Pharmacy Residency Interview Tips: the onsite edition.

Although ASHP Midyear is over, the interview season is just getting started. The deadline for most residency applications is around the corner and many programs will start sending out onsite invitations sometime in January. While the anticipation and stress can start to get to you, this is no time to lose focus. So let’s begin to prepare how to nail your onsite interview.

While the sites and personnel will change, the general format of each residency interview will not. In most cases, the day will consist of a series of individual or group interviews, a presentation of some kind, clinical skills assessments and then more panel or one-on-one interviews. While this format is generally consistent between PGY1 and PGY2 residencies, I’ll just focus on PGY1s in this post, and save PGY2s for another day.

After successfully navigating the process my self, and having years of experience on the interviewing side, here are a few pieces of advice to help your interview go well.

Presentation

Many interviews will require you to deliver a formal presentation. Depending on the program, they may assign a topic or (more commonly) leave it to you to pick a topic. If it’s a blank slate – pick something you can be the smartest person in the room about, and increases the chances you’ll be able to answer all questions. It’s your opportunity to show off your intelligence and communication skills.

For example, if you are asked to prepare a 30-minute clinical presentation, don’t choose “sepsis” as your topic. There is no possible way you can adequately cover sepsis in 30 minutes. Plus, everyone in the room is likely vastly more knowledgeable than you on the topic. You’re just asking for crazy questions you won’t be able to answer. 

But say you aren’t interested in something like C1-esterase inhibitors of hereditary angioedema (my PGY1 clinical presentation), how can you pick your topic? While it may be difficult to identify an area of clinical interest, you can determine what may be interesting by consulting any number of FOAMed sites/blogs/podcasts. One excellent source for ideas would be The Skeptics Guide to Emergency Medicine. If EM is not your cup of tea, there are other subspecialties that have begun to create online content. It may just take a little web crawling to find.

Clinical questions

Some programs will give you a written clinical scenario that you may have to verbally present/defend. This is a challenging environment, but it’s really meant to assess your thinking process and critical thinking skills – not necessarily whether or not you can answer it correctly. Use your clinical processing skills you likely learned in APPEs to systematically work through a clinical case. Show off your organized thought process, and verbalize where you hit a roadblock. 

If in the clinical case something seems confusing or unclear, ask for clarification – but there’s a way to do this. For example: “I’m going to summarize the case back to you to ensure I understand the problem… Did I accurately summarize the case?”

Panel interviews

Know your interviewers. They’re going to dissect your CV and have likely done their homework on you. You can do the same.

The program will send you an agenda (hopefully), you can do your homework on the people interviewing you. Google them, PubMed them. Read their content. This will give you an idea of a) the types of questions they’ll ask AND b) gives you content to ask them. “Dr. Bla-bla, your study examining fluid boluses in sepsis highlighted an important problem we face in clinical practice. What is your strategy for helping residents develop a similarly structured research project such that the impact and significance of the project can be maximized?”

Group interview setting

At times, you may be interviewing with other candidates. Whether there is a scheduled group interview, or it’s during the lunch (you’re still on the clock) be a leader, but don’t be competitive. Treat everyone there as if they are the ones interviewing you. It sounds crazy, but just be cool with everyone – we’re all in this together.

Tell me about a time… 

These questions are often used because we think they’ll give us insight into what kind of resident you’d be. I personally despise these, because they aren’t often well-executed. Regardless the best method to answer these items is to use the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. And keep it brief. I had a habit of going on and on with these questions. I even had an interviewer say “This time keep your answer short.” 

The best way to prepare is to practice. Work with friends or mentors who can come up with example questions. Share them on Reddit (r/pharmacyresidency) and work as a community to help each other out.

Most important of all, be yourself. Sounds cheesy, but its the only way you’ll know whether you’d be in a positive, supportive environment that will help you grow.

 

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