How to Approach Residency Questions Based on Your Experience

Medical Residency Application & Interview Preparation Specialists

You will be tasked with answering a variety of questions based on your experience in a typical Residency interview. Remember that these questions can range from discussing particular clinical experiences or discussing research that you decided to undertake, through to discussing your interests or hobbies and how they affect your life. No matter the topic, having a clear way of framing your answer will ensure that you provide a coherent answer that will give the right message to the faculty interviewing you.

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Have a clear strategy

The most simple, and popular, strategy for this type of question is the STAR approach. This is used by interviewees worldwide, from school age through to middle-aged executives. It’s straightforward, and easy to implement. STAR can be broken down as follows:
S = Situation
T = Task
A = Action
R = Result (and Reflect)

Beginning with S:
Situation is your chance to quickly set the scene for the interviewer and ensure that they know exactly what you’re talking about. Don’t try to include every detail, but rather focus on the most important information that will allow you to bring the interviewer up-to-speed on what they need to know about the context, without overwhelming them with information. The focus will be on the rest of your answer – this is merely supposed to be an initial two or three sentences (at most) that will introduce the rest of your answer.

The Task is your action, involvement, or undertaking that will be the focus of this answer. What were you asked to do, or what did you need to do? Make sure the interviewer understands exactly what you had to do and why. This will allow you to move into the next phase of your answer. Ensure that responsibilities are made clear, that your objective is apparent, and that there won’t be any confusion moving forward with the rest of your answer.

Action means exactly what you did. You have already given the situation and its context, and the task that you were given – now you can go into some detail on the steps that you took. Be specific and avoid vagaries – instead focus on the core actions that you took. You can provide a good level of detail here – consider what the question is and whether it warrants significant detail. If the question is on your activities, for example, you might provide less detail than if it’s clinical. Ensure that you sell yourself here. That means thinking about how your actions – not those of your team – drove patient safety, success, etc. How did you have a positive impact, and how exactly did you have that impact?

Results and Reflection means discussing the results of your actions. Explain what happened afterwards, and why the results were of importance. Did they mean better patient safety? Did they result in other students being able to succeed in an exam? Consider exactly how your actions resulted in a positive outcome, and make sure that it is made clear. The outcome should be a positive one – even if you were asked about a difficult situation, you should still be able to take a positive result from it, and show off your ability to grow from challenges.

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Let’s consider this question:

Can you tell us about a time when you struggled to work with others in a group setting?

In my third year of pre-med, I had to give a presentation along with two other members of my Chemistry class. We were divided into groups by the tutor.

Each group was assigned a leader, and I was asked to lead my presentation group. I had to ensure that we had a presentation that would not only provide us with a good grade, but also allow others in the class to learn from it. However, the other two members of my group happened to be demotivated at this point, and were often absent. The tutor asked me to ensure that they provided input.

I spoke to each of the other two individually, and asked them to be clear on whether or not they’d be able to input. They both said that they would. However, they were then repeatedly absent. As such, I once again arranged to meet them both, and highlighted the importance of the presentation. I checked whether anything in their personal lives was affecting their ability to work. I spoke to the tutor after they were absent again, and explained the difficulty of my position. I ensured that I remained on top of my section of the presentation and finished it quickly so that I could liaise with the tutor and motivate the other students.

The other two students proved difficult to work with, but they did provide their sections of the presentation, despite repeated absences from class. I thanked them for their input and edited it carefully, with their permission and understanding, and arranged to practise the presentation beforehand as well. We were able to create a strong presentation, despite the issues in having got to the final product. I received the top mark in the class. Reflecting on this, I believe that my desire to understand the other students’ point of view, to work with them rather than become angry or irritated, and my ability to engage with the tutor, were core to a successful outcome.

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