Top Tips for Surgical Interviews – an AWS Tweetchat Summary

17 Oct 2018

by Camila Guetter

On September 17th, the AWS Twitter Committee in partnership with the AWS National Medical Student Committee hosted another extremely successful #AWSchat tweetchat to discuss Surgical Interview Tips. The tweetchat focused on important aspects of interviews for medical students seeking a surgical residency including how to ask essential questions about residency programs, navigate personal questions, and ensure you are communicating who you are throughout the interview experience.

We would like to thank all of our AWS members and followers – faculty, fellows, residents, and medical students – that participated in this tweetchat using the hashtags #AWSchat and #SurgInterviewTips. We appreciate all your comments and all the tips you have shared with our current and future applicants!

In addition, we would like to state our appreciation for this tweetchat moderadors:

Lastly, we would also like to acknowledge our medical student moderators who greatly contributed to the organization of this project: Shree Agrawal (@ShreeAgrawal21), Faith Robertson (@FaithCRobertson), Camila Guetter (@camila_guetter), Sarah Armenia (@SarahJArmenia), and Ashley Choi.

Amongst so many great interview tips, here are a few highlights I gathered during the chat:

Question #1: What are the most important factors to consider when looking for a residency program and how can a candidate identify them?

The most important factors when ranking potential programs ultimately depend on what you are looking for in a program. What are your goals? Are you looking for academic training? Of what kind? What other professional goals do you have? Is the program interested in training the type of surgeon you are interested in becoming (academic practice, competitive fellowships, private practice, etc.)? A valuable tip is to keep a journal with a list of what matters most to you as well as questions to ask each program.

Question #2: What is a good way to get a feel for a program’s culture and whether a program will be a good fit?

The best way to do that is by doing an away rotation in that program or talking to someone who has done so in the past. If that is not possible, the second best way is by talking to as many trainees as you can. Attending the dinner before the interview is a must! It is a wonderful opportunity to talk to residents, ask about group activities and social events. In addition, trying to talk to residents outside the formal process is also a great idea so as to get less biased information. Crucial questions to be asked include but are not limited to: “What is the best thing you like about the program?”, “How do the residents get along?”, “What do you wish you had more of?”, “What would you change or improve in the program that would enhance your experience?”, “ Would you stay if they offered you a job after residency/fellowship? Why or why not?”

Question #3: What type of implicit bias questions might students face in an interview? How can students prepare to tactfully answer these questions?

Firstly, asking these type of questions is illegal and it should be reported to ACGME (there are anonymous ways to do it). However, if you still come across such a question (“When are you planning to have children?”, “Is this place ‘diverse’ enough for you?”, “What is your spouse’s employment situation?”), interviewers only need to know that you are prepared to excel and complete the work necessary to be an outstanding resident. Redirect the conversation by emphasizing that regardless of your family/personal life, you intend to focus on your training during your residency and that it is your key priority.

Question #4: What are common pitfalls to avoid during the interview visit?

So many important aspects of surgical interviews were discussed at this point of the tweetchat. Firstly, make sure to stand out only in good ways. Smile, make eye contact, have a firm handshake. Treat everyone you encounter with respect, as if every encounter from residents to the secretary are all part of the interview. Avoid negative statements. Moreover, do your homework! Read about the program beforehand and know how it aligns with your goals. Have prepared questions that demonstrate that you have made that effort. In addition, keep your phone in your pocket and not take it out unless it rings. Lastly, don’t be someone you’re not. Be proud of what you have accomplished, but don’t act like you know it all. Nothing worse than an interviewee with and attitude.

Question #5: What tips do you have for social events the night before interviews?

Be strategic, know what you want to learn about the program. Practice your elevator speech: (1) Who you are. (2) Why you are there (both in surgery & at that program). (3) What you want in a residency program. (4) How you will make an excellent resident surgeon. (5) Where you’re headed in your career (to the extent you know at this time). Credits to Dr. Lillian Erdahl (@LillianErdahlMD) on this! Lastly, be professional (don’t drink to much or show off) and be yourself!

Question #6: How and when should candidates contact residency programs after the interview is over?

This was a somewhat controversial topic during the tweetchat. Some faculty mentioned they like receiving a thank you note (some by email, some handwritten). They feel it helps people to remember you and lets them know what you got out of the visit. On the other hand, other faculty mentioned that focused reconnections are a better use of time. They argue that sending thank you notes to everyone is less valuable than reaching out to those who you want additional information from.

For those who were unable to attend this tweetchat, you can read the full transcript here. Also, check out Shree Agrawal’s blog article for more information on what was discussed on this #AWSchat. Follow AWS on twitter (@WomenSurgeons) and look out for our upcoming monthly tweetchats!

Camila is originally from Curitiba, Brazil. She is a sixth-year medical student at Universidade Federal do Paraná in Brazil, and serves as general coordinator of the Trauma Surgery Interest Group at her institution. In her third year of medical school, Camila received a one-year scholarship to study Biomedical Sciences at the UCLA (Los Angeles, CA). Subsequently she worked as a research student at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA) studying pancreatic cancer, hepatobiliary surgery outcomes, and patient education. Camila is passionate about pursuing a career in academic surgery and is very active in AWS. She is a member of the Publications and Communications committee, and is currently the Communications Chair of the National Medical Student Committee. You can find her on twitter at @camila_guetter.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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