5 things interviewers look for in residency candidates

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Look out for Dr. Mali's, "Top 5 things candidates should look for in a residency".

Editors Note: Welcome to Eye Catching: Let's Chat, a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Joshua Mali, MD, a vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, a private multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Sarasota, FL. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Check out Dr. Mali's, "Top 5 things candidates should look for in a residency/fellowship".

As residency and fellowship interviews for ophthalmology and sub-specialty programs kick into high gear this season, I thought I would share my viewpoint on this matter. I was recently invited by my alma mater vitreoretinal surgical fellowship at Albany Medical College/Retina Consultants, PLLC in Albany, New York, to participate in their interview process and evaluate candidates for the retina fellowship program. It was truly an honor for me to be a part of the decision-making process and I felt motivated to share my experience as now I have been on both sides of the table: applicant and now interviewer. (In addition, my wife Yasmin is currently applying for a pediatric ophthalmology fellowship position so I had extra inspiration to write this article.)



1. Character


Character is hands-down my number one attribute that I look for in a candidate. Quite frankly, this should be at the top of everyone's list. Character is a broad term with many facets but allow me to elaborate with some illustrative examples.

A candidate must be honest and trustworthy with a strong work ethic. Remember, this person is going to take care of your patients and at times, care for them by his/herself. It is imperative that you are able to trust someone with your livelihood and the most valuable thing in your career: your patients.

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Reliability in his/her judgment is a critical component to have for any resident or fellow. An example that was used in the last presidential election campaign seems pertinent: Who do you want picking up the phone at 2 in the morning?

You want someone who will represent your program/practice with honor and distinction to help spread a positive reputation throughout the community. My former chairman used to say that “our residency program's reputation reflected through our residents in responding to calls from ER physicians, patients, and community ophthalmologists is the most important thing and must be preserved at all costs.” Those are certainly wise words and that's why it's number one on my list.


2. Letters of Recommendation



Letters of recommendation are a key barometer to a candidate's skills and personality. A letter carries much more weight if it's from someone that you know either personally or is a prominent name in ophthalmology.

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For example, if the author of the letter is a personal friend of yours and he/she has taken the time to write an outstanding letter for a candidate, this is very significant because most likely you will be seeing that author in the future at meetings or other mutual events. Certainly, he/she would only vouch for candidates that are truly worthy of high praise given that it's his/her reputation on the line.

Nearly all letters of recommendation will be solid, but the key is to find the ones that are amazing and that stand out from the pack. Read these carefully and consider calling the author of the letter personally for further elaboration on candidates if necessary.


3. Academic Qualifications


Board scores and academic achievements are important and are the foundation of any candidate. Some programs have a minimum board score that they use to “screen” applicants and only permit interviews to those achieving a certain score or higher.

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However, most programs will evaluate a candidate based on the whole application and invite candidates on a case-by-case basis. Once you have made the decision to invite someone for an interview-presumably all the interviewees will be strong academically, so this is slightly less of a factor during the actual interview day-try to find unique and significant achievements such as prestigious academic awards or honors during ophthalmology related activities/rotations to help distinguish candidates.   


4. Research


There are some academic programs that may have this higher on the list but I feel this is appropriately positioned. Research publications and pursuits are a demonstration of interest in the field of ophthalmology or sub-specialty training.

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However, in my humble opinion, residency and fellowship programs are designed to train the best clinicians and surgeons possible, not bench lab scientists. That being said, I do believe that there should be some effort placed in this aspect, given that when you get comfortable being a physician and surgeon, you thirst for more knowledge so expanding your intellectual horizons through clinical research projects can be a fascinating outlet.



5. Community Service/Volunteer Activities


I definitely wanted to include this in my Top 5, as it has a place near and dear to me. My initial motivation for specializing in ophthalmology in the first place stemmed from my experiences involving mission trips and community service projects involving patients with eye diseases.

Therefore, as I found my purpose in life through service to humanity, I hope to see interviewing candidates with that same passion. I feel we search for people that demonstrate similar values and interests to our own when choosing our future colleagues.

Whether you are evaluating candidates for your training program or you are a candidate interviewing for a residency or fellowship position, always remember to trust your gut, use your mind, and go with your heart to make the best decision.         

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Check out Dr. Mali's, "Top 5 things candidates should look for in a residency/fellowship".

Joshua Mali, MD, is a vitreoretinal surgeon at The Eye Associates, a private multispecialty ophthalmology practice in Sarasota, Florida.

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