Monday, January 10, 2011

Residency Interview Tips, Part 1: Scheduling

January is the big month in the medical residency interview season. While the timeline of interview does vary by specialty, for most of them, January is the last month to schedule a residency interview! Some of you might be nervous and want to hold onto your favorite stuffed giant microbe, but never fear - a few simple tips will help you ace those remaining interviews.

"The Doctor" by Luke Fildes

Medical Residency Interview Scheduling

Unlike the interview depicted above, interviewing a prospective resident is quite a different prospect from interviewing an ailing patient. In fact, the interview begins even before you arrive on campus. It starts right when you receive the invitation to interview. After receiving the invitation to interview, enjoy the moment but do not celebrate prematurely: you still have to find an appropriate time to interview!

There are three main factors to consider when scheduling an interview: what interview dates are offered, when you have time to interview, and will you have time to travel to and from the interview site. In other words, residency interview slots x ( your schedule + travel time ) = residency interview! While this may seem overly simplistic, it becomes quickly complicated in practice when you are juggling 5, 10, or even up to 25 interviews (hello FMG/IMGs)! The key here is to be organized. Use a PDA or phone that allows you to email from almost anywhere so you can quickly respond to invitations or jump on spots that open up when others cancel.

Yes, quickly responding matters. There are a limited number of residency interview slots per residency program. Think about it: the program usually sends out a batch of invitation at the same time. Invitees will all be responding at the same time, so whoever responds first will get their choice of spots. Whoever responds last will be forced to go whenever a spot is available, or may even be put on a waiting list! So, when you get the interview dates, look carefully at when exactly interviews will be available.

Next, consider your residency interview schedule. If you already have interviews lined up, strike out those dates from the list sent to you by the program. See what dates remaining overlap. It is best to use an advanced calendar tool like Outlook or Google Calendar to keep all the dates straight. Of the dates that match, try to consider the region in which your other interviews are such that you can lump interviews in the same area together. Rank up to five dates that may work for the interview, but hold on before you send.

Don't forget to budget time for travel to your residency interview! It may take up to a full day to travel to and from a residency interview. Factor this in before you make a final determination. Once you do, rank up to 5 dates that could work for a residency interview and then respond to the program coordinator. If you are near the peak of the interview season and cannot find any free dates, do not be afraid to call the residency program coordinator. Oftentimes if you cannot find a suitable interview time, they may be able to schedule an interview with the program director one-on-one, or squeeze you onto a day that appears unavailable.

If you don't get the spot you want,  don't fret: as the interview season progresses, many interviewees begin to experience interview fatigue and start to cancel interviews. Stay in touch with the program coordinator about your favored days and more likely than not, something better will open up.

As you travel, make sure to stay comfortable. A travel pillow can make a huge difference in preventing neck and back strains on interview day as well as help you get some sleep as you cross time zones! Everyone knows you can take caffeine to stay up, but if you want a gentle way to readjust your circadian rhythms after you return from a trip, consider melatonin pills. Melatonin is a natural substance that helps regulate your body's sleep-wake cycle. Travel and jetlag can affect that equilibrium; it is better to use the natural substance to readjust the balance instead of a pharmaceutical like Ambien. Similarly, make sure you dress well, especially for those January interviews in places like Chicago and Boston! And double especially for medical students from warmer places in the South and West. Consider purchasing a scarf, leather gloves, and a pea coat to look professional while you try to stay warm! The added comfort these accessories provide will be more than worth the cost of purchasing them. Lastly, make sure your luggage and other items are both professional and functional. A roller bag for travel and leather portfolio are essential to meet both ideals. The portfolio is especially helpful in managing all the papers and information you will pick up over the course of your many interviews.

Remember, residency programs invited you which means they want you to come! After scheduling the interview, you will need to focus on interview preparation, but for at least the afternoon, enjoy the accomplishment! Congratulations!

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