By Patrick Lee, MS4, SUNY Upstate Medical University
So you’ve been invited for an interview at that coveted radiology residency program. Now what? Interviews can be a daunting time for everyone, no matter the level of training. It’s hard to prepare for something that is impossible to simulate accurately. No amount of practice with friends or family can truly prepare you for the real thing. Still, we thought we’d help you out. We asked three Interventional Radiologists at every level of training about their experiences interviewing applicants and being interviewed. We hope these tips will help you on your journey towards becoming an Interventional Radiologist.
Dr. George Vatakencherry [GV] is the Chief of Vascular and Interventional Specialists at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. He also serves as the Diagnostic Radiology Residency Program Director.
Dr. Nicole Keefe [NK] is a third-year Vascular and Interventional Radiology resident at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Nik Kolicaj [K] is an Interventional Radiology fellow at the Brown/Alpert School of Medicine.
What is the most memorable question you were asked during an interview?
[NK]: One of the hardest questions I had from an interviewer was about what past hardship in my life shaped the type of physician I wanted to become. It was tough because I didn’t become a physician because of past hardships, but instead because of the many inspiring people in my life.
What are the 3 biggest mistakes you feel interviewees make and how would you address them?
[GV]: Texting during the interview process is a big one. Not being engaged with the rest of the medical students. I like to see students who are interacting with other students. We’re looking for residents who can work well with your co-residents. Showing up late is a huge minus and happens more often than you’d think. Being rude to the staff is never good.
[NK]: Saying “umm” or “like” too much. Practice a bunch at home so your responses become more fluid. Remember, everyone is interviewing you including the nurses, techs, and support staff. Be on your best behavior. However, the residency program is interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them, so make sure that the place is somewhere that you get along with everyone, the location is somewhere you would like to live, and the program meets the particular features that you’re looking for.
[K]: Not being well prepared, not being well-dressed, and trying too hard to be someone that you aren’t. Also, if you aren’t early, chances are you are late because everyone gets to their interview at least 15 minutes early.
How do you recommend students prepare for interviews?
[GV]: Know something about the program beforehand. I know it can be difficult to figure out since you’ve never been there and really don’t know much about the program, but try to find something out. Whether it’s through websites, word of mouth, or even talking to other medical students or residents.
[K]: I try to have three generic questions that I feel would help me rank and compare the programs. In addition, I try to have a few other questions that would be specific to the program I am interviewing at, which I usually find during my time researching that specific program.
How did you prepare for your own interviews?
[NK]: I found several hundred practice interview questions online and would practice with my parents and spouse rehearsing my answers for every question we could think up. You need to have a general idea of what you want to say. However during the interview you don’t want to sound like a robot regurgitating your practiced answer.
How do you convey interest to a program in an area where you have no geographic ties?
[NK]: This can be very challenging to break into different geographic regions. I applied cross-country and tried to emphasize that I wanted to explore new geographic regions (I’m so sick of the snow in Buffalo). I had family and mentors in different parts of the country and tried to play on those strengths.
What are your weaknesses is a question students often dread. What is your approach to answering this potentially dangerous question?
[GV]: It’s a difficult question that reveals things that can put you in an unfortunate light. It can definitely turn off an interviewer. However, it takes a big person to admit to their weakness. I think the most important thing is not what weakness you have, but what you’re doing to overcome them. We all have weaknesses, but I’m looking for someone who is motivated to improve and willing to work to overcome any deficiencies.
[NK]: The best answer you can give is something truthful. Everyone has weaknesses. You may be the yes-man and can’t say no to new projects or perhaps you are meticulous in your work, which can means you move slower than some other people. Take a weakness and try to turn it into a strength.
DR is known to have fairly relaxed interviews. How do IR interviews compare?
[GV]: Honestly, we don’t know yet. However, the main thing for IR interviews is that we’re looking for a sense of commitment to the specialty.
[NK]: I applied when there were few programs that offered the clinical pathway, which was the prequel to the IR pathway. My interviews were typically combined with radiology and featured an extra interview or two, an interview with general surgery prelim, and an extra tour of the IR department. As with any interview you need to be on your best behavior. I did not experience any “pimping” on IR procedures during my interviews.
[K]: Interventional Radiologists are some of the most brilliant, technically skilled, and hardest working physicians I know. However, they are also some of the coolest and easy going ones. I had no variability with my interviews. No interview was stressful or had me put on the spot. I really enjoyed all of my interviews and getting to know the programs around the country and so will all of you.
Anything else to add?
[GV]: When we invite you for an interview, we look at objective data like board scores and class rank. However, during the interview we want to make sure we can work with you. We want to make sure we’re ok spending lots of hours with you. Strong work ethic, the right attitude, and team players are all things we’re looking for. Some of these things we can gather from one-on-one interviews and others from how you interact with everyone else like other med students, support staff, and the residency coordinator. Bad interactions reflect poorly on you.
Resource you may find helpful:
AMSER Guide to Applying for Radiology Residency – A very thorough and excellent guide on all aspects of the application process, including interview questions and etiquette.
Perelman School of Medicine Guide to Residency Interviewing – Not specific to radiology, but has 40 practice questions as well as tips on how to answer difficult questions.
Don’t Forget to Ask: Advice from Residents on What to Ask During the Residency Interview – This is directly from the AAMC. You definitely don’t want to be caught with no questions for your interviewer. This makes you seem uninterested. You also don’t want to ask questions you can easily find online. This is a good list of generic albeit personal questions you can ask. Of course, it’s always better to have genuine questions.
The Residency Interview: How to Make the Best Possible Impression – If you have the time, it’s a quick read. However, there’s nothing in here that can’t be found for free online.