Interview Season

December 15, 2010
Gerald O'Malley, DO

We are deep into interview season now. Fresh scrubbed senior medical students come from all over the world to sit in front of my desk, drink bad coffee, eat stale donuts, and regale me with their self-congratulatory exploits of derring-medical-do, sprinkled with an appropriate amount of wanting-to-serve-humanity humility.

We are deep into interview season now. Fresh scrubbed senior medical students come from all over the world to sit in front of my desk, drink bad coffee, eat stale donuts, and regale me with their self-congratulatory exploits of derring-medical-do, sprinkled with an appropriate amount of wanting-to-serve-humanity humility. 

The last guy I interviewed was a cross between Errol Flynn and Mother Teresa.

The best interviews are when things go wrong - a guy showed up last week wearing a T-shirt and jeans; the same clothes that he had on for the flight from California the day before. He joked that he flew a certain airline, the name of which is an acronym for Don’t Expect Luggage To Arrive. I laughed myself silly and his was the only interview that I actually enjoyed and remembered from that session.

Another young lady showed up on the wrong day. Her interview was actually scheduled for the following week, but she got her interviews mixed up and drove down from Boston a week early. In my eyes, this is an easy mistake - when you are juggling 20 or so interviews (emergency medicine is still a very competitive residency) along with trying to attend to your fourth year coursework and study for board exams, it’s easy to see how interviews in adjacent cities might get mixed up. She realized at the same time we did that she was actually supposed to be in New York interviewing but she allowed herself to become so flustered that she blew the whole interview.

Emergency medicine is about adapting and overcoming. It’s about doing the most good with the fewest resources. When something unexpected happens during an interview, it’s almost like getting a peek at how the student might respond during moments of duress in the department. Stress is like sports - it doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

Figuring out what to ask interviewees is always tricky. There are all kinds of arcane rules about what is appropriate and what isn’t. Although we aren’t supposed to pry into private areas of an interviewee's life, I’m often tempted to ask the females if they’ve really thought through their career choice. Wouldn’t it be easier to do ophtho or derm or some other office-based 9-to-5 type specialty where you wouldn’t be wrestling with drunks at 3:00 in the morning in your seventh month of pregnancy? I’m as curious about the men in the group - have they really considered the nature of emergency medicine and the fact that they can expect to be working nights, holidays and weekends well into their 60s? Also, with the natural peak volumes in the ED settling in during the evening hours, are the men really that eager to spend more time working swing shifts and nights?

I’d like to think that they’ve thought of all this already and they’ve made their choices to pursue emergency medicine anyway, but I doubt it. Reality has a way of sneaking up on you, like your 50th birthday, and you suddenly find yourself looking at a kid half your age across a desk over a cup of bad coffee and it’s like looking through a time machine mirror at 1992.