Live from the Trail: A Lesson from Interview Season
"I just have to ask. Did anyone try to talk you out of including that in your personal statement?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, usually people might say something like they will work til they drop in their personal statement. Not that they chose a different field because they want to prioritize their family."
It's just about December. I've been on 11 interviews- 4 Transitional Year interviews and 7 Anesthesiology interviews. Being a Midwesterner by birth, 2/3s of my interviews have been in the Midwest thus far and I have been able to drive to many. Also, anesthesiology is awesome because unlike most specialties, the programs have mostly paid for a 1 night hotel stay. All in all, 11 interviews have cost me no more than $1,500. That's not that bad!
With 5 interviews left stretched out between now and January 30th (sheesh!), I can't help but begin reflecting.
An aside: Anesthesia isn't a weird specialty. No one has asked me to "Name 20 ways to use a pencil," or "How many basketballs can fit inside this room?" I did have one program perform a ridiculous observation test. That program will be dead last/not ranked by me (there were multiple reasons). So, I have had a pleasant experience and the interview days are VERY low stress. Much less stressful than medical school interviews.
The most interesting question I've been asked is written above at the top.
I was interviewing at a top ten program, and the program director asked me why I included a specific something in my personal statement. For more specifics on the story, read "Why I Walked Away From Surgery" on my blogroll. One of my reasons for walking away from surgery was my desire to be the best husband and father that I can be. For me, I felt that a surgery residency was prohibitive to that end. I hope and believe that prioritizing my family will ensure their well-being as well as improve my skills as a doctor in relating to my patients. I'm thankful that I started to look elsewhere because anesthesia is such a better fit for me.
It was slightly intimidating looking this PD in the eye and defending my answer to prioritize my family over "work". If a program can't respect the desire of an applicant to avoid divorce during residency, then they just aren't the program for me. In my opinion, the best part of the whole conversation was that it allowed me the opportunity to highlight my jam-packed CV and say something like, "Well, I hope it is clear by my CV that I am a pretty hard worker and I like to stay busy."
Closing Thoughts: Don't be someone you're not to a program. It is not worth the hassle. If all you care about is the reputation of a program and don't have a family, then you can probably afford to be the workhorse for a little while if you want. For me, I just had to know that there were people in the program with families that navigated the process successfully. I know that family is a priority to me, so I made sure to ask during every interview, "Do any of your current residents have children?" This was very telling.
Lying to a residency program about your situation not only potentially hurts your future but can also have a negative impact on the residency program. Each program is a little different and they want the people who are the best match for their culture. Just be honest. Things will work out.
Best of luck to all of my fellow applicants!