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Tales from the Road – More Etiquette

One of my secret life goals has always been to run my own advice column. And while I am no Ask Amy or Emily Post, hopefully you can indulge me in another brief etiquette discussion for residency interview season.

Which one is the "automatically match" fork?

Which one is the “automatically match” fork?

For many of the 4th year students, interview season is in full swing. Outside of some of the super-competitive specialties like Orthopedic Surgery, ENT and Dermatology who typically don’t make interview offers until November, for most specialties multiple offers have been given out to visit programs and many seniors are going to start having to make decisions on which ones to attend and which ones to take a pass on.

With the need to match at a premium, one might think that students should never under any circumstances decline or cancel an interview. However, with students applying to more and more residency programs across all specialties, the likelihood increases that some students will receive more interview offers than they can reasonably go to over the course of the next few months. Or maybe you have accepted and committed to an interview at one of your back-up programs, when an offer comes through for an interview at your dream residency. Only that dream program has limited interview availability and you have already signed up for interviews on the dates this place has left available. Or maybe you go through a number of interviews in November and December and over the holidays you decide that you have done enough of them that you feel comfortable that you will match and decide to cancel the last few at the end of January because you are tired of interviewing and out of cash. Maybe you have travel complications, weather issues or you become violently ill and are going to be unable to make to an interview. What is a student to do?

While I would have a serious conversation with a trusted advisor or mentor before wantonly canceling a bunch of interviews, there are certainly situations where it is appropriate and reasonable to cancel an interview to which you have committed. However, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you just not show up for your interview. Sorry to go all caps there but it is extremely bad form to just not show up for an interview.

First, it reflects poorly on you. You come across as thoughtless, selfish and self-centered at worst and absent-minded at a minimum. And while you might think “So what, I’m not going to that program anyway”, residency programs talk to each other and many program directors are friendly with other program directors and word could get around about you.

Second, it affects your classmates. Every year, I get emails either from outside residency programs when a student doesn’t show up to an interview or from a program director here at IU who has been castigated by an outside program. Every time, that program explicitly states that they are not interested in interviewing IU medical students anymore because “IU students do this all the time”. And while this is most likely an exaggeration, it does go to show you that programs directors are like elephants, they never forget. Even years later, one bad encounter can sour a residency program on an entire school. Nothing gets programs directors more enraged than a student not showing up for an interview. On top of that you are hurting your fellow applicants both here and at other school by taking up and then wasting a perfectly good interview slot that could have been used by another student.

Thirdly, it affects me. Okay, this reason actually isn’t that important because I don’t mind fielding a few angry emails now and then. But I do then get a little concerned that something bad has happened to you causing you to not show up. Then I try to track you down to make sure that you are okay.

So, do us all a favor. If you decide that you can’t or don’t want to go to an interview you have committed to, please, please, please, please, please call that program (don’t just email!) and let them know that you are going to respectfully decline the opportunity to interview there. I promise that they won’t be mad at you. They will understand. They know that interview season is a long grind and interview burnout happens. To be honest, savvy programs account for the fact that there will be a number of cancellations as the season goes along.

Well, they won’t be mad as long as you give the program some lead time to fill that newly open interview slot if they want. At bare minimum, I would let the program know a week ahead of time that you are going to be unable to make it. However, if you know further out than that, let them know right away. Programs will appreciate the honesty. And if an emergency comes up (death in the family, medical issue, or other personal crisis), it is better to call them and let them know that something serious has come up that will prevent you from coming than just not showing up. Even if it is the night before. Besides, if there is some kind of emergency that has come up but you are still interested in the program, there is a chance that the program will try to work with you to accommodate your needs. But not if they find out after you don’t show up.

So, please, this interview season channel your own personal favorite advice columnist and have good manners on the interview trail!

Do you have a story from the Interview Trail that you would like to share? A pesky neighbor or distant cousin or in-law that you would like some advice on how to handle? Questions on how to properly use a fish fork? Send Dr. McKenna your thoughts via this form!

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The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Michael McKenna

Dr. McKenna is a graduate of IU School of Medicine, where he also completed a pediatric residency. He served as chief resident and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Associate Program Director for the pediatric residency p...