You have submitted your application and are now waiting for interviews – what a relief! There is still plenty of work to do as interview season is just around the corner. Most interviews take place between late October and mid-December. Hopefully you have scheduled vacation during this time as most clerkships are not very forgiving for missing more than 1 day per week.
Interview offers are generally sent out by email, although a few are made by phone. Programs have limited dates available and they fill up ridiculously fast. This means you need to be on your toes, ready to respond to any interview emails within minutes to get your first choice of dates. For this to work efficiently, I recommend making a calendar to determine your optimal interview schedule. I used Google Calendar and printed a paper copy to carry in my pocket, but anything will do as long as it is easily accessible and always with you. Using a combination of SF Match (click on the program names) and departmental websites, find this year’s interview dates for all of the programs to which you are applying. If you cannot find the dates for a program in which you are very interested, you can politely send the program coordinator an email asking if the dates have been decided. Put all of the dates on your calendar then find a combination that allows you to visit all of your top choices. It may be helpful to group them by geographic location but this is not always possible. Also keep in mind that many programs have an interview dinner the night before or after your interview, so try not to pack your interviews too tightly. Programs typically notify you of dinner times alongside their interview offer or in your scheduling confirmation email – do not forget to add these additional commitments to your master calendar as you will need to adjust your travel and schedule accordingly. With this calendar, you will be able to instantly respond to invitation emails with your date selection without giving it a second thought.
There is some debate over scheduling early versus later in the season. The thought is that those who make a positive impression early will be held in high esteem and the later applicants may not live up to these high standards the interview committee has built up. Interviewing early has the possible downside that you will be forgotten later in the season and lost among the sea of later applicants. Later interviewers are more recent in the committee’s mind when forming the final rank list. I personally liked scheduling the later interview dates for the programs I was most interested in, but in the end, the difference is probably not too significant. If you do have an earlier interview date with a program, you may elect to send them an email around the time of their final interviews to re-iterate your interest in the program and bring your name back into the spotlight.
Another consideration in making your schedule is interview performance. Most interviews end up being fairly similar so you become more skilled at interviewing as the season progresses. Late in the season, however, you may begin to fatigue and your performance may actually decline as a result. Therefore, peak performance usually takes place midway through the interview season.
Despite all your hard efforts, you are bound to end up with some interview dates you didn’t anticipate. You can contact programs with whom you previously had scheduled interviews and ask if they have openings on other dates for you to swap. If not, they can often put you on a waiting list and contact you when one becomes available. Additionally, I’ve heard of others having success using the annual “interview swap thread” on Student Doctor Network where applicants work out personal trades with each other and simply contact the program to inform them of the change.
As I mentioned, the desirable dates fill up obscenely quickly. To get your optimal schedule, you literally need to respond within minutes for most programs. Obviously, you are not going to be sitting in front of a computer all day, so your smartphone will become your best friend. If you don't have one, now may be the time to consider the upgrade. Enable email alerts so you are instantly notified when you have received a new email. If you receive many unrelated emails throughout the day, your phone will become the boy who cried wolf. One option to remedy this situation is to create a unique email address exclusively for the SF Match website and other interview-related activity. Remove all other email accounts from your phone so you know that every email alert concerns an interview. This will give you an advantage in the battle against time. If you do receive an interview offer during the day, politely excuse yourself from whatever you are doing and send a quick response on your phone. Do not put off your reply, or the most coveted dates will fill. To respond speedily to emails, I had a saved draft of a reply that I could fill out quickly with my date preferences. It thanked the coordinator for the invitation, followed by "My first choice of interview date is ____, followed by ____ as my second choice, and ____ as my third." If multiple dates potentially worked in my schedule, I listed them in order of preference. If I could only attend a single date, I would request it and elect for the waiting list if I was too sluggish in my response to snatch it up.
For those Iowa students who refuse to purchase a smartphone, it is possible to forward university emails containing certain keywords (i.e., "interview," "ophthalmology," and "residency") to your pager's email routing address using Outlook rules (options > create an inbox rule > new). If you elect to do this, do not use "eye" as a keyword or you will get excited about every "Hawkeye" email that you receive. To forward emails to your pager, route them to ####.email@example.com (where #### is your pager number). Beware, forwarding email to your pager will forward the entire email separated into chunks abiding to the allowed character limit – be prepared to receive a rapid fire succession of pages for each email. Even if you do have a smartphone, this is still helpful as your pager gives you an excuse to step out of lecture or clinic to send a quick reply.
In 2015, the average applicant received 4.3 interviews (1). Early on, you should accept every interview offer you receive to build your numbers. If you are fortunate, you may eventually have more interviews than you need and you will have to decide how many to keep. The more interviews you attend, the more programs you can order on your rank list. One would think more interviews would therefore increase your chances of matching and this is true to some extent. This was investigated by Yousuf, and in 2011, he found a clear benefit up to 6 programs (3). After this, however, returns began to diminish. After the 11th program, there was no longer any additional significant benefit. Therefore, I would shoot for 10-12 interviews if you can get them. If you decide to cancel an interview, let the program know as soon as possible so they may offer the position to a more interested applicant. There is absolutely no reason to keep them on your calendar if you have no intention of attending. As a rule of thumb, you should give programs at least 2 weeks notice if you decide to cancel an interview with them. If you make a bad impression with a program, you never know if word will travel to another instution and they may never forgive you if you decide to apply for a fellowship down the road.
The number of interviews recommended for intern year varies more widely. Generally, if you are set on a transitional year, you should go on more interviews as these programs tend to be more competitive. In my experience, the majority of candidates seem to go on 5-10 interviews for their intern year. As mentioned earlier, if you are hoping to attend a program with an integrated intern year, consider scheduling your internship interviews after Ophthalmology Match Day so you can cancel them if you match at that program. Similarly, if there are certain internship locations that you would only consider if you matched at a nearby program for ophthalmology, you should also schedule these interviews after Ophthalmology Match Day so you can cancel them if you do not end up at that program.
Do not become too nervous if your friends pursuing other specialties receive interview offers before you. Despite having an early match, ophthalmology interview offers go out relatively late compared to many other medical fields. While the ophthalmology forum on the Student Doctor Network website can be anxiety inducing, it is particularly useful to see when individual programs have begun sending interviews offers. Each year, an interview thread is started and members post when they have received offers from various programs. If a program has sent out their first wave of interviews and you did not receive one, your chances of receiving one are reduced, but not zero. Some programs send invites in multiple waves and those that send a single wave may later have openings as applicants cancel their interviews with the program. The timing of interview invitations is widely spread, which can make planning difficult. You may hear from your first program as early as August, before any deadlines have passed. The majority of first round invitations occur in October and they continue through early November. Offers continue through interview season as applicants revise their schedules and you may continue to receive offers through early December.
If a program you are particularly interested in has sent out offers and you did not receive one, it is worthwhile to call or email the program coordinator to assess the status of your application. Say something like, "I am a fourth-year medical student at the University of Iowa and have applied for a residency position at your program. I have received interview offers at many of the very best programs in the country, but have not yet heard back from your program. I am extremely interest in your program and was curious regarding the status of my application." Expressing interest in the program can drastically raise your position in the waiting list, making it much more likely that you will receive an interview offer should one become available. You may wonder if it is even worth attending one of these second-offer interviews. In my understanding, the majority (if not all) of those interviewing you will have no idea that you weren't a first-round invite. With a pile of extremely similar applications, there is always an element of chance determining exactly who gets interviews at which institution. It is said that once you are at the interview, everyone is essentially back on an equal playing field. At this point, the interviewers are then attempting to stratify applicants based on things such as personability and communication abilities. In sum, take the second-offer interview and stroll into the interview with energy and confidence – you may just knock their socks off.
Have fun with the interview process. You will make friends with other applicants and bump into them over and over along the trail. Many programs host dinner or social with the residents the night before or after your interviews. Take this opportunity to meet residents and ask any burning questions you may have about the program or city. It is important that the residents meet you as they often have input on the selection process. Attending these dinners is not required, but make as many as you can (especially for those programs in which you are most interested) as it shows that you have commitment to the program. I was repeatedly asked by interviewers if I would be attending the dinner, and I felt as if it was a covert assessment of my commitment to the program.
The dinners are held at a range of locales, including resident houses, bars, and fancy restaurants. You may not know the scenario prior to arriving, so planning attire can be difficult. As a general rule, I would avoid jeans even though the residents will frequently sport them. It is much safer for guys to wear khakis and a polo, button-down shirt, or sweater. Most women wear a casual and appropriate dress or nice pants and a conservative shirt. Nobody will likely notice what you are wearing, but it is comforting to know you won't be painfully underdressed.
At many dinners you will be offered a drink. Generally, it is absolutely fine to accept the offer as many of the current residents will probably be drinking as well. Make sure to bring a bit of cash since some programs will not pay for your drinks. If you do choose to imbibe, it is wise not to over-indulge or you may end up the comic relief of the party and not in a good way.