For most medical students, choosing which residency programs to apply to is no easy task. So many variables, from specialties to the reputation of programs to location to culture, have to be considered and weighed carefully. While a wealth of basic information can be found through online research, the factors that make a particular program right for you hinge on your own preferences, goals, and needs. Talking directly with residency program directors can help you get a much better sense of different programs, especially during residency interviews. Knowing this, you’ll need to plan which questions to ask residency programs in order to gather the information that’s most important and relevant to you.
If you’re wondering where to start, here are 10 questions to ask during residency interviews to help you determine if their program is a right fit.
- What does a typical week (or month or year) look like for a first-year resident? How does this change in subsequent years?
Before committing to a residency, try to get as clear a sense as possible of what your day-to-day life will look like. Ask what your responsibilities will be during your first year, and how those responsibilities might change as you gain more experience. Find out about required rotations, and if some of these rotations are done at other institutions. Learn about the level of administrative work you’ll be responsible for, and how much of that work will be directly related to patient care.
- What is the balance between didactics and clinical work on service?
Although all programs have specific requirements they must meet, residency curriculums can still vary significantly. Some have a stronger emphasis on dedicated lectures, grand rounds, and morning reports, while others rely more heavily on patient care. Ask about the balance between the two and see how well it lines up with the ways you learn best.
- What formal and informal learning opportunities are available to residents?
Depending on your interests, you may be eager to pursue research or teaching opportunities, or to get involved in community service programs. Take this time to ask about other opportunities for learning, too. Programs may offer orientation programs or formal faculty-resident mentorships to help residents adjust and succeed. If you have specific experiences you’d like to gain during residency — like getting involved with a journal or attending conferences in your specialty — ask if such opportunities are available and encouraged.
- What are your patient demographics?
Will the patients you work with be younger or older? From urban or rural communities? Come primarily from certain ethnic groups or cultures? If you’re especially keen to work with a specific demographic group, the answer to this question will be crucial.
- Could you describe the culture of your program?
Learning about the culture will help you determine whether or not you want to be part of it. Think specifically about the factors that are important to you, and ask about them. For example, you might ask if the faculty are accessible to residents, willing to mentor, and offer advice beyond set program hours. You might be curious if residents socialize often outside the program or tend to keep their personal lives separate. You may be interested in the types of support programs they offer spouses and partners. (If so, be sure to look at this article for tips about how partners and spouses can help prepare for residency interviews!)
- What does a successful resident look like?
Get a clear sense of the expectations of the residency program. What are both the formal and informal requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be considered to be performing well as a resident? Do the measures of success include involvement in informal learning opportunities, and if so, what is the level of involvement that’s expected or encouraged?
- How do residents receive feedback? How can residents provide feedback to the program?
Find out about the process for resident feedback and evaluation. If you become a resident, how will you be evaluated, how often, and by whom? How will the feedback be delivered, and what support will you be given to address the feedback? Similarly, ask what opportunities residents are given to provide feedback about the program — and how that feedback is taken in.
- What do your graduates do after residency?
If you have a sense of the career trajectory you’d like to follow after residency, make sure the residency program you’re considering supports that goal. Do most residents in this program go on to pursue fellowships or go directly into practice? What types of fellowships or practices do they pursue?
- What do you like most about working at this residency program? What’s one thing you’d like to change about the program?
We all have must-haves and nice-to-haves, can-accepts and can’t-stands. Asking about the best and worst things about a residency program can give you a better sense of how well its quirks line up with yours.
- How do you and your spouse or significant other like living here?
Decisions about residency programs often also involve the lives of loved ones. If a residency program requires you to move to a different area, make sure to spend some time learning about what living there would be like — both for yourself and your spouse or significant other.
Beyond these questions to ask residency program directors, try to get some insight about the program from a current resident, too. Hearing directly from a resident about what a typical day is like, what they see as the program’s strengths and weaknesses, and what their post-residency plans are can be enormously helpful in guiding your decision.
Current residents can also give you a clearer sense of the level of work-life balance you can expect. Ask them what the initial adjustment period was like, both for themselves and their spouses or significant others. Getting a sense of what life will be like for your family as a whole is an important step in evaluating your residency options.
If you’re in the residency planning stage, here are some other articles you may be interested in: