The Path to MD: Dermatology Interviews 101


Take a walk

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.

14 Comments on The Path to MD: Dermatology Interviews 101

  1. Jane C
    November 23, 2015 at 6:00 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Joyce! I like all of your series on the path to m.d. Well, Im a second yr and am slightly panicking about STEP1 right now. Maybe my study methods arent right because im not doing as well as Id like to.
    You posted a schedule about derm interviews. Did you have a STEP1 schedule too? Or STEP 1 study material list? If you cant share publically, then maybe this might be a stretch but–i cant imagine asking anyone else than you. Someone whose career I admire.– maybe even just an email?



    • Joyce
      November 23, 2015 at 10:40 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Jane! Step 1 is a tough test and at Stanford we had about 6 weeks off to study for it. I remember going through and making a study schedule so I would finish all the prep lectures (I believe it was Kaplan or something similar), Goljan audio lectures, and USMLE world questions by a week before the test. I think I weighted lectures heavily in the beginning, focusing more time on topics I didn’t master well the first time around. The latter half of my studying was more heavily questions-based off of USMLE world. Through all the studying I kept annotating and adding to my First Aid guide so by the end I had a great personalized reference book to look up anything I needed. Hope this helps!

  2. Anonymous
    December 1, 2015 at 10:04 pm (2 years ago)

    Not sure if you’ve talked about this before, but how did you decide to go into dermatology? I found one of your older posts about specialty selection (super helpful!) and was wondering how you made your decision.

    • Joyce
      December 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks for your question! I had a somewhat nontraditional path towards dermatology residency and I’m going to lay it all out in a blogpost coming soon. The preview is that I strongly considered ophthalmology for most of my medical school career, then considered internal medicine strongly, and then made the switch to dermatology late in the game, a few months before applications were due. It was definitely a big risk and a super stressful few months when I was down to the wire deciding which specialty I was going to do. I want to share my experience with my readers so you all know there is not just one straight path to derm. More to come!

  3. Anonymous
    December 5, 2015 at 2:10 am (2 years ago)

    Hello Joyce,

    Your blog was very helpful! Thanks for sharing! Was your Step 1 score above a 250?
    I also added you on LinkedIn. I work at a cancer center in NY, and would love to get your insight on how I can prepare myself for Dermatology as a medical student.



    • Joyce
      December 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi! I just left you a message on your LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Yang Yang
    December 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Joyce,

    Found your blog after you commented on another med school blogger’s Instagram photo! The insight you offer has been really helpful, plus I really enjoy your beauty posts as well. Looking forward to your blog post about how you ended up in Derm :)

    • Joyce
      December 6, 2015 at 5:28 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Yang, thanks for leaving such a sweet note on my post! I’m glad my Path to MD posts have been helpful and as always please let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover. Hope you have a good rest of the weekend!

  5. Larisa Lehmer
    January 5, 2016 at 5:55 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi, Joyce!

    Thank you so much for your time and honesty in sharing your experience and the wisdom you gained through the dermatology application process. Your willingness to be genuine is both refreshing and encouraging. I’m now even more excited for my trip out to NYU at the end of the month, because I might get to meet you! :)

    Warm regards,

    • Joyce
      January 5, 2016 at 7:06 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Larisa, thanks for stopping by and leaving a note, and congratulations on your NYU derm interview! I am unfortunately on vacation the week of NY derm interviews but you will get to meet all of my amazing colleagues. Good luck! It’s an exciting month!

  6. Brook
    January 19, 2016 at 11:26 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Joyce,

    I am currently doing my research in post bacc pre-med programs in NY and the first info session I’m going to is on February 5th. I graduated in May from Rider U with a business degree because I thought that was going to give me answers as to what I really wanted to do for a living. 5 months into the real world and I’ve been inspired to go into derm. I’ve always been fascinated with derm due to my own personal issues, but I always doubted myself in actually becoming a doctor. But here I am, 23 and I finally think I can do this. I’ve contacted dermatologists in the city because I’m really interested in shadowing to get a better idea if I can see myself doing this everyday, but no one will let me since I”m not a med student. Any advise on what I should do or can do to get this experience?

    Also, what are some very important questions when applying to med school that you wished somebody told you when you were applying?


    • Joyce
      January 19, 2016 at 6:50 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Brook, congrats on finding your passion! I think it will be difficult to shadow in a dermatologist’s office without being a medical student unless you have personal connections. I would advise reaching out to different faculty to see if you could do a research project with their lab, and then through research you may be able to shadow a few clinicians. Doing research would also help bolster your medical school application. For more tips on how to get into medical school, please refer to my blogpost here. Good luck!

  7. Elaina
    February 1, 2017 at 3:17 am (12 months ago)

    Hi Joyce! As a Derm applicant it’s nice to have your insight. Just wondering how many interviews you had and which program on your rank list you matched to (i.e. 1st or 2nd etc).

    • Joyce
      February 1, 2017 at 12:41 pm (12 months ago)

      Hi Elaina, glad that my tips were helpful! I don’t give out personal statistics about my application process, grades, and scores, but I will say in general, people say that ~10 interviews is a good number to aim for in dermatology. If you want more dermatology match statistics, check out the NRMP data at Good luck!


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