Pupillary Pathways

How to Nail Your Optometry Residency Interviews

Posted by Amanda Dexter on Feb 8, 2016 9:00:00 AM
Amanda Dexter
Dr. Amanda K. Dexter received her optometric training at Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, California, where she was Class of 2010 Valedictorian. She also completed a residency in Primary Care and Ocular Disease at the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in San Diego, California. Dr. Dexter is the Manager and Program Coordinator for OptoPrep, the premiere online study resource for the NBEO Part I & II.

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Just the thought of interviewing for residency positions can bring on a lot of stress and anxiety. Optometry residency programs have become very competitive as there are typically many students interviewing for only a few open positions at each site; some residency programs even only accept one student each year. Additionally, every year there are typically several optometry students who don’t match with any residency site. Also, is an Optometry residency right for you?

I remember back to when I was a 4th year student and had all of my residency interviews scheduled. It was very nerve-wracking thinking about all of the questions that I could be asked during my interview, hoping that the residency coordinators would like me (and that I would like them), and trying to figure out what I could do or say that would help me stand out above the other 4th year optometry students.

Luckily for me, I spent some time researching each site, practicing my answers for potential questions, and coming up with questions to ask each residency coordinator, and was able to land my top pick!

With that being said, I’ve come up with several tips to help you prepare for your residency interview so that show up feeling confident and ready to nail it!

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Research the Residency Program and Residency Coordinators 

You should have already done some research about each residency program that you have decided to interview with, but dig a little deeper now that you’ve narrowed down your choices. Make sure that you have initiated contact and conversation with the residency coordinator, current residents, and past residents. This will help you (and them) feel like you already know each other, and you will be more comfortable when it comes time to meet with them face-to-face. 

You’ll also want to ensure that you know what will be expected of you during your year as a resident at each site before the interview. Knowing the program will help you answer questions about why you chose to interview at this site. It will also impress the interviewers if you know that you will spend a portion of your time rotating through the low vision clinic, specialty contact lens clinic, and that you will be able to observe other non-optometry specialties throughout the hospital (for example). 

Get to know a little bit about the city that the residency program is located in. If you are applying for a residency in New York, and you are from California, they may ask you how you feel about such a big change in environment. 

It is also important that you know some things about the residency coordinators that are interviewing you. Did they go to the same optometry school as you? Do they know your favorite professor? Where did they do their residency? How many years have they been teaching students? This will help add another personal touch if you find something in common with them. 

Prepare Answers for Commonly Asked Questions

There is no one-size-fits all structure for optometry residency interviews. While no two interviews will be exactly the same, many will follow a similar format. You should be able to talk eloquently about anything and everything that you provided to your site in your residency application. This includes your resume, extra-curricular activities, projects, clinical 4th year rotation experiences, etc. In addition to these, there are several other common questions that I will list below that you should be thinking about. I would recommend writing down each question with bullet points for each answer in advance. This will help you gather your thoughts and outline the topics that you will want to cover. Add to the list of bullets as you think of other important points you want to make. This will help to ensure that you don’t undersell your experiences and capabilities. With this format, your answers will come across as well thought out, focused, spontaneous, and authentic, without sounding scripted, bland, or robotic. You should also find someone that will sit down with you and ask you these questions so that you can practice your answers. This will be awkward! But it’s better to get the awkwardness out with someone you know rather than during your actual interview!

You can be pretty certain that most of the following questions (or variations) will be asked during your residency interviews, so start here:

  • Tell me about yourself (where you grew up and how you got to where you are)
  • How did you become interested in optometry?
  • Why did you choose to attend your optometry school?
  • Why are you interested in this program in particular?
  • Tell me about your clinical rotations and experiences thus far
  • What qualities/strengths make you a good doctor?
  • What is a weakness for you or an area that could use improvement?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years? What are your long-term career goals?

Also be prepared to answer questions about items that could be perceived as a weakness in your application; NBEO scores, a low grade in a certain class, etc. 

Remember that the ultimate goal of the interview process is for the residency staff to find students who will be a good fit for their program, their patients, and the work environment that they’ve created. They want to make sure that you will be able to get along and work cooperatively with them and the other residents for the year, and that you are willing and able to take on everything that will be expected of you as a resident at their site. Make sure that your answers prove to them that you are a great fit for their program and that you will be a dedicated and hard worker! 

Brush up on Patient Cases

Some residency programs will quiz you on a patient case, have you evaluate photographs of disease conditions, or tell have you tell them about an interesting case that you have seen during your time as a student. Be prepared for this, especially if you are applying for competitive residency programs. Take time to review your Will’s Eye Manual and ocular disease notes to make sure that you can identify conditions that may be asked of you. 

The interviewers may also present a case (similar to NBEO PAM) and have you work through differential diagnoses, treatment plans, further testing, patient education, and follow-up. A lot of times there is no definite correct answer, the interviewers just want to see how you would think critically about a difficult patient, and how you would work through it and arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan. This can be very stressful, but just be logical in your thought process; don’t just say you don’t know! Come up with something! If you are prepared, you will shine! This is a great way to show off your knowledge and clinical skills and impress the residency staff.

Also make sure that you can think of at least 1-2 interesting cases that you’ve seen in your clinical rotations and be able to easily talk about all aspect of the cases if asked. The worst thing you could do is spend several awkward silent minutes trying to come up with a case. Be prepared! Again, this is a great time to show the interviewers what a great and smart clinician you are! 

Be Inquisitive

Don’t forget that the interviewers aren’t the only ones who get to ask questions! Thoughtful questions directed at the interview panel will demonstrate a lot about you, your interests, and your career objectives. Be sure to ask the interviewers spontaneous and appropriate questions that aren’t cookie-cutter type. Interviewers can tell when students ask questions just for the sake of asking a question rather than for acquiring the answer. The questions you ask should demonstrate that you are actively engaged in the entire interview process and that you sincerely want to learn more about that specific program. Keep in mind; however, that the interview is not the time to ask questions about salary, benefits, vacation time, etc., or other items that are already presented on their website or within the residency brochure. 

Here are a few questions to help get you thinking about things you may want to ask the interview panel:

  • What do you think are your programs strengths/weaknesses?
  • Are there any new plans for the program that you plan on implementing next year?
  • Does this residency program encourage students to do a research project or case report/poster?
  • Are there any opportunities for teaching?
  • Are there any lecture or seminar series that the residents are able to attend?
  • Are the residents permitted/encouraged to attend local and/or national meetings?

Final Thoughts…

Have fun with the interview and make sure to let your personality shine in addition to your smarts! During the interview process it is important to be professional, remain calm, show confidence, be honest, speak clearly, and make good connections with all of the individuals that you meet. But it’s also important to relax and be yourself. The interview day is going to be a stressful one, but try to enjoy this occasion as it is a very important step in your quest to find the residency program that is the best fit for you! Good luck!

-Dr. Dexter

P.S. Want more information, download our Top 10 Tips for Applying for Optometry Residencies

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Topics: Stress, Residency, Optometry Residency Interviews