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Finding Out What You Want to Do

Colinson72x723Colin Son -- I’m a fourth year student in the United States trying to get into a residency for next year. The interview trail is going reasonably well. I’ve managed to avoid being "pimped" on clinical questions and have been faced with only a few "difficult" questions -- the latter being those that exist merely to test your reaction under stress and your ability to think on your feet.

For the most part, my interviews have been congenial if not down right fun. And they should be that way as far as I’m concerned. I’m still not quite clear what a program truly gets when a faculty member makes an interview a minefield. This is a two way street, with the residencies evaluating the students and the students doing the same in turn. As one fellow interviewee said on the trail, "Heck, if they make the interview a pain… I won’t rank’em very high."

It is a little wearing answering the same questions over and over. One of the most difficult things is actually asking questions of your interviewers with some sincerity. And yet over and over, you ask the same questions of different faculty just to make it appear as if you have an interest and just to keep the conversation going. I’ll admit though, at times it is good to compare different people’s answers to the same question. I’ve found I’m running into a groove where I ask the same three or four questions at every interview, unless there is something really specific to the faculty or the program that hasn’t been addressed.

I’m sure the faculty get the same faraway glint in their eyes as the interview season drags on. So many applicants must look the same on paper, must give the same answers to the same questions, must have the same suits. But I’ll give myself some credit; my application has some unusual elements. Notable is my considerable political and health care policy experience and, maybe an even bigger conversation jumpstart, my time in film school. If nothing else, it allows me and my interviewers to talk about something different.

I’m also trying to keep my answers to typical questions lively and interesting. For example, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the question that keeps popping up: "What would you do if you couldn’t be a physician?"

Here is what I have so far:

1. Writer/Filmmaker

I’m a writer at heart. If I had had the stamina to wait tables for five years, trying to break into the industry, I may never have even discovered my love of medicine. The ideal situation would be to make it as a writer, not limiting myself to just film and television, and then be able to pick and choose my own work to get behind the camera and direct. The beautiful thing about writing is you can do it from anywhere. I would love to be a world traveler. I wish I was writing at some Dublin pub right now.

2. Poker Player

A gambler is just what patients want in their surgeon. What can I say though, I love the card table. At least I’m not a craps player. There is some talent with a good game of hold’em. In fact, poker rewards some qualities you would want in a physician -- especially in a surgeon and more especially in a neurosurgeon. Despite what you see on edited televised tournaments, poker is often a game of considerable patience. A fine quality when a brain surgeon is spending eight hours delicately taking out a tumor. Poker also requires considerable nerves, which might not be a bad thing in the operating room. Amongst the best players it also requires an ability to remain calm; to take a “bad beat” as they say without going “on tilt.” I imagine that is what I would want of my surgeon, when something doesn’t go right in surgery.

3. King of England

I’ve got to throw something a little eccentric on the list. But seriously, to be part of one of the most storied families in the world would be an interesting experience. The thing that makes it attractive is to be able to live the lifestyle of the royal family while being able to devote your entire live to civic causes. No one doubts that Prince Charles, whatever you think of him personally, has raised the profile of key world issues. And the Princess, rest her soul, was a great humanitarian.

4. Ski Instructor

I have never met anyone with any skill on the slopes who didn’t dream of being able to fund their life by being a ski instructor. Granted, I imagine that teaching people to ski can get frustrating at times. The ideal situation would be to get paid for simply heading down the slopes yourself. Maybe instead of an instructor I could be a rescue skier or something like that, and help injured skiers down off the mountain. The important thing is to be on the mountain and be skiing. However it works, it is a dream job of mine.

5. Taxi Driver

I like driving. It really is as simple as that. If I could get paid reasonably well, then I would do it. I am, at times, a type A driver. But, I handle traffic very well and even clueless drivers; it’s only when I perceive that others are inconsiderate drivers that I get pretty peeved off and seem to compensate by driving pretty aggressively around them. I’m not sure what I would do if I moved to a cold environment for residency and had to sell my rear-wheel-drive convertible. I’m sure I’d manage; it would be a small sacrifice for training to do what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Anyway, any serious or non-sensical comments on how to make oneself endearing and interesting in an interview are welcome. I know that the interview process gets mundane for the interviewers as quickly, if not quicker, than it does for the interviewees.

And now, I’m off to yet another interview. Wish me well.

November 20, 2008 in Colin Son | Permalink


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Posted by: setia | Nov 22, 2008 10:26:48 PM

Hey Colin.

I'm actually preparing for an interview to start medical school. I finished school last year and will hopefully be starting medicine next year if this interview goes well.

If you have any tips and hints on any other questions (what will you do if you can't do medicine/become a physician is a question we'll both tackle) I'd love to get advice. Even if it is just some advice on how to approach the interview in general and how to answer questions.

Thanks in advance, all the very best for your interviews.


Posted by: Manu | Nov 23, 2008 6:41:40 PM


I think I am going to have to use #2, 4, and 5 in my interviews from here on out. I cannot write, and do not have porphyria or syphilis, thus being a member of the Royal family is much more challenging. Glad you are enjoying your interviews.

Keep stacking and re-stacking those chips until you can look official at the final table. ;-)

Posted by: CB from NOLA | Nov 25, 2008 3:46:24 PM

Hi Colin,

Your tips are great. Do let me know more of the interview that you had been to.


Posted by: R Govindan | Nov 26, 2008 2:25:30 AM

For my third world country,I would be a public educator teaching public in a community or in a city about the achievable ways of preventing and managing chronic diseases like diabetes,hypertention,hepatitis,tubercolosis and others.This would reduce the complications,suffering and deaths related to complications from these diseases as i have seen people stacked up inside our hospitals with these diseases.Cirrhosis,stroke,renal failure,ischemic heart disease,blindness are a few of many complications to name of.Public awareness is the key to problem.How would that be possible.Well for my country situation is different.Patients are less educated or not educated at all,majority are poor and cannot afford medications,then there are cultural/religious beliefs/quacks which keep people from visiting physicians or hospitals.An answer really lies in a custom tailored health model for a developing country.Educating and raising awareness about the diseases in local language,developing websites in local language for patient information and teaching patients how to use these websites,effective computerised medical record/education/councelling/follow up services at the hospitals,ethics training for the staff and nurses.Its a big but achievable challange for a poor country.


Posted by: Burhan | Nov 26, 2008 1:46:50 PM

I must really say that i am glad at what you wrote. however i have a major concern with regards that the examiners asking you such question could be a trap. I think you could tell them nothing other than Medicine will you have chosen. However in answering the question try to be sincere

Posted by: Ayodeji Borokinni | Nov 27, 2008 12:31:24 PM

Hi Colin,

I just want to say that I find really interesting and useful the experiences you share on
"The Diferential".
I am in the second year at the School of medicine in Cordoba, Argentina and I love it!
I will continue visiting your blog to read more about you and Med students in the US.
My best wishes for you when facing these interviews.
Anything you need from my University I would be more than happy helping you out.

hugo.david08 (skype)

Posted by: David, | Dec 2, 2008 5:32:22 AM

Colin, why do not you just tqke a break from Medicine and allocate yourself some time away to try those things? You are young and life happens once :)

Nice text.


Posted by: Vitor Hugo | Jan 15, 2009 5:01:13 AM

Colin Son,
I will be interviewing and be interviewed by a fun few campus's soon thank-you for the funny ideas.

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