Residency interviews as a medical student with history of mental illness

(For those of you unrelated to medical school and the ranking/matching for residency process, I recommend reading “Things” in my Dictionary section so that you can understand this post.)

Interviews…ok, here goes.

I’ve interviewed at 5 programs so far. I have another interview scheduled for the city that I adore (I was waitlisted and offered that one recently) and also an interview at a place pretty far away from home (where I was also waitlisted before). In total, I have 4 interviews left.

Sounds ok, right? Actually, I’m pretty nervous because I haven’t gotten any more offers and there’s two places I interviewed at that I probably won’t even rank because I simply do not visualize myself working there.

So, I have 3 programs to rank so far. The first one I already talked about in this post. I’m definitely ranking that one because although the location is not what I want, I think the program makes up for it. My gut says so.

Then the second interview day was at the top program at the city I adore. I think overall it went well. I was blown away by the program, which I was expecting. The residents I met were ridiculously nice, spoke wonders about the program (genuinely), did not look overworked, and were people who I would love to work with. However, the interview with the program director (who was very nice actually) was a bit intimidating and I got really nervous (as in, shaking nervous). Then, another interviewer was a psychoanalyst, so the interview started with “Tell me about your childhood” and there were a lot of awkward silences while he said “yes” after my responses and looked on thoughtfully and smiling. Yikes. I honestly don’t know what they made of me. The others I think went fine. It was pretty scary though, having to explain my leave of absence to those who asked about it, because here I am….explaining why I took a leave of absence due to mental health during an interview day at a TOP program….inevitably intimidating. Only weakness I see about this program is the work load that comes with a top program, which is obviously intimidating.

My third interview day was at a program I did not like at all. I just didn’t fit in there and being there only two days the location was already making me feel depressed (not exaggerating there, as in truly depressed/having nasty thoughts). My first interviewer there was trying to poke holes in all my answers and that really annoyed me. I felt it unnecessary. I’m not  going to rank this program, it’s just not “me”.

Fourth interview day went fine. I liked the program a lot. Only very minor weaknesses I could pinpoint about it. Again, super nice residents I would love to work with and a program director who I liked a lot also.

Fifth interview day…another one bites the dust. Like the third program, I didn’t like this one. The location, again, was depressing to me, and it reminded me too much of my school’s medical center, which is exactly the type of place I’m trying to run away from for the sake of my mental health and personal growth. My second interviewer there gave me a hard time at first, but I guess he realized halfway through that I was actually stronger than he thought and I wasn’t going to bail into his trying to make me fall under pressure. He softened up after realizing I was a force to reckon with. I ended up appreciating his honesty about the program’s weaknesses. I always value honesty.

So, yeah, 3/5 I’ll still be considering for the match, and 2/5 are eliminated. Like I said, I’m just afraid of not getting any last minute interview offers because I don’t feel comfortable ranking so few programs for the match. Really, I just want to match at a place I’ll be happy. The more interviews I get, the better the chances of that happening.

I’m going back home after this in a few days. My next interview day isn’t until two weeks, so I’ll enjoy Thanksgiving with family.

I’ve gotten better at interview days now, after doing 5 of them. I pretty much don’t get nervous anymore, and I’m just myself. There are only a handful of questions you really have to be ready for and will consistently get: “Why psychiatry?” (or any given specialty), “Why medicine?”, “Why this program?”, “What are you looking for in a program?”, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”.

In my case, I also get “Can we talk about the leave of absence if you don’t mind?”. I always answer with: “Of course, I don’t mind at all,” which is true, and I answer as genuinely honest as possible…it’s scary to talk about the leave of absence, but I can’t avoid it unfortunately. I’ve tossed around the phrase “my mental health” and “depression” when answering. I find that being as honest as possible is best, they never seem bothered by my answer. That is, except, when they ask “So, what guarantee do you have of that not happening again?”, in which case I mention I grew, learned coping strategies, to prioritize self-care, to recognize my limitations and strengths, etc, during that time (heads-up to my reader Sophia for that!). Surprisingly, not all interviewers have asked about my leave of absence. The most intimidating one was the program director at the top program, for obvious reasons.

It’s a weird time in your fourth year, interview season. So far I’ve liked it mostly. I’m a little homesick by now, though. Been away for a few weeks now.

As for the Russian…I’ll post about that later. I’m in a delicate place mood-wise right now and don’t want to fuck it up.

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