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Interview Time!

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Jarrod Shapiro
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As the middle of December approaches, many of us are looking forward to the holiday season. Fun. Family. Friends. Gifts. Loved ones. For our fourth-year students, this time of year also means preparing for residency interviews and the board examination. The interviews take place in early January, and for those of us in practice, we can recall the stress of this process. If you don’t recall, consider that the interview is nothing less than the final step before residency, which, in many cases, colors to a great extent the rest of one’s career. Stressful? You bet.

In an attempt to decrease some of that stress, I’d like to give our fourth-year students around the country some advice. This advice comes from someone who has previously gone through the process himself, teaches students at one of the podiatry colleges, and directs a residency. In the four years I’ve been a teacher at the Western University College of Podiatric Medicine and director of the Chino Valley Medical Center Podiatric Residency Program, I’ve seen just about every type of interview. I’ve had people argue with me during interviews, get flustered, and start to cry. I’ve also witnessed other interviewees pull out of themselves their best performance. And that is what I hope to see at every interview: the best performance of which each applicant is capable.

“What I hope to see at every interview is the best performance that each applicant is capable of”

To that end, I dedicate the rest of this editorial to our fourth-year student colleagues who are on the cusp of becoming podiatric physicians. Here are the best pieces of advice I can give to you.

Best Advice for Taking Interviews

  1. Accept the stress - Yes, this is going to be a remarkably stressful experience. You feel your entire life hinges on these short stints of time, and to some extent, that’s true. You’ve put in four years of your life preparing, and you want to do well. Here’s the thing: no matter what happens in your interviews, life will go on. Yes, you’re going to make some mistakes and get some answers wrong. Yes, some programs won’t want you. That’s ok. Breath deeply, stay calm, and understand you can’t perform your best if you’re too anxious.
  2. Know the programs before the interview - Visit if possible. If not, call representatives of the program. Find out what attending physicians are involved with at the program and read any research they’ve done. Note the structure of the program, the hours, the surgical volume, whether or not there’s a clinic. Understand how much personal time is available. You can’t answer the question “why would you be a good resident at this program” if you don’t know anything about the program.
  3. Anticipate - Pretend you’re giving the interview. Consider what kinds of questions you might receive. What questions would you ask? Realize that there are a limited number of types of interview questions: knowledge-based, social, hypothetical, and skill-based activities. If you think a program might ask you social questions while having you suture, then practice that.
  1. Study - Podiatry interviews almost universally have some knowledge-based aspect. You’ve just spent four years gaining podiatric knowledge and skills. How bad would it look if you can’t answer any podiatric questions correctly? Know all the classifications (even if most of them are a complete waste of time). Be able to recall the intimate details of the common podiatric complaints. You should know topics like heel pain, foot and ankle trauma, diabetic complications, and bunions (among several others) like the back of your hand.
  2. Be organized - Many programs want to see that you not only have a knowledge of podiatric material but that you have an organized and logical thought process. For example, if I were to present to you a case of a diabetic foot infection, I’d want you to explain your logical approach. Do I want to hear you say you’ll give antibiotics before blood cultures or get vitals after you’ve done a debridement? Of course not. Interviewers want to see that you have a strong grasp of the important issues involving infections and that you are organized in your approach.
  3. Understand questions have multiple purposes - Students often seem surprised when I tell them every question asked during an interview has more than one motive. Take the example in #5. Asking about a diabetic foot infection informs your knowledge base and mental organization. Asking a question you can’t answer may tell me about your reactions under pressure as well as understanding of a topic. Interviews are short so every question has to count. Keep that in mind if you’re asked questions that seem to come out of left field.

“Asking a question you can’t answer may tell me about your reactions under pressure as well as your depth of understanding in that topic. How do you approach learning something that you don’t know?”

One last piece of advice. As ridiculous as it sounds, try to have some fun. Your residency interviews are only going to happen once (for the vast majority of you), and you will look back on this time fondly. It truly is the last step of your undergraduate education, and from here on, things get a bit more complicated. In the future, this experience will be the mark of your transition from school to being an actual physician. Pay attention to the experience, accept whatever happens, and you will get though it.

Best of luck with your interviews, and I’ll see you in Texas.
Jarrod Shapiro Signature
Jarrod Shapiro, DPM
PRESENT Practice Perfect Editor
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