I remember this time two years ago very clearly in my mind. All my other classmates in their respective fields had already received all their interview invites (see my guide to medical interviews here), and I was stressing out of my mind because I had only received a few dermatology golden tickets. (I call them “golden tickets” because they’re rare, might as well be made of gold in the joy they incite, and they promise a magical journey to a far off land where you get a shot at your dream career. You are Charlie and I guess the program directors are…Willy Wonka?) The saga I went through during the whole application process is enough to fill another post, and I do intend to write that post at some point. But today’s post is meant to serve as a guide to how to prepare and what to expect for dermatology interviews.
First of all, before I even get into the interviews themselves, I just want to say don’t panic if you don’t have a high number of interviews yet. Dermatology interview invitations come out later than all the other fields, so you can still expect interview invites to roll in through December and even into January. So step one is to take a deep breath and calm down. Schedule all your prelim and transitional interviews now while you have time and try to get as many of those out of the way in November and December because January, the month where the majority of derm interviews are, will be a wild ride.
Once you get the email inviting you to interview, you need to schedule the interview date. This is easier said than done in dermatology where most programs interview on one or two dates only. Here is an informal calendar put together by the Derm Interest Group mapping out all the interview dates for 2015-2016. I can’t speak to the accuracy of this calendar but I remember using previous years’ calendars as a rough guide to plan out my interview schedules. You know, for example, that the New York City programs tend to interview in the last week of January, so you can try to leave certain dates in that last week blank if you’re particularly keen on going to one of those interviews. Try to email back as soon as possible to secure a spot for interviews, and if your schedule doesn’t end up working out, I’ve heard rumors that you can try to trade dates with other interviewees on SDN.
The set up of dermatology interviews is quite different from the ones I experienced at intern year program interviews. Derm interviews function much like MMI’s that some of you have experienced interviewing for medical school. In a nutshell, it’s speed dating. The interviews I attended ranged anywhere from seven to sixteen rooms with 1-2 faculty in each room. Most programs have applicants interview with either the majority or all of their faculty. Some programs have a question in each room for you to answer while others are a free for all. Know what you’d say if you walk into a room and the interviewer says, “So, tell me about yourself.” Questions you are bound to be asked include your reasons for choosing dermatology, why you want to attend this program, and questions about your background (anything on your application is fair game – research, hobbies, extracurriculars, languages you speak, etc.). Know your answers for those cold – by the end of the interview season you could probably recite answers to any of those questions without even thinking.This goes without saying but try to be enthusiastic and have a good attitude even if you feel like a broken record. If you have a specific interest within dermatology and there is a faculty member at that program who specializes in that, show your enthusiasm! Ask questions, be engaging. If there’s something in your application that you consider your biggest asset, find a way to tie that in to any question so you can mention it at least a few times during a program’s interview.
If you have a SPECIFIC reason for wanting to go to a particular program, repeat it again, and again, and again. If you have personal ties to a city, say it! If you can only do your crazy stem cell mouse research with one faculty member in particular, share that! If your husband is already locked into a 7 year surgical residency in a certain city, make that known! I cannot stress how important it is to share tangible reasons why you would rank that program highly. I had lived in California my entire life, so every single program outside of California consistently asked me if I would actually consider moving to another state. Have detailed genuine reasons for why you would actually go to each program you interview at. Obviously don’t lie, because we can see through that right away.
To keep things interesting, derm programs are notorious for asking unconventional questions. I didn’t get any questions testing my dermatology knowledge, but my friends and I have had interviewers ask us to interpret abstract paintings, sing a song, speak in a different language (listed on the application), tell a joke, choose what animal I’d be and to make that animal sound, describe an interesting dermatology patient case, explain how I’d ward off a zombie apocalypse, and solve riddles. And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. There is no way to prepare for any of these things so really I’m telling you here to expect the unexpected. The interviewers just want to see how you respond to things outside your comfort zone; plus, they’re probably bored from hearing the same answers to questions all day long. So keep it fun and interesting and go along with the situation no matter how bizarre.
Last tip I have is to try to have fun. It’s an extremely stressful process but you will start to meet the same applicants at interviews around the country. These will be your future coresidents and dermatology colleagues, people you will likely work with and collaborate with for the rest of your life. I remember after finishing my last interview in NYC, a bunch of us went out to drinks to celebrate being done with the interview process. Dermatology is a small field so be nice to everyone and try to enjoy this bonding experience!
A few people have asked me whether or not applicants should change their name on social media networks. I don’t really understand the appeal of changing the names when you can just privatize your networks and make yourself unsearchable (I remember not knowing who anyone was during application season…when did I become friends with all these strangers?). When I was applying, I changed my privacy settings so that only my friends could view my Facebook profile or search for me. I didn’t have Instagram back then but if I did, I would privatize that too. Dermatology is such a competitive field where all the applicants are super stellar, so why risk giving anyone a reason to discount your application? If there’s anything on your social networks that you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing in person to someone on the residency committee, then I think you’re better off privatizing your networks. To be honest, the chances of anyone actually checking out your social media networks are EXTREMELY rare, especially among the faculty, but in many programs the dermatology residents get a say in who interviews too. Just to be safe, protect yourself and your online presence.
Don’t forget to check out my other #PathtoMD posts, including ones on general residency interview tips here, and your guide to interview attire here.
Good luck everyone! And if you’re stopping by NYU the last week of January for dermatology interviews, let me know and I’ll keep an eye out for you.