Monday, December 10, 2012

How many is too many?

When it comes to interviews we each have a limit on how many we can physically, emotionally, and financially stand to do.  What I want to address is not how many you can do, but how many residency interviews you should do.

The objectives of your entire interview process is to consume as much information about your residency options as possible and to interview frequently enough to match.  If you are thoroughly enjoying the process then by all means check out as many programs as you can afford.  If your resources are more limited, you need only do as many interviews as it takes to make sure your envelope is full on match day.

There is no magic number that guarantees matching in EM, but it is exceptionally rare to not match if you complete 8 - 10 interviews.  And many people successfully match after less than that.  It only takes one Program Director who feels you are the right fit.  Each program, and sometimes each interviewer, has a different idea of what the ideal applicant "looks" like.

There are, of course, exceptions to the 8 - 10 rule.  The first is that if you give truly awful interviews, but look good on paper, you could get a lot of interviews and not be ranked highly by anyone.  A truly awful interview is not nervous and sweaty, or unprepared, or falling asleep during the Program Director's pitch.  Truly awful is where you meet the interviewers diagnostic criteria for Personality Disorder.  

The other circumstances, besides carrying an Axis II diagnosis, in which you should break the 8 - 10 rule are circumstances where you need to be exposed to more programs.  The best example is the couples match.  One of you is "the anchor", the half of the couple in the more competitive specialty and thus the one who will pull you both down your rank lists.  As the partner applying to EM there is a good chance that you are the anchor and thus do not need to do extra interviews.  Conversely, if you are matching with a future dermatologist, orthopod or another EM applicant you may need to do a few more to feel safe.

The number of interviews you go on is important to more than your physical, mental, and financial fatigue.  Every interview you cancel at a program you do not really want or need to rank is an opportunity for someone else who may need that interview a whole lot more than you do.  And according to your Personal Statement, you are interested in helping people in their time of greatest need.