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Common Residency Interview Questions and How to Answer them

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Common Residency Interview Questions | How to Answer Residency Interview Questions

Preparing for residency interviews 💼 can be daunting 😩, especially if you have no idea 💡 what questions will be asked. In this blog, I’ve compiled strategies to answer the most commonly asked questions in residency interviews. The full list 📝 of +200 residency interview questions is already listed in another blog (click below)

+200 Residency Interview Questions

Before we start, a word of warning⚠️: do not memorize your answers! Instead, write your key points down in bullet points, so that during the interview your answers seem natural and unrehearsed. Do not spend too much time ⏰ answering interview questions. Try to complete your answer within 1-1.5 minutes.

If you need any coaching 👨‍🏫or guidance with your interview preparation, make sure to check out our interview coaching package here in which we do one-on-one mock interviews and provide feedback.

If you need access to our FREE +100 questions ❓ to ask residency program directors and residents 👩‍⚕️👨‍⚕️,  click here.

Without further ado, let’s discuss the questions standing between you and your dream residency 👩‍⚕️👨‍⚕️ program.

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This question will pop up in almost every residency interview, so you should prepare for it now rather than answering spontaneously. Consider the following:

  1. Talk about the highlights of your life. You can start by talking about yourself, your family, or the country/city you grew up in. Include only experiences that have significantly impacted your life or career path – you will need to prioritize here!
  1. Clinical experiences in your country and the United States (if you are an IMG). Again, focus on the highlights without going into the details of these experiences.
  1. Research, volunteering, and hobbies. Instead of describing the details of your research projects or volunteering activities, focus on how these activities have shaped your personality and helped you become the person you are today.


1. Avoid using generic terms.

2. Talk about why you are excited about the specialty based on your experiences working in that field. For instance, if the program director asks, Why are you interested in internal medicine, avoid statements like:

Internal medicine is the best specialty because you can use both clinical knowledge and evidence-based medicine to treat patients

This answer isn’t wrong, but it’s too generic. It would be best if you gave an answer that makes you stand out. Here is an example:

Working on the internal medicine floor as a third-year medical student, I was fascinated by the complexity and diversity of pathologies I saw, as well as the interplay between clinical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. Everyone’s input was valued and listened to, which made me feel like a true member of the team. 

You can see the difference between these two statements; the first talks about generic aspects of the specialty, while the second one specifies experiences the applicant went through during their third-year rotation.

3. Avoid mentioning a single patient interaction as the sole reason you want to go into a specialty. Avoid statements like:

The reason I decided to pursue internal medicine was a 60-year-old patient who presented with heart failure. Taking care of this patient made me realize how fascinating internal medicine is. 

Although patient interactions can spark your interest in a specialty, it is unlikely that they are the only reason you want to pursue a certain field.

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Focus on describing experiences that demonstrate your strengths rather than simply listing personality traits. For example, instead of saying that you’re a hard worker, you can talk about some life experiences that show the interviewer your diligence. Similarly, you can talk about experiences where you worked well in a team instead of saying you are a team player. We recommend the following tips for tackling this question:

1. Talk about your background. For example, if you’re from an underdeveloped country, you could discuss how working with limited resources helped you acquire excellent clinical skills that candidates from developed countries might not have.

2. If you have significant research experience, you can mention some unique analytical skills you’ve learned and how they make you a stronger candidate.

3. What distinguishes you from other candidates? There is no need to talk about your grades, awards, or high STEP scores – instead, mention a passion that makes you stand out. For instance, you could talk about your YouTube channel, blog, or experience teaching students online. If you’re into sports (e.g., a hockey player or former Olympic athlete) make sure to include these strengths as well.

4. Know your CV! You could get asked about any of the experiences you mention in your CV. Be sure you can speak to every part of your CV confidently because not being able to answer CV questions will make a terrible impression.
If you can’t discuss some experiences mentioned in your CV, it’s better to omit them rather than give vague explanations of them. I reviewed every paper I wrote before my interview, even those written two or three years ago, to avoid stumbling if asked about any of them.

5. If the question asks directly about your strengths, list the qualities that make you unique in a humble manner. You can mention your strengths according to the program’s requirements. Understand which characteristics the program values and see which of them apply to you.

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You might get asked about your general weaknesses, or an interview might ask something like, “Why did you fail STEP 2 CK?” or “Why do you have a gap between graduating from medical school and applying to residency?” Here are some general tips for answering:

  1. List your weakness and what you are doing to improve it. If you have a story to exemplify your weakness, be sure to explain how that experience made you a better person or applicant today. For example, if you have a low STEP 1 score, then tell them how that poor score motivated you to get a better STEP 2 CK score (if that’s the case).

  2. To answer general weaknesses, avoid clichés like, “My biggest weakness is that I am too detail-oriented/work too hard.” Find an actual weakness you are working on to become a better person.

  3. Avoid mentioning extremely negative weaknesses. These are subjective, but generally, avoid any weaknesses that indicate questionable character or integrity. For example, never say that you often lose your temper and shout at patients, because program directors would immediately question your ability to take care of patients.


Every program might ask this question. You must prepare an answer specific to the strengths and goals of each program; you can’t have a vague, one-fits-all statement. To understand the strengths and weaknesses of a specific program, you are interested in applying to, research it. Here’s what your answer might include:

  1. Clinical experiences: Residency is a clinical job, and each program will include a range of clinical experiences. Take time to learn what they are and relate the program’s clinical strengths to your sub-specialty or areas of interest.

  2. Research: Be sure to mention if you have a strong interest in research, and make sure to cite the program’s focus on providing research-based opportunities to residents as a specific draw for you.

  3. Location: Mention if you particularly like or connect with the city where the program is.

  4. Personal connections: If you have family or personal connections within the city where the program is located, mention them too.

Career goals: 

We recommend that you answer questions about your career goals genuinely and honestly. A few tips for answering these questions are:

  1. Keep an open mind. Your answer should convey that you are interested in exploring and learning about the specialty as a whole, even if you have a specific interest in a subspecialty. Remember that you will get training in all aspects of the specialty during residency, not only the subspecialty you are interested in.

  2. Are you interested in academia? If so, express your interest and explain why you would like to continue in education or research.

  3. If you’re enthusiastic about research, tell them that you plan to get more involved in research in the future and what type of research you are interested in.

  4. If you plan on returning to your home country after residency/fellowship, you can mention that too. You could also explain what impact you hope to bring back to your home country when your training is finished.

  5. Be honest! Some of these answers could be taken positively or negatively by a program. For example, if you are interested in academia and a certain program does not focus on academic medicine, then mentioning your strong interest in research or academia might hurt your chances there. At the end of the day, though, you want to match into a program that will nurture your interests and prepare you to achieve your career goals.
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Hobbies and Interests: 

You might be asked questions about your hobbies or favorite movie, song, or book. Understand that the purpose of these questions is to confirm that you are a relatable person who has a life outside of medicine. Here’s how you should tackle such questions:

  1. Don’t say that you always study medicine and have no time for hobbies. This will send the wrong message to the interviewer.

  2. Keep in mind that you will be with others in your program day and night, both inside and outside the hospital. Naturally, program directors and residents are looking for someone amicable to hang out with, who can converse on topics other than medicine.

  3. Again, be honest! If you fib about hobbies and interests, answering follow-up questions will be difficult. If, for example, you mentioned playing piano, interviewers could ask what type of music you play or what your favorite song is.

  4. You can also share a relatable story about your hobbies or explain how they have impacted your life.

Behavioral Questions: 

The hospital wants to know more than your scores, papers, or book chapters you wrote (all of these are in your CV). They want to know who you are and how you will deal with patients, staff, and various situations. The behavioral interview is where your bedside manner and social skills will be assessed. In a traditional interview, the interviewer asks about your teamwork abilities, your weaknesses, and strengths. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer wants examples of how you reacted to certain situations in the past, so that they can have a better idea of how you would react to similar situations in the future. This is a time to show off your soft skills. In the next section, I’ll explain how to make these skills shine!

You may be feeling like the guy in this picture. But take a deep breath and realize that these questions can be a good opportunity to impress the interviewer. Unfortunately, it can also do the opposite if you aren’t prepared.

Keep the following things in mind when preparing to answer behavioral questions:

  1. Be yourself and think about situations that you could pull from to make your personality shine. Don’t be one-dimensional; bring life and color to your stories.

  2. Prepare yourself for as many behavioral questions as possible. Reflect on your life before interview season starts and collect interesting stories about times you faced a challenge, led a team, etc. Remembering relevant stories is hard when you are stressed!

  3. Do not tell stories that highlight your mistakes unless the question requires it (e.g. Tell me about a time you made a mistake).

  4. Remember that every question is a chance for you to showcase your strengths. Be clever with the choice of your stories.

  5. Do not memorize your stories! Prepare bullet points to guide the flow of your stories, but do not write out all of the details, or you risk sounding too rehearsed.

  6. Most importantly, relate your stories to experiences within the specialty you are applying to. For example, if you are applying to general surgery, share your encounter with a patient on the surgery floor or in the operating room. This will remind the interviewer that you have already had some meaningful surgical experiences.

  7. Tell me about a time you helped someone. You might think of a time you gave money to a homeless person. However, a better example would be a time when you noticed your classmate seemed more down and tired than usual, so you approached him to offer support, and subsequently, a friendship bloomed. You can also show the interviewer that you are able to recognize and address problems in your everyday life. These examples demonstrate that you are invested in making personal connections with the people in your community.

The CARL method (Context, Action, Result, Learning) is a four-part strategy to build your story.

  1. Context: Develop a background of your story. The background of your story could include when in medical school it happened, along with the hospital and department where you were working. For example:

    As a third-year student at Healing Patients Hospital, I was doing rotations in the emergency room when I encountered an angry patient.

    Now discuss the situation/problem. You discovered a patient shouting in anger. Now what?

    I heard a patient shouting angrily outside. After the initial screening, no one from the medical team attended the patient for multiple hours, which infuriated the patient. 

  2. Action: What did you do next? Highlight your part in solving the problem. Explain how you used empathy, problem-solving skills, and/or logic as well as other tactics to solve the issue at hand.

    I approached the angry patient and tried to calm him down by explaining the hospital’s emergency situation to the patient. I calmly and respectfully told them that the hospital has a lot of critical patients with severe life-threatening injuries that need immediate attention right now.

  3. Result: For the result, you will explain the outcome. Showcase your ability to bring problems to a close in a positive manner.

    After multiple attempts at calming him down, I finally convinced him that someone from the team would get back to them as soon as possible.

  4. Learning: Always end your story with a learning point. For example:

    We should listen to and validate our patient’s problems before explaining what caused delays in care. We should build healthy and interactive relationships with our patients. 

Get access to our compendium of residency interview questions and answers!

Weird Questions 

These questions are asked to see how you think. They are “out-of-the-box” questions designed to be answered spontaneously. One simple way to master such questions is to practice answering weird questions and train yourself to respond quickly and cogently about a variety of topics.

Do you have questions for me?  

At the end of the interview, the interviewer gives you a chance to ask them questions about the program. Do not say “no” to this question. Ask something insightful. Here’s how you should deal with this part of the interview:

  1. Read the program’s website and ask a question following up on the information provided there. Do not ask about the information that is already available online.

  2. The purpose of your question should be to learn more about the program (which will help you when making your rank list) and demonstrate the depth of your interest in joining.

I hope I managed to cover everything in this blog. If you have any further questions regarding the residency interview, feel free to reach out to us anytime. We will help as much as we can.

If you need any coaching 👨‍🏫or guidance with your interview 💼 preparation, make sure to check out our interview coaching package here in which we do one-on-one mock interviews and provide feedback.

If you need access to our FREE +100 questions ❓ to ask residency program directors and residents 👩‍⚕️👨‍⚕️,  click here.

If you need any help with your USMLE preparation, personal statement, CV editing, residency or research advising, make sure to check out our services here.

If you are interested in learning about research or statistics, check out our research course and statistics course.

Good luck 🍀 everyone

By Malke Asaad

Ghana Raza and David Wiedmer

If you need any help with your USMLE preparation, personal statement, CV editing, interview preparation, residency or research advising, make sure to check out our services here.

If you are interested in learning about research or statistics, check out our courses here.

I would like to thank again everyone who worked and helped with this list. I hope it helps you to navigate US residency programs. Good luck everyone on your US residency journey.

With Love,

Dr. Malke Asaad

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