Interviewing at a residency program is not a typical job interview, a one-sided dialogue in which you answer question after question, trying to sell your skills and strengths to the interviewers. Not at all.

It’s more a discussion, and a group one for that matter, about who you are, what you are looking for in your life and professional career, and whether the program could be the right match for your ambitions and goals.

At the end of the day, however, it’s still an interview, and they will ask you questions. In this article we will look at ten of them, and try to give you some advice on what you should focus on while answering each one. Let’s start.

 

Welcome! Can you introduce yourself?

The key is to show genuine and open personality right from the start. Because psychiatry is a tough field, and it is crucial to have colleagues you can trust. Now, you do not need to be overly enthusiastic or energetic–such behavior doesn’t fit the setting anyway.

Just say who you are, where you are from, what interests you in life, and mention some hobbies you have. Mentioning the name of your med school goes without saying. Remember that how you say things is even more important than what you say exactly. Talk in a calm and cheerful manner, keep an eye contact with other people in the room, and do not hesitate to share something from your personal life.

 

Why did you decide to apply for our residency program?

Try to avoid general answers, such as that they have a great reputation, or that you like the the location of the place. Surely, you can refer to these things, but you should be more specific. For example, if you read a paper of one of the leading psychiatrists, or read an interview with them, and something particular they said about the place caught your attention–that’s the thing to mention in the interview.

Or perhaps you know about some innovative therapy methods they use at their facility, and it resonates with you. Mention it if it is the case. Or you know personally some people who were treated at the place by X or Y psychiatrist, and managed to return to normal ways of living, despite their severe diagnosis.

In all these cases, the key is to point out something particular, not talking in general terms.

What do you expect from this program, and your supervisor?

I’ve heard some people saying that they had no expectations on their mentors–but high expectations on themselves. While this answer works well in many job interview, I am not sure whether it is the right choice when you try to get into a psychiatry residency program.

You should have expectations, on both mentors and the program. For example, you can say that you expect the people who lead you to give you a critical feedback on your work, that you expect an open communication and frequent discussion, since that’s the only way to progress in this field, and eventually become a great psychiatrist.

However, you can also point out that you do not want this to be some “parasitic relationship”, where they only give and you only take. On the contrary. While you expect a lot from the program, you also expect a lot from yourself, and hope to become a valuable member of the team, with your motivation, hard work, but also critical thinking and ideas you want to bring onboard.

 

Tell us about a patient you learned from something important.

First and foremost, this is a question of respect and attitude. Because I’ve seen psychiatric wards¬† where patients were treated like animals (or even worse), and it was exactly because the psychiatrists and therapists thought they have nothing to learn from their patients. They have no desire to improve left in them.

You should never ever try to do your residency at such a place, regardless of the recognition or reputation in the community of doctors. Because you won’t walk away a better person…

Anyway, you can learn a lot from your patients. If nothing else, you can see through their eyes a variety of perspectives people have on life and everyday events. Talking to these people and understanding how they perceive the world around them can help you to get out of a small bubble of your personal perception of the world, and actually get rid of prejudice. Or understand people better.

Of course you can talk also about something more specific, such as how changing one drug for another impacted severely the life of a patient, or the side effects they experienced, etc, and the things you learned about the treatment, following this experience.

In any case, they should get an impression that you do not consider the patients inferior to you, or to anybody else. You are ready to learn from them, because at the end of the day, you’ll be working with patients all your life, and unless you learn from them you will hardly move forward in your professional career.

 

Is there anything special you have done to get ready for your psychiatry residency?

Graduating from med school isn’t anything special. Because anyone else who sits with you in the room, or who will sit there during another interview, has graduated from med school.

What they are really interested in here are your extracurricular activities. They wonder whether you do anything to stay ahead of the pack–perhaps reading research papers, attending conferences, taking part in online discussions, or doing anything else.

Do not take me wrong though: they do not care that much about the actual knowledge. What they care about is your attitude. As long as they see that you haven’t lost your interest, that you constantly try to better your knowledge, and that psychiatry isn’t your last choice, but the first one, they will be more than happy about your answer.

Of course if we truly like our profession we will try to get better in it. We will read books, listen to podcasts from famous psychotherapists and psychiatrist, attend webinars and conferences, and whenever there’s a chance for some hands-on practice, we will take it.

5 other questions they may ask you during the psychiatry residency interview

  • Tell us about a time when you demonstrated leadership in your work, or during your studies.
  • How do you deal with disappointment and setbacks, something we may experience very often while working with psychiatric patients?
  • Can you point out one strength that you believe will help you a lot in this job, and one weakness that may hinder your progress in psychiatric medicine?
  • Do you consider yourself a team player? Can you tell us about a situation that demonstrates your teamwork ability?
  • Do you have any questions?

 

Questions you should ask during your interview for a psychiatric residency program

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is not a typical interview. It’s not about one party (employer) choosing another (job candidate). It is more about finding the right match, for everyone involved.

Hence it is important that you also ask them some questions–to learn more about the people you may end up working with for four years or longer, and the place where you’ll often spend 80+ hours a week. Now, there aren’t any questions you have to ask, or anything of that sort.

Once they take you through their facility and show you around, you should simply pay attention to both their words and your surroundings, and ask about anything that catches your eye, or makes you think.

Anyway, if you aren’t sure, or if an interview has a slightly different format, you can use some of these questions:

  • You’ve been working in this field for so long. What is the most important advice you’d give new residents here?
  • How long have you been with the hospital/clinic/center? Do you know what’s the employee turnover here?
  • Is there a mentor program for new residents? If you have one in place, how does it work, and who are the mentors?
  • Would you consider the same program if you were applying again? If not, why? (this is a question for fellow residents)
  • What is the percentage of residents who successfully complete the program?

 

Conclusion, next steps

Interview for a place in a psychiatry residency program belongs to atypical interviews. Things can be very informal at times, and people talking to you won’t be professional interviewers.

In cases like this one, what matters the most in the connection you manage to make with the people in the room. Because personal preferences, and whether they like you as a person, play a huge role in their decision making process.

But that doesn’t mean that your interview answers don’t matter, or that you should take your preparation lightly. If you remain silent when they ask you a question, or demonstrate wrong attitude with some of your answers, they won’t choose you for the program.

Try to prepare for the questions, and learn as much as you can about their residency program, and people you’ll interview with. And do not forget to have your questions ready, because at the end of the day in this case, you are also interviewing them, trying to find out whether they are good enough (or at least the right match for your preferences and skills)… I wish you good luck!

Matthew

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Matthew Chulaw
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