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CaRMS Game Time: The Interviews

January 16, 2013

This is part two of what I have decided will be a trilogy, kind of because it fits nicely with the topics, but mostly because Star Wars convinced me that trilogies were full of win. See: CaRMS Pregame: Preparing for the Interview and, after I write it, CaRMS Postgame: Rank-lists.

There are generally three parts to the interview: the social, the tour and the interviews. Once again, I can speak only to the FRCPC-EM tour because that is the one I was on and, from what I hear, the interviews for other programs can be very different.

The Social

Generally these are held the night before the interview day that is “owned” by that school (as discussed in my last post, that may not be the only day a program is interviewing). They are most often held at a pub and offer greasy appetizers and free booze. Occasionally a program will get creative and go bowling or go baller and buy supper. The Social is an opportunity to meet your fellow applicants, the staff, the residents and the PD’s in a more casual environment.

What to wear:

One of the biggest applicant stressors seems to be one that matters very little: what to wear. In general, I’d say that I don’t think anyone actually cares what you wear, but I’ll offer two caveats to that.

-If a program specifically tells you what to wear, you should probably go with that. They may be having their social somewhere snazzy. is infinitely more qualified to interpret the “dress code lingo” than I am (I wear scrubs to work every day – I seriously don’t care). If they don’t, I’d say business casual-ish is fine although erring on the side of business formal generally won’t hurt you and would certainly be preferable to being underdressed.

-Don’t wear something really weird. Everyone has heard stories of applicants showing up dressed less-than-professional. While that slinky sundress might look great on you, if it’s the middle of winter in Canada it probably won’t make a good impression.

There are reasons that you will want to stand out on the CaRMS tour, but what you are wearing probably isn’t one of them. Play it safe.

What not to do:

I joked about this in my last post because it seems so obvious, but I think I should still reiterate: don’t get drunk – accidentally or on purpose. While almost all of the socials will have open bars, getting tipsy is very unlikely to work out in your favor. Sure, maybe the residents will think that you’re cool because you had a bunch of drinks with them and stayed out super late. That might work out well for you. It also might make you look like a doorknob in front of the PD. Even if it doesn’t, good luck getting engaged in your tour the next day or rocking your interview. If you’re one of those people that is still young enough to pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning while the rest of your classmates are stumbling towards the bathroom, remember that you likely still have a lonnnng interview tour in front of you and I guarantee that you will be exhausted by the end of it. Don’t waste yourself on this.

The social is generally not part of the interview that is going to make or break you on the rank list, but it can bump you up slightly or down a lot depending on how you interact.

What to do:

Meet the other applicants – Please don’t look at these people as your competition, it is not worth it. While in a way, they are, remember that each of them can only take a single spot. Even if one of them does beat you somewhere, once they pick where they want to go they’re not going to be competing with you anymore. They can only take one of the 68ish CMG spots. Even if you go into this with that perspective (which you shouldn’t because it’ll make you look like a jerk), I’m quite confident that you’ll come out of it with at least some good acquaintances. It’s hard not to with such a grueling tour. On the other hand, making friends with them is great for so many reasons.

-You’ll be seeing them around a lot at different interviews
-If you match to the same place you can be new friends
-You can save money by car pooling with them
-You can save money by sharing rooms with them
-They’ll be your colleagues for decades
-They’re safe people to hang out with at the socials and the pre-interview when you don’t know anyone else

Meet the residents – This social is your opportunity to get the inside view of the program if you weren’t able to do an elective. Talk to the residents about what they like, what they don’t like and what is changing. Observe how they interact – dynamics will range from “happy family” to “we do our own thing” and chances are that you’ll fit in with one of those better than the other. Talk to them about their fellowship plans. Ask if they or any of the staff are working in any of the areas that you are interested in.

Meet the staff – See how many of them came to get a rough idea of how engaged the faculty are. Observe how they interact with the residents. Find out what their areas of interest are from the residents. If there is anyone there with an interest similar to your own, go introduce yourself to them and ask them about it! There’s nothing an attending likes more than to meet a prospective resident that is as pumped about their obscure little area as they are.

Introduce yourself to the PD – This is a tough one. It’s always easy to pick out the PD at these parties because they are the ones standing in the middle of a semi-circle full of eager medical students. That makes them hard to talk to. However, I still think you should go and introduce yourself to them. Take the middle ground when you do: don’t stand around in the semi-circle for hours on end attempting to force conversation, but don’t avoid them all night either. Both are kind of weird.

The Tour

Initially, these are very exciting. By halfway through I found them painfully boring. Unsurprisingly, most hospital’s and ED’s look pretty alike (although Ottawa’s ED’s and McGill’s Sim Lab are totally baller) and when you’ve seen one helicopter landing pad, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Still, its nice to see the facilities that you’d be working in so its a pretty obligatory part of each stop.

What to wear:

This time it’s pretty easy. If it’s before your interview, the same clothes that you wore to your interview are fine. If it’s after your interview some students change into something more comfortable. I think that this is fine, but lulu pants are probably pushing it.

What not to do:

Stay off of your freaking cell phones! A quick glance every now and then is fine, but nothing says “I don’t want to match here” more than texting constantly. Like the social, you generally aren’t going to make or break your chances on the tour, but your interactions could bump you a few spots on the program’s rank list or drop you a whole lot if the residents DNR (do not rank) you.

Lesser extremes of disinterest include not asking any questions or looking interested in anything. Even if it is the end of the tour and you have no desire to match at the program you’re interviewing with (why are you there then?), at least act interested. Sometimes CaRMS doesn’t go like you expect and, even if you’ve got 10 interviews, slacking on the ones you’re less interested in might leave you unmatched if your “sure thing” doesn’t work out like you thought.

What to do:

Consider this a visit to somewhere you’re considering moving, because it is. Check out the facilities. Ask questions about both the program and the city. Ask where residents live and how they get to the hospitals. Ask how much housing costs and if they generally buy or rent. Ask yourself if you think you could be happy there. This may be the last time you see the place until you move there in June.

The Interviews

The interviews most often consist of two or three small panels that include a mix of residents, physicians and PD’s. The format didn’t vary a lot from site to site when I went through a few years ago, but I know that there has been a lot of experimentation with other models in other specialties. The number of positions/applicants also seemed to affect things. For example, Toronto and Ottawa interview tons because they have so many spots, BC interviews less applicants/spot because everyone wants to live there, there may be more than one set of interview rooms (ie Toronto) or everyone may get interviewed by the same people (ie Dalhousie). I don’t know of a lot of publications on the EM interviews, but Dr. Bandiera (Toronto) did publish a paper a few years back that describes the system that Toronto (and possibly McMaster) has used in the past. You can read it here for some insight into what the interviewers at those sites are looking at, but remember that it is a more formal interview than some of the other programs have.

What to wear:

Business-formal (ie suits and ties for the guys, business suits or blouse/skirt kinda deals for the girls) seems to be the safe way to go. Once again, looking sharp is great, but you’re playing with fire if you want to get crazy. Yes, everyone will remember you with your baby-blue suit and bow-tie, but probably not for the reasons you’d like. I’m sure that there are people that can pull that kind of thing off, but I’m not one of them and I don’t think this is time for you to experiment.

What not to do:

Unfortunately, you can’t really teach this stuff on a blog. Certainly, there are an infinite number of possible blunders that could drop you, for example:

Interviewer: Tell us about a weakness.
Applicant: I’m bad under pressure.
Interviewer: Okay. Err… Yep. You definitely are.

However, there’s not much anyone can do to help you if you say something like that. Generally, the interviewers are quite nice and want you to have a good experience – it’s hard to see it from your perspective, but at some point you’ll be ranking our programs and we want the applicants to like us! Horrible interview stories don’t help.

If you get thrown a bizarre question (ie – if you were a fruit, what would you be and why?) take it in stride. Come up with anything in a good-natured way and you’ll be fine. That didn’t happen a lot on my tour and I wasn’t truly sure what they were trying to assess with those kind of questions (I really don’t think it’s that similar to the quick-thinking required by our specialty), but there were a couple.

Just to allay any concerns, there was no medical expert content on any of my interviews.

What to do:

Be prepared. Know the answers to the common questions like the ones I mentioned in my previous post. Have educated questions about the program (they generally allow you to ask at the end) – the residents on the social and tour are great people to get an idea of what would be good to ask. Don’t be too nervous. Be passionate and present. Again, you can’t teach this stuff.

However, one thing that I didn’t mention in my last post on preparation was how good of an idea it is to rehearse before your first few interviews. No, you don’t want to sound like a broken record (although you probably will by the end because you’ll have answered the same questions a ton of times!), but sometimes your solid answers to questions fall apart when you try to say them out loud for the first time. Additionally, an observer might be able to point out an aggravating habit that you have in an interview that you wouldn’t notice yourself (ie saying “like” every 3rd word) that you can work on before your interview. It might help to have a trusted mentor or someone that you don’t know at all play this role (if possible) to make it less awkward.


That is all for part two of the trilogy! Stay tuned for the final chapter sometime later this week.

If you found this helpful, please support my blogging. I unfortunately have no way to accept cash, but can be paid in referrals. E-mail it to your classmates, follow me on twitter @boringem, retweet my posts on twitter, sign up to get an e-mail each time I post (right column), follow my RSS feed (top right corner), and check back regularly.

Brent Thoma @boringem


From → Mentorship

  1. Alanna permalink

    Thanks for all the tips!

  2. Mandeep permalink

    Thanks Brent, you’re a good man for looking out for us poor medical students!

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