As medical students work to submit their residency program applications, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) spoke with current resident physicians—members of AACOM’s Assembly of Osteopathic Graduate Medical Educators Residents and Fellows Council—about their advice for successfully managing the virtual interview process.
Mustafa Basree, DO, MS, is the RFC Membership and Recruitment Committee Chair and PGY-1 in radiation oncology at the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Basree is a graduate of the University of Pikeville - Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Allison Daniel, DO, is RFC Secretary and a PGY-2 in family medicine at the Altry Family Medicine Residency in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Dr. Daniel graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM).
Alisa Pham, DO, is an RFC member and PGY-1 at The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Hillsboro, Ohio. Dr. Pham graduated from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dimitri Tito, DO, CPT US Army, serves as RFC Chair and is a PGY-2 in internal medicine at the Western Michigan University MD School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dr. Tito graduated from WVSOM.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Dr. Mustafa Basree: Our year was the first to experience virtual interviewing, and if I want to distill my experience down to three points, the first would be practice, practice, practice. I cannot stress that enough. Make sure to practice the most common questions and be prepared to explain why you are applying to this specialty, this place, this region and so on. Second, try to keep your answers direct, specific, thoughtful and short. You should aim for your answers to take about a minute to a minute and a half. Each answer should provide background information, a more in-depth story, what you learned and how you grew from the experience you’ve shared and what you’ll bring to the residency program. That is a lot to fit into one minute, but if you practice your answer, it will be second nature to deliver. My third and final point is about equipment. Don’t spend too much money on an expensive camera or headset. Web conferencing software is limited in the quality it can render, and interviewers understand that technology glitches happen, so there is no need to spend too much money on equipment.
Dr. Allison Daniel: As a second-year resident, I didn’t experience virtual interviews from the interviewee perspective, but at our program, residents are a big part of the interview process, and we interviewed all residents coming through. I would second what Mustafa said about not spending an exuberant amount of money on equipment. As long as you have good lighting, you should be good. As far as backgrounds go, stick with plain and simple so that the interviewers can focus on you. Aside from that, my biggest piece of advice is just to be yourself. Yes, scores matter, but they’re not all we’re looking at. We want to know who you are as a person, and if you will fit in with us and succeed at our program. Also, be prepared. Like Mustafa said, practice as much as you can. That really does help, and you shouldn’t go into your interview winging it. Know what you’re going to say and know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Also, have questions for us and be honest about them. We’ll be honest with you, so if there are things you want to know about, ask us!
Dr. Mustafa Basree: I completely agree with what Allison said and want to also stress that you should know your application and be ready to talk about your hobbies. On my application, I wrote that I like to cook Iraqi food, and was asked about it during my first interview. I hadn’t prepared an answer and started rambling but learned from the experience and was prepared the next time it came up!
Dr. Allison Daniel: Also, don’t neglect your personal statement. Last year, for everyone I interviewed, I read their personal statements in depth and made it a point to ask questions about it, so make sure you’re prepared to answer those questions too.
Dr. Mustafa Basree: Every interviewer is different. Some follow a script, and some are more conversational, so be prepared to have conversations about everything on your application, and again, practice your answers.
Dr. Allison Daniel: Also, be on time with your applications.
Dr. Mustafa Basree: And don’t be scared! I double, triple, quadruple checked mine before submitting, and remember that there are two steps. You have to certify your application before you submit it. Also, trust the process. It’s very stressful, but it’s normal to be stressed. Just make sure it’s a healthy, motivating stress and not a limiting stress that’s preventing you from showing your true self. After all, you applied to these programs for a reason, so try to highlight those reasons when speaking with programs and take comfort in knowing that you will get those interviews.
Dr. Alisa Pham: The top five pieces of advice I can share with medical students going through this process are, first, meet with your mentor to discuss your plan a, b and c for specialties and programs that would best match your needs and interests. Second, apply broadly and don’t limit your search to one state. Include others that you would feel happy living in over the long term and consider including surrounding states if you are less geographically restricted. Third, research suggests that if you apply to 15-25 programs per specialty, you’ll achieve optimal interview rates, so aim to apply to about 20 programs per specialty. Some people apply more broadly, but applications cost money, so know that you can have a successful match rate without sending out hundreds of applications. Fourth, on your CV and resume, be descriptive but also concise. Highlight what you’re passionate about, whether that’s leadership, service or the specialty you’re pursuing, and be descriptive about your hobbies and interests. If you like to paint, what kind of painting do you like to do? If you like to cook, what do you like to prepare? If you like to read, do you enjoy fiction, science fiction or another genre? Adding these details will help personalize your application. Fifth, don’t compare yourself with your peers’ personal statements or resumes. Focus on your own strengths and describe yourself in your own words. It’s important to stay focused on how you want to be perceived and portrayed because comparing yourself with others can cause you to stray away from your true self or lead you to doubt yourself. Be confident, highlight your strengths and be aware of your weaknesses.
Dr. Dimitri Tito: Like Alisa said, ask your mentor to take a second look at your application materials, and be prepared to answer questions about everything on your resume, including your research. I also agree with Alisa’s recommendation to highlight any qualities or unique skills you might have during your interview. These personal details help interviewees and interviewers be on the same page. I’d also suggest picking early dates for your interviews. At the end of the cycle, interviews can become routine, and applicants can experience déjà vu, which can impair your performance. Lastly, for each interview that you do, take notes of both positives and negatives, along with any questions you may have so you can ask them later. You can also reference your notes when it comes time to do your match ranking.
Dr. Alisa Pham: I agree, taking notes was very helpful for me when I went through this process, so definitely do that. The notes you take the day of the interview are very helpful for ranking. Without notes, you might forget important information later on, so try to take notes the day of the interview or right after.
AACOM, along with the Coalition for Physician Accountability, recommends that residency interviews be conducted virtually for the 2021-22 recruitment cycle. For more virtual interview tips, join the RFC on Monday, September 20 at 7:00 PM ET for a dessert social and informal online social gathering on residency interviewing and tips for the match, or view a recent webinar recording sharing tips and lessons learned from virtual interviewing in the 2020-2021 recruitment cycle and general advice on interviewing from a range of specialties. If you are currently a resident or fellow physician, please consider joining the RFC.