Medical students from across the country joined us for our event focused on the virtual interviewing process. Our resident panel discussed their reasons for pursuing careers in anesthesiology, how to best prepare for virtual interview, and how to evaluate a program’s culture and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Panelists included:

  • Moderator Ottavia Green, MD – PGY-3 Resident 
    Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis 
  • Kelly Foster, MD – PGY-4 Resident 
    Stanford University School of Medicine 
  • Anderson Lee IV, MD/MPH – PGY-1 Resident 
    University of Michigan Medical School
  • Chideraa Ukeje, MD/MPH – PGY-1 Resident 
    Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Our thanks to our panelists for their time and their candid conversation and to all who attended this year’s virtual interviewing event. We’ve included responses to additional questions below, answered by Dr. Green and Dr. Ukeje.

I had a question about interviewing for residency. I am a non-traditional, first-generation medical student and have interviewed for many different career fields. But since the stakes are so much higher here, what would you recommend to prepare for anesthesia residency interviews?

You’re right that the stakes are higher, but don’t forget that this is a matching process. You’re assessing programs as much as they’re assessing you for fit. To that end, try not to freak out too much about interviewing. 
An anesthesia resident at my medical school gave me advice at the beginning of the season that the questions asked during interviews tend to have the same themes across different programs. He recommended creating a document with my answers to commonly asked questions, which I did, and it came in super handy. I didn’t memorize these answers, but it gave me a way to clarify what I wanted to convey about myself during interviews.

Some things you want to have clear answers to are:

  • Why anesthesiology?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why this program?
I did two mock interviews about two weeks apart. The first mock interview gave me an opportunity to test out my preparation. The second mock interview gave me the opportunity to fine-tune. If your school has that or mentors willing to do it for you, definitely take up the offer. 
I’d review the residency website and the ASA program director’s video interviews at some point prior to interviewing to try and identify unique aspects about a program, and see how their values aligned with mine. The anesthesiology Reddit spreadsheet from prior years was also helpful for this.
All in all, try and prepare for what you can — your interview responses, your interview preparation, and your environment. But otherwise, I found the interview season to be pretty enjoyable and relaxed. 
Regarding interview setup, is it necessary to have a particular background? I have a plain white wall, can’t really add any stuff there!
How can applicants best prepare for interviewing virtually? Any tips for camera/mic set up and navigating tech issues.
It’s not necessary to have a particular background. It’s cool if you can, but I know many people in medical school will be limited by the fact that they’re renting an apartment. I had a simple curtain as my background during interviews, bought a ring light, a laptop stand, and a good pair of earphones. 
Tips I can think of are to try and make sure you’re looking into the camera. It’s counterintuitive because you’ll want to look at the interviewer’s face on the screen, but then that means it doesn’t seem like you’re actually looking at them! I tried to drag the screen with the interviewer’s face as close to my camera as possible so it felt more natural.
Elevating your laptop so that the camera is roughly at eye height helps with weird angles that can be unflattering. If you don’t have good natural light, then a ring light can help. Remember that the light source should come from in front of you for good illumination. 
I used the fact that I was at home to create a comfortable environment for myself! I always had some water or tea nearby. I wore my fuzzy comfortable socks just because I could. 
Try and limit distractions. If you have roommates, let them know when you’ll be interviewing. If you have pets and/or kids, then try and minimize interruptions from them. But our lives aren’t designed to work from home or interview from home. If some minor snafu happens, then people should understand. 
It is important to verify times and time zones of the program as virtual interviews may occur outside of your time zone.  
Programs are not oblivious to the fact that tech issues can happen and most should be understanding if it does. They’ll usually describe a process to contact someone from the program if any tech issues happen. During one of my interviews, the video connection was not good, and we ended up conducting it by cell phone, which was perfectly fine!

Any tips for how to ask about DEI and truly get a sense of a program’s support for minority residents.

I will say that it’s actually generally pretty hard and you won’t know what you’re getting yourself into until you get there. On my end, I ultimately just wanted a program that is supportive. Because no matter what you do, you have to remember that a hospital is a huge ecosystem. Even if your individual department is diverse, it doesn’t say anything about how the broader hospital community will treat you — including your patients. If something happens that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened in your workspace, you want a program that will support you through that. To that end, I did a few things to try and assess a program’s commitment to diversity and specifically minority residents:
  • Where is the program located? Demographic trends are important here. If a hospital is in a diverse area, then the people who work there are at least more likely to have encountered someone who is a minority. Your presence at least won’t be shocking. Hospitals in progressive areas tend to lean more progressive and those places trend more towards wanting to create an inclusive environment.
  • Who is in the department? Who is in the positions of leadership? I would look at this but actually not weigh it too much. The AAMC releases data on the demographic makeup of anesthesiology and it’s what you would expect. Programs are also limited by the overall applicant pool and who decides to apply into anesthesiology. But you can at least get a sense of whether you’d have people that could share your sense of what it’s like to be a minority in medicine and whether there are paths to academic advancement in the program.
  • What is the program’s stated commitment to diversity? More importantly, do they have funds allocated to this? Words aren’t action, of course, but I do see it as the first step. A program that doesn’t state a commitment to diversity in our current society is a program that doesn’t care about it. It’s the bare minimum. If a program is spending money on improving diversity, that’s even better. I think that it signals a program placing value on diversity.

But really the best way to assess a program’s support for minority residents is to speak to the minority residents and find out their experiences. I’d recommend reaching out when you’ve narrowed down your program choices because residents are busy and the minority tax is real. 

Do the programs ask theoretical questions related to anesthesia? Do I need to go through the books considering I have home country residency in anesthesiology?
It would be uncommon for anesthesiology residency interviews to ask theoretical or knowledge-based questions about anesthesiology. I wouldn’t spend time reviewing textbooks or medical knowledge materials.
What are some strategies for addressing your weakness or lack of certain experiences? Ex: I don’t have much teaching/mentoring experience, but I aspire to become an educator/mentor in an academic hospital.
I would acknowledge the weakness and look for opportunities to address how you plan to overcome or how the program is uniquely suited to help you gain strength in that area. ie: Yes, I don’t have research experience, but I saw Dr. Doe at your hospital is doing such project that I would be interested in or I heard you have strong mentors in this arena to help me address. 
How do you navigate being one of the only Black residents or not having Black faculty mentors?
It may also be important to consider support outside your individual program, ie other faculty members in different specialities as well as the community of residents in other programs. These outside sources can be valuable support during training. Additionally, while you may not have Black faculty mentors, you may find other mentors who are supportive and advocate for you. Other factors like similar hometowns, marital status, similar career goals may align you with amazing mentors as well.