feel for the culture at the program, and help distinguish between programs.

Here is the most commonly offered advice from AWS attending surgeons, from most-often mentioned to least.

  • "Do background research on the residency program"
  • "Be prepared with questions"
  • "Be professional in dress and/or demeanor"
  • "Be honest"
  • "Make eye contact"
  • "Participate in mock interviews and/or practice with others"
  • "Smile"
  • "Be yourself"
  • "Relax"