How to answer anesthesiology residency program interview questions

If you're not a native English speaker, how should you prepare for your anesthesiology residency interviews in the US?

The best thing to do is practice your answers to common questions before you go.

Anesthesiology residency interview questions

The medical residency interview process differs between programs, but they're all going to ask similar questions. 

Questions you'll be asked at your anesthesiology residency interview

Here are some questions you'll probably be asked in your interview.

While you're preparing, make a list of bullet points you want to mention in each answer, but don't memorize your answer word for word or you'll sound like a robot.

Most common anesthesiology residency interview questions

Tell me about yourself.

Walk me through your resume.

Tell me about your background.

These three questions are asking you to talk about your education and work history.

What should you say? There's no right answer, but here are some bullet points of things you can include:

  • I'm from China (give the city also, but explain where it is if we won't know, like "it's in the north of China")
  • I went to medical school at Shanghai University, which is one of the top three medical schools in China (if your school isn't this good, don't say anything about its quality) 
  • Because I was ranked at the top of my class I was allowed to do rotations in the US (she says this because it shows she was a top student)
  • I did rotations at NYU Lutheran, Emory, the Mayo Clinic, SUNY Downstate, and the University of Rochester (you can also say what the rotations were in)
  • I'm here now because the Cleveland Clinic has one of the best anesthesiology programs in the country and I want to be part of it (say why you want to be in this program)

You could include other things, like research you did, awards you won, etc. Don't talk about your family or hobbies. 

Your answer shouldn't be more than 1.5 minutes. 

How would you describe yourself?

This question is asking about your personality, not for a list of your education and jobs.

One of my clients said this: "I'm an analytical person who's calm under pressure. I'm a good problem solver. I'm also a good communicator and I love working on a team. I think my personality is a good fit for this job."

Her answer works because she highlights qualities that will make her a good doctor. Also, I could see by working with her that she was a nice, kind person and her enthusiasm for life and medicine was very clear, and I knew this would show in her interviews. If she was not a friendly person I would have told her not to add the "good on a team" part because it would be clear to the interviewers that she was not sincere about that.

Tell me about your program. 

This question usually goes to internationals. Explain how your program works. Is your program 5 years, starting after high school? Do you study foundational subjects for the first year and then move to the medical subjects? Most American doctors are not familiar with the way medical school works in other countries. 

What was your favorite class?

There's no right answer here, as long as you talk about a medical class. Pharmacology and physiology are typical answers for future anesthesiologists. 

Do you think there is a difference between our educational systems?

Since you come from a different country, you may be asked about your educational system. I'm sure you have an opinion about it compared to the US system, so tell them what your opinion is. 

Why anesthesiology?

Here are some reasons that one of my clients came up with and they are good: I like relieving pain and anxiety. I love to do procedures. I like physiology and pharmacology. 

I'm sure there are more good reasons to go into this field that you could say, but please don't say that you like the pay or the schedule.

Why Duke? (or wherever you're interviewing)

What are you looking for in a program?

These two questions need to be tailored specifically for the program. Talk about points that are relevant only to that program so that you can show you've done your research.

More anesthesiology residency interview questions

Detailed job questions

You probably already gave an overview of your background earlier in the interview, but you may be asked more questions about your experience.

Be prepared to discuss each job you've had. For instance, if you're asked about your rotation in critical care at Georgetown, you could say, "At Georgetown, I shadowed an attending all day. I learned a lot, and I especially liked doing IVs."

What did you like about that job? I assume there's something you liked. Tell them that (if it's relevant to anesthesiology).

Tell them what you learned. 

What are your goals in terms of an anesthesiology career?

What kind of career are you planning?

If you're asked one of these questions, talk about your goals. Tell them the truth, since I assume you do have plans. However, talking about taking time off to raise a family isn't a good idea at this point. 

What are the pros and cons of a career in anesthesia?

Don't talk about the lifestyle issues. You shouldn't admit you are choosing a career because of the lifestyle.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

Everyone always asks me what weakness to use. This is a tough question because you don't want to say anything that makes you sound incompetent. A good choice for a non-native speaker to say is English. You can say that you know your English isn't perfect and it embarrasses you so you're working on it, but that it's good enough to do your job. 

If you're a woman, don't say you're too sensitive to criticism because this is a very typical answer for a woman to give and no one wants to hire a doctor who can't take feedback.

In terms of strengths, good ones for this job are clinical experience, loving to do procedures and a lot of hands on experience, good with team work, good at research. But these are examples of what someone else has said — be honest about your own strengths.  

Describe a satisfying experience during your medical training.

This will preferably be something to do with working with patients.

What do you do in your free time?

One of my clients wasn't sure what Americans consider normal hobbies. These are all normal hobbies: reading, hiking, rock climbing, dancing, cooking, going to movies. There are a lot of hobbies you can list. If you're not sure if your hobby is "normal" enough, don't talk about it.

Don't talk about going to church or anything political.

Why did you choose your medical school?

When it comes to the field of medicine, what is your biggest fear?

Who is your role model and why?

What will you do if you don't match?

What's the most recent book you've read? 

If you don't read outside of work, you should pick a book and read it. Make sure to actually read it in case your interviewer wants to talk about it.

Describe yourself in one word. 

Tell me a good joke.

Tell me about a patient care mistake you made and tell me what you learned from it.

Tell me why you became a doctor in the first place.

Teach me something non-medical in one minute or less. 

One client taught me how to say "hello" in Mandarin, her native language. This was a great choice.

If your house was on fire and you could only save 3 items, what would they be?

What is your philosophy of patient care?

I suggest you give some thought to this question. It's not easy to think of an answer to this with no preparation.

What do you think are some of the main challenges facing the medical profession these days?

They mean the medical profession in America

What would you do if you saw a colleague make a medical error?

The correct answer to this question is that you would first go to the person and talk about the problem. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding. The wrong answer is that you would go to your supervisor and report the person. 

Do you have any interesting cases to discuss?

This will probably be asked only at the more academic programs. Don't use a case that might also be used by other people interviewing.

Behavioral questions you may be asked in your residency interview

Behavioral questions are the type of question where you have to answer by giving an example or telling a story. These two were in the lists I've already given:

Describe a satisfying experience during your medical training.

Tell me about a patient care mistake you made and tell me what you learned from it.

You see how you have to have a real example to talk about?

Here are some more behavioral questions you might get in your interview:

Walk me through how you give complex info to patients.

Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems. 

What is your typical way of dealing with conflict?

What do you do if you disagree with a patient?

Give an example of a time you had to conform to a policy you didn't agree with.

Give an example of a stressful situation where you had to show your coping skills. 

How do you react under pressure?

Don't give a one-word answer, give an example.

Give me an example of a time when you had to make a quick decision.

Give me an example of when you had too many things to do and had to prioritize.

Give me an example of a time when you had to work with someone who did things differently than you.

When did you have to persuade a colleague to accept your point of view?

If you want a great method for answering behavioral questions, read this article. It will give you a short formula you can follow so that your answers have the right information (the STAR method). 

Questions to ask your interviewers

You should be asking questions as you move through the interview, but you'll probably be asked at the end if you have any questions for them. Here are some things that people ask:

What are your fellowship match rates?

What are your program's strengths and weaknesses?

How often do residents leave the program and what are their reasons?

I think this is one of the most important things you'll say in the interview because it's the last time you'll talk to your interviewer. Instead of asking one of the questions I just gave you, which are the same ones other candidates will be asking, do something different.

Show you listened to them during the interview by asking them a question about something they've said to you earlier. Did they say that they just got back from Florida? Then say, "I know you said you just got back from Florida. Were you overwhelmed by work when you got back?"

The point isn't that you care about the answer to the question. It's that you're showing you listened to them. After all, it's human nature to like people who pay attention to us.

Small talk at the pre-interview dinner

The night before the interview you'll probably have a dinner or cocktail hour with residents who are already in the program. This is their chance to meet you and see if they like you enough to work with you. 

This is the time when you're going to have to use your small talk skills.

What is small talk? Small talk is the conversation that happens before the interview (or the business meeting or the conference). It's typically about "unimportant" topics. 

I realize that if you're not used to talking to Americans this situation might not be easy for you.

Here are some topics/questions you can use during small talk. 

Where are you from? 

How do you like Atlanta? (whatever town you're in)

What is there to do in your free time here? (obviously, don't use this if you're in a big city like New York)

The weather. Weather is a popular small talk topic. You can say something like, "Is it always so hot in the summer here?" or "Does it rain a lot here?" (if it's raining that day) 

Sports. If you're a sports fan, research the local team so you can start a conversation about it.

Movies and tv. You can always ask if they've seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones or whatever tv show is popular, and the same with movies. They may say they haven't seen it but hopefully they will continue the conversation. 

Travel. If you're from China, ask them if they've been to China. If it's near the holidays, ask them if they have a trip planned. 

Current events. I know you're busy and you may not be interested in US news, but you need to read a US newspaper every day in the few weeks before your interview because you may be asked about current events.

I was practicing small talk with one of my clients and I asked her what she thought of the wildfires. This was during the week when the fires were burning in Napa Valley, California. She hadn't even known about them, and they were on the front page of every newspaper that week. 

No one is going to ask you about some small thing that happened in Atlanta a few weeks ago, but they may mention something big, like the wildfires. You should know what the big stories are. 

You can't prepare sentences or questions for every topic you may be asked about during small talk, but if you prepare for the small talk period you should do well enough. 

I hope this post helps you in your anesthesiology residency interview. If you need help preparing for your interview, email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. From communicating with your interviewer before the interview to greeting your interviewer and using the right body language in your interview, I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.