How to Apply for a Residency (Part IV): The Interview and the Match

First, let me congratulate everyone who Matched on Friday!  You’re on your way towards a tough but rewarding year.  It’ll go by so fast so make it count!

But today, before I talk about the Match, I want to back up just a little bit and talk about something critically important: the do’s and dont’s of interviewing (dun dun dun!)

HOW TO APPLY FOR A RESIDENCY (PART IV):  The Interview and the Match

So you’ve laid all the groundwork and submitted your application via PhORCAS or snail mail, and SURPRISE you were invited to an interview!  If you’re anything like me, the happiness is short-lived and the panic starts to set in quickly, haha.  There’s really nothing to panic about, but the thought of an interview can be nerve-racking.  But let me offer this one nugget of wisdom:  the program is already interested in you.  Going back to the dating analogy I started in my last post, your interview is like a first date… you’re getting to know them and they’re getting to know you.  At this point, a program is looking for reasons to LOVE you, not reasons to get rid of you.  So breathe easy and take comfort in that fact!

Baptist Memorial (my residency program) interviewed residency candidates all through February, and let me tell ya, it is SO WEIRD being the interviewer and not the interviewee.  I look at these candidates and I have flashbacks to my own interview when I was in their spot.  Literally, in their spot haha.  But being on the other side has taught me a lot, and I’ve realized that some aspects of the interview process come naturally to some candidates while other things need to be taught.  So from this experience, I have generated my own “Do’s and Don’ts” of interviewing that I will now share with you :).

  • DO practice before the real thing

I’ll be honest, I never really did this until this year because I never thought I needed to.  As a student, I’ve always been in positions where I’ve had to engage and communicate with people, so interviews to me were just an extension of that.  But one of my co-residents pointed out to me that practicing for an interview is less about trying to be robotic and memorizing rehearsed answers and more about making you think about your answers instead of just winging it.  I may know that I want to do a residency, but can I put that reason into a statement that makes sense?  Often times, we know things in our hearts, but they don’t exactly come out of our mouths the way we want them to.  That’s what the practice interview is for :).

  • DO dress professionally!

Remember, this is your first date.  Don’t show up in pajamas.

  • DO be engaged!

I feel silly even bringing this up.  If your date was texting or checking Facebook on his/her phone the entire time, I’m sure a second date would be out of the question.  The same goes for an interview!  Turn off your phone, make eye contact, and engage in conversation!  Nobody likes a candidate who acts like they would rather be anywhere but there at the interview.

  • DO show your interest in clinical pharmacy

Like I mentioned in my last post, the driving force behind your decision to pursue a residency is your love for clinical pharmacy and your heart for patients.  Reinforce this during your interview!  Programs are looking for candidates who will apply themselves during their residency year and push themselves to learn.  Think about it:  a resident will be a reflection of the program forever, so programs want to choose their investments wisely.  They don’t want to waste their time on a candidate who has no desire to do clinical work.

  • DO be mindful of how you treat others

I don’t really want to get onto my soapbox for this one.  Let me just say that I would hope that no matter who you are or what you end up doing, that you would treat everyone with respect.  Someone is always watching your actions and your attitude, and the world of pharmacy is very, very small.  ‘Nuff said.

  • DO acknowledge your weaknesses (gracefully and delicately!)

There’s no such thing as a perfect residency candidate because there’s no such thing as a perfect person.  Everyone has some sort of weakness, whether it’s personal or professional (or both!).  For me it was my grades/therapeutic knowledge.  For others it’s the fact that they have an accent or that they’re a perfectionist.  Whatever it is, the trick isn’t trying to bury your weaknesses, but to gracefully (and delicately!) acknowledge areas you can improve on and identify ways/strategies in which you are trying to move forward.  I have yet to be in an interview where I was not asked what my weaknesses were… it’s a pretty common question :).

  • DO be consistent

I’m not sure if residency candidates realize this, but everyone who interviews a candidate (preceptors, administration, residents) will get together and discuss their thoughts on the candidate.  So if you told the preceptors and administration that you’re interested in oncology and transplant, but you told the residents that you’re really interested in internal medicine and cardiology… it’s very confusing.  I’ll just leave it at that.

  • DO ask questions

I know this can be really difficult, especially when you’re asked, “Do you have any questions?” for the millionth time in one day.  Just remember that asking questions is the best way to be engaged and interested, and the more questions you ask, the more information you’ll gain.

  • DO follow-up with a “Thank You” of some sort

Think of the “Thank You” as the residency equivalent of the follow-up phone call after the first date.  It reassures the preceptors and director that you are interested in their program and ends things on a good note before going into the Match.  Emails versus hand-written notes is a personal preference… I don’t think there’s any one right way to show the program you appreciate their time.

  • DON’T ask about the other interviewees/residency candidates

I’m sure that there are candidates who ask this without really thinking just to make conversation during an interview, but let me just tell you that there are very few ways of asking about other interviewees without sounding like you care more about sizing up your competition and weighing your chances than you do about the program.  Just don’t ask.  It’s not going to change anything if you know anyway.

  • DON’T ask about the patient case (if there is one)

Again, same principle as before.  We understand that you’re nervous about the patient case, but asking us if it’s hard or what kinds of questions are asked makes you look sneaky and unprofessional.  You can say that you’re nervous about the patient case or talk about it in a general sense, but don’t go digging for information.

  • DON’T be inappropriate or use slang

Again, going back to my dating analogy, the first date is not the time to unload all of your baggage or make tacky and/or inappropriate cracks.  Can you say TMI?  Same goes for a residency interview:  be careful about the things you share or the jokes you crack… we don’t know you well enough for that yet. :)

If for some reason you didn’t get invited to an interview for a program you really wanted, don’t be discouraged!  Residencies are very, very competitive… take joy in the interviews you did get and make peace with the ones you didn’t.

Once the interview process is done, the only thing left to do is submit your program rankings to the Match and wait for Match day!  Remember, you can only rank places you interviewed with, and if you Match with a program, you’re under a contractual obligation to go to that program.  You. must. go.  So don’t rank any program that you really hated after the interview.

And that’s all there is to applying for a residency!  I’m sorry that these posts were so spread out and late, but I hope that I was able to help shed some light on the residency process and give some perspective… even if it was too late for the current 6th year class, haha.  At least it’ll be around for the upcoming 6th year class :).

Congratulations again to everyone who Matched!

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