4 ways to thrive on the residency interview trail

Interview season still feels scary and exciting for me as a faculty member, just like when I was applying for residency in 2012. I’ve written before on how to handle illegal interview questions, which I hope you don’t encounter. May the following ideas either give you an edge or maybe help take the edge off.

1. Research, reflect, repeat. Consider reading the actual CODA standards for the residency program of your choice. If you go into an interview without knowing what it means to BE a program, you may miss out on important details. Once you learn the required ingredients, then you can form your own opinions about whether you like or dislike different recipes as a whole.

I still remember truly believing as a predental student that every dental school must be very similar with just a few unique twists. Years later, I was shocked to see how differently residencies live out their duty to meet the same standards. You’ve been warned.

2. Take NBDE Part 2 before interviews start.

Thanks for studying with me, Rachel!

It may seem feasible to study a lot while traveling between programs, but consider the other ways you could spend your precious free time en route (hint: sleeping). It is a wiser investment to thoroughly prepare and decompress between trips. Taking the test as early as you can allows you to focus on observing and evaluating residencies while enjoying the cities and people you will meet along the way.

If it’s possible to take the written portion of your licensure exam early as well, go for it. I did mine together and it was such a relief to be done! If you’re already aiming to take NBDE Part 2 as early as D3 spring and you’re taking the ADAT, consider clustering those together.

3. Bond with your co-interviewees. You will discover real-life future friends if you invest a little energy in the folks around you. Get to know them from the start of the socials through the airport farewells. Avoid viewing each other as competition and instead as colleagues-to-be.

Impromptu fashion show on a program tour in 2012 (visiting the operating room on a tour)

I highly recommend spontaneous post-interview happy hours with people you have just met there. Listen closely to the ways everyone is reacting to a program and making decisions – you will learn so much. Plan ahead for these fun opportunities by booking flights home an hour or two later than you have to. Ask around to learn who else might be at the next few stops you’re making and stay in touch.

4. Tell a joke (about yourself). I remember being asked by the residents at one program to tell them “a good story.” That was the entire prompt. My family takes pride in teasing purely for the entertainment of others. Challenge accepted. I think I told them about how my mom started uncontrollably shouting curse words when I called her to share that I got my first dental school interview, while my dad burst into tears and needed to hang up. We’re an emotional people, I guess, which is a solid fit for the high highs and low lows of pediatric dentistry.

It was a gift that these interviewers directly asked to be entertained. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, know that everyone wants to be entertained. We’re looking for whole people, not just technically and ethically proficient dentists. Come prepared to share a moment of self-deprecation and have fun. It’s only your future (just kidding, sort of).

~ Dr. Colleen Greene, MPH, pediatric dentist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

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About Colleen Greene

Dr. Colleen Greene MPH is a board-certified pediatric dentist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and full-time faculty in their pediatric dentistry residency program. She currently serves on the ADA New Dentist Committee as well as the Legislative Advocacy committee of the Wisconsin Dental Association. In 2012-2013 she was president of ASDA.

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