How to Ace Your Emergency Medicine Residency Interview

The interview day is one of the biggest factors that emergency medicine PDs look at when ranking applicants. Although knowing this fact can make it seem like a stressful experience, the interview day is really just your time to shine! A little insight into the interview process and preparation techniques will allow you to maximize your time.

You are applying to emergency medicine, so take a deep breath, and let it out; a majority of your interviewers are just interested in getting to know who you are and how you will fit in to their program. Thus, the first step is to take the time to really know you.

Step 1: Know Thy Self

Decide and discover what is important to you and what makes you happy. Analyze why you are making the decision to spend the next 3-4 years training in EM, then be able to articulate that. If your answer is lifestyle, then you have a lot of work ahead of you. Decide what will make you happy. Think about how academics, autonomy, weather, and didactics might fit into that equation. Explore your options, and follow your gut.

Step 2: Know the Program

Programs spend extensive time and money creating websites for you. If you are going to pay hundreds of dollars and travel days going to an interview, you should be sure to do your homework. Nothing is worse to a PD than hearing, “I really love your program. Are you a 3 or 4 year training format?”.

Step 3: The Interview Day

We all know to dress professionally and be on our best behavior. Although there is endless advice on what to do on your interview day, there is little advice on what you should be looking for. Many students simply chant the mantra, “I just want a job,” and become blind to the features of a residency that really matter to them. In preparation for my interview season, I critically analyzed and decided upon what aspects of a program were most important to me and made a concerted effort to look at these details. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. How the residents interact with each other: I paid attention to whether the people were people joking around, half asleep, unhappy, professional or relaxed. Each program has a different subculture, so be sure to observe how the residents and faculty interact with one another and decide if that is where you would fit in and be happy. This may be one of the biggest factors that influences that “gut feeling” everyone talks about.
  2. Didactics: The strength of didactics during weekly conference became very important to me. This is one of the only times in residency that offers consistent education to cover any disease process that you have not seen clinically. You should decide if a particular program teaches to your style of learning. Do they do weekly, monthly or biannual quizzes on assigned reading? Are the lectures engaging, or is everyone in the back of the room dozing off? Is conference protected (meaning that no matter what rotation you are on, you are assigned to come)?
  3. Autonomy: Investigate how much autonomy you get as a resident. There are a wide variety of formats with attending support, resident teaching, freedom and oversight on procedures and patients. Do you feel comfortable with a particular program’s style?

Commonly Asked Questions

This section is not intended to allow you to create a canned answer to these questions. This is emergency medicine, and we are social people; if you just regurgitate answers, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Rather, the goal of these questions is to prompt you to begin analyzing yourself, the reasons behind your actions, and the rationale for your decision to go into emergency medicine. Doing so will prepare you to answer any question thoughtfully and genuinely.

  1. Why emergency medicine?
  2. What made you decide on emergency medicine vs. another specialty?
  3. Describe an encounter that made you solidify or question your decision to go into EM.
  4. What are some of the unique attributes that you feel you would bring to a residency class?
  5. What don’t you like about EM?
    a. What will you do to cope with this?
  6.  In EM what do you feel most uncomfortable about?
  7. If EM didn’t exist, what medical field would you go into and why?
  8. During the course of your career, how do you see yourself contributing to the specialty?
  9. What is your greatest weakness?
  10. What will you bring to this residency program to make it better?
  11. What are your goals?
  12. What are you looking for in a program?
  13. Where do you see yourself in 3/5/10 years?

Questions to research and know the answer to (before or during the interview)

Sure, everyone says to just have some canned answers to ask your interviewers, but I really feel that this does you a disservice and tends to stem from a lack of knowledge about what you are looking for. If you take the time and effort before interview season to think about who you are and where you might fit in, this will allow you to ask questions that may have a meaningful impact on your decision.

Decide what factors are crucial for you. If you love clinical research and want to see your name in Annals, then look into the academic and research opportunities of a program. Sure, it would be neat to fly in the helicopter during your EMS month, but the better question to ask yourself is whether this will make or break your ranking of this program. If the answer is yes, then investigate the institution’s opportunities or ask about it in your interview. When you discuss questions that are meaningful and that you are passionate about, it will come across during your interview.

Questions to Research

  • What is the ICU experience like?
  • What fellowship opportunities are available?
  • What changes are coming to the program? Why?
  • Do they rotate at multiple hospitals, and do they get a good variety of academic and community ER settings?
  • What changes have been implemented recently, and how are they going?
  • Moonlighting?
  • What is the board pass rate?
  • How are their relationships with other specialties in the hospital (consults, procedures, etc.)?
  • Do they have a 5-year plan, i.e., what do they hope their program will look like in 5 years? What are their plans for change?
  • What do they do to ensure resident wellness?
  • What are they most proud of?
  • Where have their graduating residents gone, and/or what have they done after completing the program?
    • fellowships, academics vs. community, involvement in national organizations?

Once again, a lot of this information is available on the program or institution’s website, so look there first!

The biggest piece of advice is take a deep breath, relax, and try to enjoy yourself. I hated the comment that “you will know and trust your gut,” but it is the best thing to watch out for throughout your interview season. If you are honest with yourself, you will end up exactly where you should be!

A big thank you to all the program directors that contributed to this effort.
Dr. Michael Bond (University of Maryland)
Dr. Doug Char (Washington University of St. Louis)
Dr. Roger Chirurgi (New York Medical College)
Dr. Jonathan Davis (Georgetown University School of Medicine)
Dr. Christopher Doty (SUNY Downstate Medical Center & Kings County Hospital)
Dr. Jonathan Jones (University of Mississippi Medical Center)
Dr. Janis Tupesis (University of Wisconsin)