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Surgery, Interviews, and Rock 'n Roll

Ben_3Ben Bryner -- Like Colin, I'm on the interview trail, trying to line up a residency (although I'm applying into general surgery). I'm hearing some of the same questions as he is. Actually, nobody's really asked me what I would to if I couldn't be a surgeon. But my predetermined answer is: A sushi chef (like surgery, but more delicious) or a reporter.

One of the other questions that I've been told to prepare for is "What kind of people do you have the hardest time working with?" Obviously, this is a trap. (The old tried-and-true trap question, "What are your weaknesses?" is now such a cliché that I haven't heard anyone ask it.) So when someone asks you what kind of people are difficult to work with, you can't give the correct answer ("People that are both mean and stupid"). But this is fine, because the interviewer's point in asking the question is not to obtain information (everybody knows the right answer) but to see how you think.

So one way I've answered the question is to say that as a medical student, people who don't give you a chance to get involved are the toughest ones to work with. If a resident assumes I don't know how to take a history by myself and makes me just watch them talk to a patient, it's frustrating and I tend not to learn much from them. Or, one time when I asked a nurse how to log into a program for tracking patients, instead of doing so she said "I don't think you have access to that program" even though I did. That specific situation wasn't a real problem, but when enough people share that attitude, it makes it a frustrating place to work. Conversely, when an attending assumes I am interested in a procedure and lets me help at an appropriate level, I learn a lot more and enjoy it.

By answering this way I hope to show the interviewer that I like getting involved, am a team player, and will be interested in teaching students when I'm a resident. I have no idea if this comes across the way I mean it, but it's obviously better than some other potential answers.

Maybe I can explain my answer another way. If you've played the game Guitar Hero, you'll remember that there's a little meter on the side of the screen that shows you how well you're doing. The needle starts out in the middle as the song starts, and with each note you play correctly, the meter inches toward the green zone at the right of the meter. When you miss a note, the meter dips down toward the red zone on the left. For a lot of songs, if you're bad at the game like I am, before you can get past the tricky intro to the song, the meter hits the far left, the virtual crowd starts booing and the song stops abruptly. It's very sad, because if I can just get the song started I can move the needle to the green, build up some momentum and even if I fumble through the solo, can finish the song.

Sometimes it seems like every new resident or attending I meet has a little meter in his or her mind that tracks my performance -- how well I answer questions, how well I present patients, how efficiently I work, etc. If the meter stays in the green, I'm doing well and I get a good evaluation. If it hits the red I get ignored. Which all makes sense. The good ones start the meter out in the middle, giving me a chance to show what I know and show my interest. But some people start that meter out in the red, and before I get a chance to get involved, they've already decided not to bother teaching me, a mere student. Thankfully those people are a lot less common than the good ones in my experience. I haven't yet busted out the Guitar Hero analogy in an interview (it's time-consuming, for one), but I'm ready to do so if necessary.

November 24, 2008 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


great post! not a bad analogy, either... ;)

Posted by: amber | Nov 25, 2008 4:15:07 PM

Thanks for the post! I'm a 4th yr med student going through lots of interviews. My first couple were bad compared to my more recent ones. One of the things I was asked: "Talk about a time when you knew one of your colleagues was doing something wrong and how you dealt with the situation." I thought of a scenario, but explained that I wasn't comfortable whistle blowing as a med student, especially when it's implicating a senior resident. However, I'm not sure if there's a better way to answer that...

This is great timing for an excellent topic - interview tips on how to answer tricky questions! I hope more students/residents will share some experiences because it's very helpful for students reading it.

Posted by: Foz | Nov 26, 2008 10:32:22 AM

good analogy. and im sure you're being humble at how good you are at Guitar Hero.

All the best and hope u secure a residency of choice! :)

Posted by: jeff | Nov 26, 2008 3:28:33 PM

As a nurse being interviewed recently, I was, indeed, asked that "Reader's Digest" question of "What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses," and I swear the next time I'm asked either question, I'm going to respond, "Hmmmm, I think Black men!" And watch their face contort into shock.

Posted by: Nancy Chardt | Nov 26, 2008 9:48:25 PM

life oh life.

Posted by: ruth | Nov 26, 2008 11:02:04 PM

Gad support you.
Have a good future,

Posted by: nasrullah | Nov 27, 2008 2:40:27 AM

thnx mate for sharing the experience...got lot to learn...

Posted by: Gyatso Wangchuk | Nov 27, 2008 8:48:24 AM

It's an interesting post, because it shows some difficult moments in your educaton system. Although I study in another European country, I'm gonna to be a resident in US (or Canada). So thanx for good story|

Posted by: Andy | Dec 8, 2008 3:57:49 AM

I think this whole scenario reveals that there are some significant problems in the way residency interviews are done (maybe especially surgery interviews?). We could take some good hints from people in human resources. I cannot count how many times I was asked banned questions on the interview trail and how many times my friends were also asked inappropriate questions--questions like "how much school debt co you carry--because you know it's expensive to live here" and "how many children do you have?", "how many children are you planning on having?" "what religion are you and how will that play into your residency?" These are completely inappropriate questions to ask a job applicant and have no bearing on how he/she will perform their job. There should be an anonymous reporting system to discipline people who ask these questions. I also don't think it really helps people determine whether you'll be good at your job to ask trick questions like "what is your greatest weakness". I had an answer prepared to that question and never got asked it except once--and by then I had forgotten my prepared answer! Not going to tell you whether or not I can think, for sure.

Posted by: surgeryresident | Dec 11, 2008 4:59:32 PM

Great analogy! ^^ I'll try to keep the meter in the green zone with the residents...

Posted by: Faliwar | Dec 23, 2008 6:41:41 PM

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