Though it seems so long ago, the month and a half I spent on the interview trail is one of the most interesting times of my life. This high stress environment did not suit me, believe me. But this time really did teach me that you CAN get used to anything. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and it does not serve as a strict blow by blow. However, these are some of the small quirks I wish I had known during this time.
1. Schedule: The month of September/October can be very exciting! I was definitely glued to my smart phone, pulse quickening after each and every buzz indicating I got a new email requesting my presence during an interview. Harness your chi, and welcome your inner anal retentive med-student self, because you have to remember that certain programs only interview during certain days, while others interview daily. Keep your iPhone with the calendar or a small pocket calendar handy at all times. If your top choices only interview during certain days, "reserve" those times until you hear from them (but also be realistic and don't hold your breath forever).
2. Respond to email requests in a timely fashion and know that the program coordinator or program assistant is going to be an incredible lifeline. Be nice to them because they can give your the time to get your foot in the door. Especially when certain dates fall through (and they will!), having these people on your side is great because they are more willing to work with you.
3. They say this time and time again, but schedule your top choices in the middle of your interview. Have one or two practice interviews first in programs you don't particularly love. This gives you some semblance of confidence due to repetition, and it gives you a sense of comparison that can generate questions during the dreaded, "do you have any more questions?" :::blank stare::: moments.
4. Also, the interview trail is expensive! I was definitely spoiled applying in Family Medicine because most of my hotel stays were paid for, as well as most of my meals while I was in the city. I don't know much about other specialties, but make sure you save up some loan money to make this happen. Plane tickets require some shopping around. And most of the time, I opted to drive to a lot of my interviews, to save some money. During what I fondly call my "Tour de Florida", I spent $650 in gas money. Awesome. Just be prepared.
5. (4b) This might be pretty obvious, but try to bunch your interviews close together so you can avoid too many flights. Rent a car! Or drive in spurts. I used Tampa/Orlando as a home base instead of Pensacola because flights out of there were much cheaper and the central location was much more conducive to driving to my different interviews. Try to find a hub from which you can spoke out from, or do what some other people did and get a one way flight from your furthest destination and drive with a rental car back to your point of origin.
6.(4c) This is probably not a big deal for people who have nice, brand new, reliable cars. But I've been driving my Civic since high school and it is nearing its last breath. Pushing the car to do what I asked it to required some planning. First the essentials: get an oil change, change out the tires, get new windshield wipers, check the fluids in your car, make sure the spare tire was accessible, do minor repairs, make sure that you have AAA or some other road side assistance. Then, the extras: invest in a GPS if you don't already have one, plug in the old iPod with some tunes or some audiobooks to help the time pass.
7. Dress: I always chose to wear a traditional black suit. And ladies, perhaps one of the biggest challenges is finding some good looking comfy shoes. You will tour hospitals and walk a lot. The last thing you want is to be distracted by ill choice footwear.
8. Residency dinners are great, if the program offers them. They are usually scheduled the night before the interview and it gives you a chance to talk to the residents and ask them questions. It is also a good time to size up these people to see if you would want to work with them, if their personalities jive with yours, etc. Use this time wisely because some programs give residents equal vote and all programs rely heavily on their impressions. Just some etiquette issues: try not to order the most expensive thing on the menu and use your judgement when ordering any wine or alcohol (or just don't do it). Give medicine its just due, but the residents are also trying to sell you their city so ask about what they like to do for fun, what makes this program unique being in this city, etc. Remember that though it may seem intimidating that these residents are (gasp) doctors, they are only a few years removed from where you are sitting. Some of the best residency dinners I went on eventually drifted towards topics of Fantasy Football (which is ok by me).
9. Know your application. They WILL ask you about it. Don't be dishonest. Don't overly embellish. Be genuine. These people meet a TON of people during the interview season. Their BS meter is honed and primed. Be sure to have some questions ready specific to the program. And lastly, be courteous, but let your personality peek through. There is no sense being a polished non-version of yourself. You have to find a program that suits you and they have to find a candidate that suits them. It is like speed dating, so put your best foot forward but don't forget to be yourself.
10. Write thank you notes. I had a stock email for the program director, attendings, residents, chief residents, and program coordinators. I just filled in parts that were unique to our conversation/experience. Write notes for yourself. I made a spread sheet that had all the important facts that differentiated one program vs another. It will definitely be helpful when all of the interviews start running into each other!
That's all for now, but I'm sure there are more that I haven't covered. I hope this is a good start!