Over the past few weeks, I have done more traveling than I can ever remember doing in one period of time. I’ve been to places all over the Southeast, traveling to interesting states like Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Virginia. Sadly, this has not been for vacation, but for interview season.
At this time of year, fourth-year medical students across America are flying around the United States, looking at programs to train with for our residencies. I’ve stayed at each place for no more than a couple of days at a time and have grown accustomed to waiting in airports, running around those same airports to catch connecting flights, driving rental cars and getting lost in unfamiliar cities, and staying in a string of different but similar-looking hotel rooms. It is both a stressful and exciting time of year, and quite unlike anything I’ve experienced in medical school so far.
Working through the residency application process was fairly smooth. Once I submitted my online application and applied to the programs I liked, the most difficult part was the waiting. There was a lot of waiting to see if all of the paperwork, test score, and letters of recommendation were sent, and then more waiting to hear from programs to see if they wanted an interview.
For the last two weeks of September and the first few weeks of October, I was constantly checking my email for messages and frantically typing responses to programs whenever I received an invitation from them. Every time my phone buzzed with a new email, I would jump up and my heart would skip a beat. Needless to say, it was a very strange time to be working around me, as it must have looked like I was getting shocked by an invisible force at random intervals.
The residents and attendings I was working with, however, knew exactly what was going on. They took the time to reflect on their own experiences with interviews and gave me advice on how to get the most out of them. The most common thing they told me was to just be myself, as the interview process is less about determining the clinical competence or intelligence of an applicant and more about determining compatibility and personality. Program directors want to see if you fit in well with their institution and program philosophy, and if you could potentially grow with the program and get along with the other team members you would be working with.
Likewise, it is also a time for you to figure out if you can see yourself working in that program’s environment, and if you have the same priorities and goals that they do. They also told me that, above all else, you should trust your instincts and pay more attention to how a program makes you feel rather than other aspects, such as what their case numbers are or what their facilities are like. With all this in mind I felt more prepared, though no less anxious, to start my interviews.
Once the interview dates became more or less solidified, it was exciting to look at my list of programs and see all the potential places I could end up working in. I was very happy to see how my list was shaping up, and the next step was to coordinate the transportation and lodgings. I had to see if I wanted to fly or drive to a particular interview, if I had to rent a car and where the hotel nearest to the institution was.A lot of this was new to me, and it was great to learn how to manage the logistics of traveling and making sure all the necessary arrangements were in order.
So far things have been working out well, and I have actually learned a lot about the geography of the Southeast. This is a good thing, as I’ve never been very good at knowing where exactly all the states were located and what the major cities were. Every interview is a new adventure, and it has been very interesting to meet new people and see how other programs approach practicing medicine.
One of my favorite parts of each interview has been the resident dinner that is usually held the night before the interview. It is a great time to meet the residents of the program and talk to them about what it’s like to work and live in that city, as well as the kinds of things they do for fun. It’s also a great opportunity for them to meet the applicants and see who they might be working with next year.
Each dinner has been very informative and a great way to relax and alleviate anxiety before the official interviews, and I’ve found that each program has its own flavor and style. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is, but I am now appreciating more and more the advice I was given to just go with your gut and remember how a program makes you feel.
So far, I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with the residents I’ve talked to, and they have all seemed very happy with their choice of residency. It reassured me that the whole interview and matching process was designed to yield the best and fairest results for both the applicants and the programs. The residents were always willing to talk about the positive and negative aspects of their program, what their daily life is like, how they get along with their co-worker, and their own career goals; all of which was very valuable information to keep in mind.
The interview days themselves have been, just as I was told, very relaxed and enjoyable. Aside from the interviews themselves, the day usually consists of meeting the staff and faculty of the program, listening to a talk about the program itself and what life is like in that city, and then going on a tour of the facilities and meeting the residents.
The interview formats themselves have varied a lot depending on the program. Some interviews last more than half an hour each, while others are around fifteen minutes. Sometimes the interviews are done one-on-one, and other times with groups of people interviewing you. They usually include the program directors, faculty members and residents.
Regardless of the format or timing, they have always been very laid back and even enjoyable. Many interviewers are genuinely interested in you and your hobbies and talents, and ask questions to get to know you better as a person. I have talked to interviewers about so many different topics, many of them not related to medicine at all. I have talked about traveling, languages, my favorite foods, books, and movies, and my hobbies, like writing for this blog. I’ve also talked about my experiences as a medical student at UF, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of my interviewers were familiar with some of our faculty members and the work they did. It made me very proud to come from an institution with such an outstanding reputation.
Another great thing about going on interviews is that you get to meet other medical students from all over the United States who are going through the same process as you. At first, I thought it would be an intimidating thing, as all of us are essentially competing for the same limited spots in training programs, but it has been the exact opposite. I have enjoyed talking and interacting with the other applicants very much, and they have all been very friendly and interesting people, each with unique backgrounds. I have even bumped into some of the same people in later interviews, and it is always great to catch up and see where they are in their interview trail.
Seeing my fellow medical students and getting to know them reminded me of how large the scale of medicine is, and that everyone is on their own journey of trying to find where they would be happiest. As of now, I am only about halfway finished with my list of programs to visit, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season develops.