Friday, February 15, 2013

before residency: interviews

Our Travels: 
Trips to the west by air, north and east were by car.  

Residency interviews were a unique experience.  My husband secured various interviews for general surgery residency throughout the country, mostly in the southeast coastal region.  While the whole process can be pretty pricey, we decided to make the most of it and turn four of them into vacations of a sort.  The various stages of the process are as follows.  And if you just don't want to read all of this information, please, at least skip down and take my advice for post-interview time.

the residency dinner:
A few locations were gracious and provided the hotel for us the night of the interview.  Most, if not all programs, provided dinner at a local restaurant the night before the interview.  This gives applicants a casual opportunity to ask the kinds of questions you wouldn't normally ask during the interview.  Though I believe the main point of these dinners is to allow the residents to feel out the applicants and form their own opinion of them, since only a select few may actually interview them the next day.  Mostly they want to know if they could stand working with you for the next several years.  So while more casual, it is still a part of the interview process.  Best to behave.  Enjoy a drink, it may or may not be covered by the hospital, but either way, this isn't the best time to show them you can party hard with the best of them.

I was invited along on most occasions but only ended up going to one of the dinners.  For the most part I did my own thing.  Sometimes because I wasn't feeling well, others because the programs didn't make it as clear as others that I was invited. In those situations, I used the opportunity to scope out the city and enjoy a good book with my dinner. I would advise, though, that spouses go if they can.  In hindsight I wish I had attended more of the dinners.  This is also your time to possibly meet the resident's spouses who may just be your best friends in a year.

the interview day:
Interview day starts pretty early so make sure you have done all of your ironing the night before and don't go on to the after-party if there is one after dinner.  You are going to want some sleep.  You have a long day ahead of you.

Usually the day starts with a conference of some sort.  Maybe M&M (morbidity and mortality) or a journal club.  There might be a breakfast but I would still grab a muffin on your way out of the hotel.  My husband was offered breakfast at the conference a few times only to find that there was just a few pastries and maybe fruit when he could have had biscuits and gravy at the hotel.
The rest of the day was filled with 3-5 separate interviews usually consisting of the Program Director, Assistant Program Director, Chairman, a few select attendings, and possibly a panel of residents, singularly or in groups.  Biggest suggestion for this time is to have plenty of questions ready.  Probably 75% of the individual interviews my husband attended, their only question besides "Tell me about yourself" was, "so what do you want to know?"  Because lets be honest, they don't want to take the time out of their day anymore than you want to sit there in your suit or skirt and pretend to be more interested than the person before you.  But it is all part of the dance.
And that is my favorite part of the medical residency interview... while you are trying to impress them, they are equally trying to impress you.  How many other interviews have you been on that you can say that about?  They are trying to impress you.  Because they ultimately want you to see how cool they are so you will rank them highly on your list.
Other than the interviews, there is going to be a presentation by someone important there to tell you about their pay, benefits, working conditions, and perks.  Followed by lunch, most likely in the cafeteria, and a tour of the hospital campus.

So then what?  Do you hop in your car, begin the long trek home or speed to the airport?  Perhaps.  But don't forget that if you have a little spare time because your interview was on the weekend and you don't have to be on call at your home institution the next day, you might want to take a little time to look around the city.  Because in all reality, the location is almost as important as the program.  Maybe you will be stuck in the hospital all day, but your spouse won't be, or your family who comes to visit will need to entertain themselves, or how about that random day off you might be blessed with?  You might want to do something other than sleep (not likely).  No matter what the reason, you will be in that city for 3-7 years, depending on specialty and research (longer if you do a fellowship or accept a position there), and it might mean the difference between dealing well with a bad program or being miserable despite a good program. 
Or maybe you don't have any time to explore... so here is what you absolutely should do:  keep a notebook with you in your suitcase and take 10 minutes before you head home to write down all the details of what you just witnessed.  Everything you learned about the program, your intuition about the people you might work with one day, the perks, the pay, what you thought about the little bit of the city you saw.  Because in a few months you will need to weed out who you want to be #1, #2, ...#10, or #15 on your list.  And after a while, all of those interviews you were so excited to get- they run together. You forget who paid what amount, who gives you an iPad in your second year, who gives you extra money for the cafeteria and who makes you pay for your own food, what program had residents who were all best friends and who seemed miserable.  This information is usually in some of the handout information, but do you really want to sort through the giant stack on your desk every time you can't remember a detail only to find out that what you are trying to remember isn't in that stack but was told to you at the resident dinner?  Or you could have all of the programs information that was important to you in the same notebook for easy reference.  This is a great job for a spouse to take over.  Your medical student is going to have just been through a brutal/boring 7ish hours of nonstop information, so they might need someone to ask them questions to get all the details on paper.

So all in all, enjoy the experience.  See some new places.  Shop around for the best deals, book your flights early if possible.  Eat some darn good expensive but free-to-you meals.  And if you are married, try to include your spouse in this time because they need to be happy with the places you put on your rank list as well.

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