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Tales from the Road – Thank You! No… Thank You!

This is another post in a weekly series about all things related to the Interview Trail for residency positions. Have a story to share? Use the comments section or Contact Form at the bottom!

I have been getting a number of questions about whether or not one should send thank you notes after going on an interview. If so, to whom should you send them? Email or ‘snail mail’? How much of a difference do they make? How can I make my handwriting look better? (Okay… no one is asking that question…)

When it comes to thank you notes, things have really changed in the past few years. A little while back, it was pretty much mandatory to send thank you notes after interviews. I had heard of program directors that would seriously consider not ranking you if you did not send one. However, as society in general has gone a bit away from thank you notes, so too have they on the interview trail for residency.

In general, my advice is to be you. If you are like me and are a ‘thank you note’ person, then send them. If you would like to send hand-written ones, go for it. If you just want to send a few email ones, I think that is fine. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, I would always err on the side of good manners and send them. But to whom?

For starters, I would send one to every person that you interview with. That is pretty straightforward and rather standard. Most of the time you have an agenda with each interviewer’s name on it, so that should be relatively easy to keep track of. If you need help with names or addresses, you can always ask the Residency Coordinator (or the person who you communicated most with when setting up the interview) for help. Speaking of the Residency Coordinator, you may want to go the extra mile and send him or her a thank you note as well. The office staff spends A LOT of time prepping for interview season (among a billion other things), so it would be really nice to show some appreciation for that.

The biggest thing to remember is to not be swayed by anything that residency programs do or do not say to you. They most likely are not going to be swayed by anything that you say. Every year, I have a faculty member show me a thank you note they have received from a student and say “Mike, this student really loves us. They are definitely coming here. I have never seen a note this nice!” And every year, that student does not match with us. They never do. It’s not because they were lying to us or sucking up to us. They just ended up finding a place they liked better.

Savvy students and programs make their rank lists based on how much they like the programs/students. They do not try to guess how much the other likes them or where they think that they are going to end up on the other side’s list. They put their favorite at the top and their least favorite at the bottom. There is no other viable strategy than that. We will discuss The Match and making a rank list more in the future, but for now, remember this is the only strategy. For more info on how The Match algorithm works, check out this tutorial from the NRMP.

In the end, be yourself. But err on the side of good manners and being thankful and gracious!


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.

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...