Sunday, January 11, 2015

CaRMS -- Interviews & Sample Questions

In less than a week, fourth-year medical students across Canada will be embarking on a three-week interview tour across the country (if you're wondering what I'm talking about, check out CaRMS -- What, When, and Cost :) ). At this time last year I was probably the most anxious I'd been in my life. I was desperate enough to schedule an appointment with my GP, at which I planned to ask for an anxiolytic -- though phoned back to cancel when I fortunately realized that going into career-determining interviews zonked on Ativan would not be strategic.

Not unexpectedly, I was a bundle of nerves at my first interview, which took place at 8 am in Halifax (4 am BC time!). The interview itself is a bit of a blur. I know there was an unusually large panel of eight or so interviewers, questioning me in turn from across a big boardroom table. And I know I stammered a bit on a couple of the questions. But it was after that half hour, walking back through the snow to my hotel, that something amazing happened -- my anxiety disappeared. I realized that I could do this after all. I could make eye contact and provide answers to all of the questions I'd practiced. I wasn't crippled by performance anxiety under eight pairs of eyes and I didn't have a panic attack when a question came my way that I hadn't prepared for -- and I'm not being facetious either -- these were honestly the fears that had plagued me for weeks.

As my interview was the first of the morning, I only met a couple of fellow candidates who were scheduled for interviews after mine. That night at the fancy restaurant selected for the social, I met most of the other candidates, and realized that I'd be spending the next three weeks travelling from east to west across Canada in the company of some really wonderful people.

What To Wear
For guys: a suit with tie. For girls: well, it's (unfortunately) a little less obvious. Almost all on my tour wore a suit, about 50% with pants and 50% with a skirt. A couple wore cardigans rather than blazers, which was a little more casual but absolutely fine. I think most important is wearing something that you feel comfortable and confident in. And yes, everyone wears the same suit (or at the most, the same two suits) for all of the interviews, so don't worry about people judging you for repeating outfits -- the lighter you travel, the better. Also, keep in mind that you're travelling across Canada in the middle of winter, so a winter jacket and snow boots are essential (seems obvious, but sees west-coasters like myself scrambling to buy winter gear!).

How To Pack
A lot of people carried their interview suit in a garment bag. I did that for a while, then realized I could just fold it in my luggage and iron it as needed in the hotels. Because I took public transit rather than taxis, I carried a backpack instead of a suitcase (I was not in the majority, but was thankful I didn't have a suitcase during particularly snowy trudges to bus stations in Ontario). Most people packed light and carried on all of their luggage -- delayed or missing luggage is one less thing you have to worry about.

How To Get Around
I flew between provinces, with the exception of travelling between McGill and Ottawa, which I did by Greyhound. Amongst the Ontario schools, I travelled by train or Greyhound. Between Edmonton and Calgary I had a Greyhound ticket, but was offered a ride by another candidate (this will happen lots as you get to know the other medical students!). Within each city, I travelled around by public transit (bus or subway). By planning out public transit routes on Google Maps (I even screenshot and printed them) and bringing along plenty of change, it is absolutely possible to get by without spending a cent on taxis.

Where To Stay
My biggest expenditure on this trip was hotels, but it was important for me to stay in places where I could get good nights' sleeps before my interviews. Most schools will recommend a few nearby hotels, but I often selected my own, based on proximity to the interview location, residents' social, and public transit routes. As I was in Ottawa for the weekend after my interview, I chose to stay downtown so that I was within walking distance of the tourist sites I'd intended to check out. In case it's of any help to others, here are the places I stayed:
  • Halifax -- The Lord Nelson (expensive, but less than a block from the hospital)
  • Montreal -- Auberge Le Pomerol (across the road from the metro station)
  • Ottawa -- The Business Inn & Suites (walkable from the Greyhound station)
  • Kingston -- Holiday Inn Express (walkable from the Greyhound station)
  • London -- Country Inn & Suites (across the road from the hospital)
  • Hamilton -- Sheraton (only because my mom had a voucher!)
  • Winnipeg -- Canad Inns (attached to the hospital!)
  • Edmonton -- U of A Lister Hall (on campus with the hospital/LRT station)
  • Calgary -- Hotel Alma (at the University of Calgary, a short drive from the hospital)
  • Vancouver -- Comfort Inn (downtown, a few blocks from the SkyTrain to the hospital)

CaRMS Interview Format
Almost all of my CaRMS interviews were panels, consisting of two to four interviewers. Most schools had two separate panels, which interviewed in sequence. Exceptions were Halifax, which had one big eight-person panel, and Vancouver, which had three sequential 30-minute two-person panels (making for the longest interview ever!). There were no MMIs in my specialty (though there were in others, such as Obs/Gyne).

Practicing for CaRMS Interviews
Unlike the medical school admission MMIs, CaRMS interviews are essentially job interviews -- and they basically involve generic job interview type questions. In my specialty, most schools did not ask clinical questions, though I did get one (i.e. Here is a case. Make a diagnosis and describe management.) Here are a few tips:
  • Don't say it, show it! ...using anecdotes/examples from your life and clerkship experiences. The #1 most helpful thing you can do to prepare for CaRMS interviews is brainstorm a list of examples that you can draw upon to support your answers.
  • CanMeds Competencies -- Every medical student in Canada has seen the CanMeds flower once...twice...too many times. Go through the petals and think of an example of a time you did each competency well and a time you did it poorly.
  • "Tell me about yourself" -- Actually write out a somewhat interesting answer to this question (it's harder than it looks!).
  • Your strengths and weaknesses -- Surely some school will ask. Make sure you know them cold. And try to avoid an unoriginal pseudo-weakness like "time constraints" or "taking on too much".
  • "Do you have any questions for us?" -- Yes, as a matter of fact you do! You can ask the same question(s) at every school. I'd ask things like "Is there a formal mentorship program?" or, if there was a resident on the panel, "Where do you find most of your learning comes from in this program?"
  • Eye contact and posture -- Good posture and eye contact portray confidence (even if it's an act!). Try not to fidget with your clothes or hair.
  • Firm handshake -- Follow the interviewers' lead to shake hands before and after the interview.
  • Smile! -- It goes without say to be friendly and polite to everyone you encounter -- from interviewers to administrative staff to fellow candidates.
  • Practice, practice, practice -- If Amy Poehler is at one end of the improv comfort spectrum, I am so far towards the other that I can't even see her. For exams, new patient clinics, and interviews, the more I prepare, the more comfortable and less anxious I feel. Unexpected questions are inevitable. But to minimize the number of surprises, I found as many questions as I could (see below) and jotted down a point-form answer to every single one of them.
  • There's nothing wrong with not practicing with others -- Though it was encouraged by my medical school (the faculty even set up practice interview sessions) I realized that practicing with other people was not for me. In fact, it made me ten times more anxious to stumble awkwardly through answers in front of my friends, while watching them fly through perfect answers with eloquence and ease. To me, practicing with friends or family is nothing like the real interview experience, which brings me to the next point:
  • Photo Booth -- Mac Photo Booth (or any other program where you can record yourself with your webcam) was the most useful tool in my interview practice. The evening before my first interview, in my Halifax hotel room, I asked myself questions at random, then recorded myself answering them. I watched them back to see how long my answers were, what my body language was saying, and where I could improve. I challenged myself to answer questions rapid-fire, capping the answers to 60 or 90 seconds in length. Yes, it was awkward at first, but I found that it really helped me to build confidence. Watching the videos back and seeing that I could answer the questions coherently instilled confidence that I could do it again in the actual interview.

Sample CaRMS Interview Questions
A helpful resource is the CFMS CaRMS Interview Database, a compilation of school- and specialty-specific tips from medical students who have gone through CaRMS. I looked up the schools at which I would be interviewing to find previous years' questions and tips on things like the interview format and socials.

Here is a list of sample interview questions that was provided last year by my medical school, apparently compiled from questions encountered by previous students:
  1. List three accomplishments of which you are most proud of and what each accomplishment indicates about you.
  2. List three abilities you have that will make you valuable as a resident in this specialty.
  3. What clinical experience have you had in this specialty?
  4. Do you have any questions? (Prepare thoughtful, intelligent questions.)
  5. Tell me about yourself.
  6. What three adjectives best describe you?
  7. What might give me a better picture of you than I can get from your resume?
  8. Tell me a story about yourself that best describes you.
  9. If you were going to die in 5 minutes, what would you tell someone about yourself?
  10. Of which accomplishments are you most proud?
  11. Are there any hidden achievements or qualities that you are secretly proud of?
  12. How have you changed since high school?
  13. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  14. Tell me about your "secret identity" -- the part of your personality that you dont share with strangers.
  15. Any skeletons in your closet you want to tell me about?
  16. How well do you take criticism?
  17. What’s your pet peeve?
  18. If you could change one thing about your personality what would it be?
  19. If you could be any cell in the human body, which would you be and why?
  20. Do you see yourself as more relaxed/casual/informal or more serious/dedicated/committed?
  21. Which is more important, the ability to organize, structure, and prioritize or to be flexible, modify, change and make do as needed?
  22. Which is more important, knowledge or imagination?
  23. Strangest Halloween costume you ever wore?
  24. What do you value in your own life?
  25. If you had unlimited money and (x amount of time) what would you do?
  26. 3 wishes, what would they be?
  27. What kinds of people are your friends?
  28. Describe your best friend.
  29. How are you similar and dissimilar to your best friend?
  30. How would your friends or co-workers describe you?
  31. Who are your heroes?
  32. What is your favorite movie, book?
  33. What is the last book you read?
  34. What do success and failure mean to you?
  35. What do you do in your spare time?
  36. Favorite games/sports? Why?
  37. Have you done any volunteer work?
  38. How did you choose these outside activities?
  39. If you had a completely free day, what would you do?
  40. Describe for me your typical day.
  41. What is the most bizarre thing you have ever done (in college, high school, etc)?
  42. What is the most unusual occurrence in your life in the past (x amount of time)?
  43. Which organizations do you belong to?
  44. What are your plans for a family?
  45. If could not be a physician, what career would you choose?
  46. Why choose to be a doctor?
  47. How do you make important decisions?
  48. Are you a risk taker or safety minded?
  49. What made you choose your undergraduate major?
  50. How did you select undergraduate college and medical school?
  51. What were the major deficiencies in your medical school training? How would you plan to remedy this?
  52. If you could begin your schooling again, what would you change?
  53. Have you ever dropped a class, why?
  54. Have you ever quit or been fired from a job?
  55. Biggest failures in life and what have you done to ensure that they won’t happen again?
  56. Have you always done the best work of which you are capable?
  57. Which types of people do you have problems working with?
  58. What qualities drive you crazy in colleagues?
  59. Describe the best/worst attending with whom you have ever worked.
  60. Do you prefer to work under supervision or on your own?
  61. With which patients do you have trouble dealing?
  62. How do you normally handle conflict?
  63. How do you respond when you have problems with someone?
  64. What do you do if someone senior tells you to do something you know is wrong?
  65. With what subject/rotation did you have the most difficulty?
  66. Why do you want to go into EM?
  67. What would you be willing to sacrifice to become an emergency physician?
  68. What is the greatest sacrifice you have already made to get to where you are?
  69. If EM did not exist, what would you do?
  70. How much did lifestyle considerations fit into your choice of specialty?
  71. Why did you apply to this program?
  72. What qualities are you looking for in a program?
  73. What interests you most about this program?
  74. What have you heard about our program that you don’t like?
  75. Are you applying here because it is a familiar environment?
  76. What will be the toughest aspect of this specialty for you?
  77. How will you handle the least interesting or least pleasant parts of this specialty’s practice?
  78. What qualities are most important in this specialty?
  79. What kind of qualities does a person need to be an effective emergency physician?
  80. Why should we take you over other applicants?
  81. What can you add to our program?
  82. What computer experience do you have?
  83. Describe your ideal residency program.
  84. What is your energy level like?
  85. How many hours of sleep do you require each night?
  86. How well do you function under pressure?
  87. How do you handle stress?
  88. Can you handle stress without the resources you are accustomed to relying on?
  89. Tell me about the patient from who you learned the most.
  90. Most memorable experience in medical school/college?
  91. What errors have you made in patient care?
  92. Greatest fear about practicing medicine?
  93. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
  94. How do you see the delivery of health care evolving in the 21st century?
  95. Is health care a right or a privilege?
  96. What problems will our specialty face in the next 5-10 years?
  97. What would you do if the house staff had a strike?
  98. What do you think of what’s happening in mid east? Congress? Economy?
  99. Teach me something non-medical in 5 minutes?
  100. What if you don’t match?
  101. Can you think of anything else you would like to add?
  102. How do you deal/cope with failure? Give an example.
  103. What was your favorite course in medical school?
  104. Describe a conflict you had with someone and how it was resolved.
  105. Describe something that was very difficult in your life, how you dealt with it, and what you learned from it.
  106. What needs to be changed in our health care system?
  107. How can you do your job more effectively?
  108. What is the most pressing problem in medicine today?
  109. What is the most rewarding thing you have ever done?
  110. Tell me some of your successes.
  111. Tell me some of your failures.
  112. How do you show your commitment to medicine?
  113. Who is the most influential in your life?
  114. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
  115. What do you do for fun?
  116. When did you decide you wanted to be a physician?
  117. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  118. What leadership roles have you held?
  119. What are the biggest problems in medicine and EM?
  120. What do you think of socialized medicine?
  121. Do you know how hard residency is?
  122. Do you want research to be a part of your career?
  123. What is your most important accomplishment?
  124. What makes you different from everyone else?
  125. What do you expect out of EM?
  126. What is your most important lesson learned from childhood?
  127. What do you expect will be the hardest part of residency for you?
  128. Who in your family are you closest to?
  129. What makes you happy?
  130. What makes you sad?
  131. What makes you unique?
  132. Is there anything else not in application that you want to tell me?
  133. How do your friends describe you?
  134. 3 people you would invite to dinner and why?
  135. Describe important relationships you have had with people.
  136. Anything else you want to tell me about yourself?
  137. What was your most difficult challenge in life?
  138. Why do you want to come here?
  139. What are some challenges that will face this specialty?
  140. What motivates you?
  141. Why are you here?
  142. What attracts you to this residency (or to this specialty area)?
  143. Why do you think you are best qualified for this residency program?
  144. What do you think you can contribute to this residency?
  145. Describe a clinical situation that you handled well and were successful and one where things didn’t go as well as you would have liked. (This question looks at your handling of stressful circumstances. It may also take the form of presenting you with a difficult clinical case scenario with a medical ethics element in it.)
  146. What are your overall career goals?
  147. How do you get along with co-workers?
  148. Where have you done electives?

Here is another set of frequently asked interview questions, from the AAMC:
  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why did you become a doctor?
  3. How would your friends describe you?
  4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  5. Why are you interested in our program?
  6. What are you looking for in a program?
  7. Why should we choose you?
  8. Can you tell me about this deficiency on your record?
  9. Why are you interested in this specialty?
  10. Tell us about your research experience.
  11. If you could not be a physician, what career would you choose?
  12. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
  13. What leadership roles have you held?
  14. What do you do in your spare time?
  15. What was your favourite course in medical school?
  16. Why did you choose this specialty?
  17. What are your goals?
  18. Are you interested in academic or in clinical medicine?
  19. Do you want to do research?
  20. What was the most interesting care that you have been involved in?
  21. Do you plan to do a fellowship?
  22. What is your most important accomplishment?
  23. What motivates you?
  24. What will be the toughest aspect of this specialty for you?
  25. If you could do medical school over again, what would you change?
  26. What do you think you can contribute to this program?
  27. Do you see any problems managing a professional and a personal life?
  28. Are you prepared for the rigours of residency?
  29. How much did lifestyle considerations fit into your choice of specialty?
  30. Describe the best/worst attending with whom you have ever worked.
  31. What is the greatest sacrifice you have already made to get to where you are?
  32. What problems will our specialty face in the next 5-10 years?
  33. How would you describe yourself?
  34. List three abilities you have that will make you valuable as a resident in this specialty.
  35. Describe a particularly satisfying or meaningful experience during your medical training. Why was it meaningful?
  36. What is one event you are proudest of in your life?
  37. What was the most difficult situation you encountered in medical school?
  38. What clinical experiences have you had in this specialty?
  39. How well do you take criticism?
  40. What questions do you have for me?
I was asked mostly generic questions on my interview tour, that were pretty repetitive amongst the schools. The question that tripped me up the most was at the University of Ottawa: What is a research question you would like to answer? In detail, tell us how you would design and carry out an experiment to answer that question.

CaRMS Socials
Generally on the night before (and in a couple of cases, after) the interview, the residents host a social. Most schools have funding to cover this, so you can expect to be wined and dined at lots of nice places. On my tour the socials ranged from mix and mingles at pubs to more formal sit-down dinners. I dressed casually, in a sweater and jeans or dress and leggings, usually with boots and a scarf. Socials are a lot of fun and nothing to worry about. You get to hang out with the other candidates (who you quickly start to recognize from city to city) and ask the residents any questions you have about the program or city. I missed a couple of socials and was late for a few others, but that's expected given the often tight travel schedule. It's not a big deal if you miss a social and has no bearing on how the program ranks you. I'd recommend going just because they're fun opportunities to get to know the candidates and residents, while experiencing new restaurants (and getting free meals!). 

Find Your People...And Your City
Finally, keep in mind that the overarching goal of the CaRMS interview tour is to "find your people". That is, find the program that feels "right" to you -- where you get along with the residents and feel comfortable with the staff. It was a relief to me that I genuinely liked the other candidates and found that their personalities were much like my own -- to me, that was another sign that I'd chosen a specialty that suited me. Besides the people and program, the next most important thing is the city. You'll be spending two to five years there, so it better be a place that you like (or at least are willing to tolerate). Be prepared for surprises. Edmonton wasn't on my radar until I did an elective here and realized I'd rather live in this city than Calgary or Vancouver. Visiting for a second time for my interview helped reaffirm that this was a good choice.

It's easy to get caught up in trying to impress the programs -- but it's important to keep in mind that they are trying just as hard to sell themselves to you. Every program wants to attract candidates that will be a good fit, and they know that ultimately your preference of programs takes precedence over their ranking of candidates.

Good luck to this year's CaRMS candidates -- remember, let the nerves go after interview #1 (you've done it once, what's a few more times?) and have fun (CaRMS was my favourite three weeks of medical school. Make sure you play tourist in your free time!). Also remember, the stats show that most people match to their top choice of program, so the odds are in your favour.

Let me know if you have any questions about CaRMS! And if you've been through CaRMS and have any input, please feel free to contribute!


  1. That's huge list of sample questions and answers, thanks for writing all details here. Everyone can get these questions and answers for a successful interview. examples of competency based interview questions

  2. Thanks for your blog. This is very useful. I am wondering if you could recommend
    someone who can offer mock interviews specifically tailored to medical residency.

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment! I'm sorry, I don't know of anyone who offers specifically tailored interviews for medical residency. If you're in university, perhaps check in at the career centre to see if there are any generic job interview practice services (residency interviews are a lot like job interviews). All the best!

  3. very educative.Thank you so much


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...