Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Worst Question To Ask When Interviewing For Residency

What do medical students look for when they are interviewing for a residency spot? What sorts of questions should they be asking when they go on their interviews? Should they ask about the intensity of the patient workloads? Does the quality of the weekly conferences make a difference? Should they inquire about how many research papers are published by the program's residents? Or for the truly crass, should the students ask about the vacation schedule and salary?

I was walking through the hospital the other day and passed a whole gaggle of medical students coming for residency interviews. As they were being led by a current resident, she asked them if they had any questions. One intrepid interviewee then boldly asked, "Do you guys have a gym?" I almost stopped in my tracks as I heard that. It took all of my self restraint from reaching out to slap that idiot upside the head. The resident guide kept her cool and gamely replied that the hospital does not have a gym for the residents but that there are plenty of gyms nearby they can sign up for.

The gym question is so wrong on so many levels. First of all, while the ACGME has relaxed the rules for residency hours, it is still a total grind. You will be exhausted like you've never been exhausted before. You think you're tired during medical school but you haven't experienced total and complete mental and physical fatigue until you've gone through residency. What makes that person think he will have time to go exercise on a routine basis?

Second of all, if you did have the time to work out, you probably should be spending that time more wisely doing medically related activities, like reading and research. With restrictions on work hours, residents have even less time during their three to five year residency commitments to gain all the knowledge they should to become competent physicians afterwards. With the vast explosion in medical information, it is almost incomprehensible that anybody can adequately prepare to become a doctor in such a short amount of time. Going to the gym four times per week? Forget about it.

Finally, what does the gym question say about the priorities of that particular student? He is advancing his career to better understand the human condition and help sick people. But one of his main concerns is how the residency program will help him maintain his big guns and six pack abs. Though maintaining one's health is important, that is not the responsibility of the residency program. Find your own time to exercise in residency. Don't expect a program to offer five star hotel amenities. Remember, if the programs had their way they would still make residents work one hundred plus hours per week with every third night call. They couldn't care less if by the time you finish training you've shrunken down to a pale and ghostly 120 pound weakling.

Sure I knew some residents who could have it all. One of the smartest residents I ever met was in my residency class. She just blew everybody away with her intelligence and wit. She knew every question the attendings threw at her during grand rounds. She seemed to write up papers and abstracts on a monthly basis. And she always had great stories to tell about her latest activities, like kayaking around Catalina Island or surfing in Costa Rica. But I also think she was hyperthyroid and a bit manic. She only needed four hours of sleep each night, if that. So unless you plan on cutting your sleep by half during your training, don't plan on having much time for your workout regimen unless you don't mind being a mediocre resident. But at least you will look fabulous in the naked selfies you post on Snapchat.


  1. The worst question to ask is this? Really? I can think of worse questions.

    A prospective resident having an interest in maintaining physical health is something that should be celebrated. We see our fair share of out-of-shape-metabolic-syndrome-having physicians. Why are the people who push their patients to take better care of themselves also the ones who look like they're one hamburger away from needing bypass surgery?

    Maybe this person is willing to sacrifice one hour of sleep to get in a good workout. Maybe this person can also get by with just 4 hours of sleep like your former coresident but instead of spending 4 hours on writing abstracts, he just needs 3 so that he can spend that 4th hour taking care of his body. Residency is all about making these types of sacrifices....who are you (generic you) to decide what sacrifice is more important than the other?

    Have you been nestled in your cocoon for so long that you've forgotten that residents are poor? My guess is he wanted to see if he could be a part of a free gym instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars in fees.

    I see nothing wrong with that question

    1. Ok, worst may be a bit of a hyperbole but to these ears it still comes across as shallow and self centered.

    2. I agree with the first commenter. Different people have different priorities and are willing to make sacrafices for these priorities. I believe, along with many others, that maintaining your physical health makes you a better resident and therefore a better physician. Spending 4 hours out of a 168 hour week to maintain proper physical health seems very reasonable to me.

  2. Seems like fine question to me. Exercise is pretty important.

  3. I think the idea of exercising and the desire to do so are fine, but asking about workout facilities while on a tour seems gauche. Ask if they have a simulator lab, etc.

  4. Some pretty interesting thoughts in the post and comments. It is important to remember what your priorities are when you're interviewing, though.

  5. Sounds like someone needs to exercise...

  6. Lazy Anesthesia ResidentJanuary 8, 2016 at 12:18 PM

    This question seems pretty innocuous. In fact, someone who is dedicated enough to keep up with their gym schedule will likely show good work ethic.

  7. We have a resident in our program who is obsessed with bulking up, and to be honest he's a great leader in the OR, great in a crisis, and always available to give advice. He killed his ITE too. I think his lifestyle (gym every day at 3am) keeps him disciplined. I, on the other hand, am metabolically lucky so I haven't touched anything heavy since residency started. But I cant help but wonder if my vagal tone, physical resiliency, ability to respond to stress, would be better if I were at least lifting weights. As it is, I do try to sleep 6 hours a night, but lately have been doing a lot of transplants and I might not have actually needed that.