On the Trail: Urinal meet-and-greet


Urinal conversations are tricky business, so I never initiate them.  If I run across a particularly talkative soul whose instinct it is to introduce himself upon initiation of his stream of golden glory, I’m always left to ponder several questions after our inevitably awkward conversation: 

Is it ever appropriate to make eye contact at the urinal?  Or is it rude not to?

Should conversation be limited to small talk (weather, sports)?

Or is discussion of rather important topics (politics, religion, relationships, the meaning of life) more natural as one shares the release of his bloated bladder with a stranger?

I don’t know the right answer to any of these questions.  Is there well-defined “man law” on this topic I don’t know about?  Anyway, I figure as I get older and spend more and more time at the urinal, I’ll become comfortable with this social outlet (bad pun) and grow out of my momentary introversion.

Unfortunately for me, the urology residency interview trail has forced upon me three very important urinal meet-and-greets.  All three were with the Chairman of the Department.  One meet-and-greet was prolonged due to a particularly bad case of presumably treated but refractory hesitancy.  As Dave Barry—one of my all-time favorite writers—would say after one of his more absurd claims, “I’m not making this up.”

The Chairman interviews after our shared bathroom break were not as uncomfortable as I feared.  During my third urinal meet-and-greet, this absurd situation became just another routine circumstance on the interview trail.  Speaking of routine circumstances on the interview trail,

“Do you have any questions for me?”

“Do you have any questions for me?”

“I know you already heard our two-hour long powerpoint about every detail of the program and spent the whole day with our residents, but do you have any more questions for me?

“I know this is your last interview, and it’s 5:30pm, and you’re pretty hungry after the sub-par lunch we served you, and you’ve already heard this question 50 times today, but do you have any other questions for me?”

My fellow applicants can start booing me and throwing stuff at their computer screens now, or politely regurgitate one of the 20 canned questions they have prepared for this all-too-familiar question on the interview trail.  Instead of ranting about how truly annoying this question has become, particularly when it’s the first question asked by an interviewer (revealing that he or she is flipping through your application for the first time in front of you), I thought I would summarize what happens on an “average” interview day.  Hopefully, knowing what generally happens on interview day will be somewhat helpful for future applicants and enlightening for family and friends.

Medical Student Residency Interview Day

5:00AM:  Wake up to one of three alarms, shower, shave, steam my wrinkled suit that hasn’t been dry cleaned in at least one week, and grab my little black leather portfolio as I run out of the hotel room.

  • Almost all residency applicants carry around a black leather portfolio during their interview day.  It basically serves as your mini traveling office, storing all your pens, residency program print-outs, resume copies, and hotel and flight information.  Lots of schools have custom-made portfolios with their logo proudly embossed on the front, but any generic portfolio or folder is a perfectly fine substitute.  I have begun to question the actual utility of the portfolio, but it has become a “security blanket” in many ways for me during interviews.

6:00AM:  Drive from the hotel in my fancy Ford Fiesta to the main hospital.  Hopelessly navigate my way to through the medical center campus until I find parking lot 18.  Wander around for another 30 minutes trying to find the urology conference room.  Pray that a full breakfast is being served.

  • ·         The Ford Fiesta is consistently the cheapest rental car out there.  It is also hilariously small. 
  • Tips for future applicants:  always give yourself plenty of extra time in the morning.  You’d be surprised how hard it can be to find your way around a medical center in a city you’re visiting for the first time, especially if you have a horrible sense of direction like me.  Also, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t do well without breakfast or quickly develops caffeine withdrawal headaches without coffee, make sure you eat something and drink some of that crappy coffee at the hotel just in case.  Most places are very generous and provide a full breakfast in the morning, but I’ve been stiffed a few times.

7:00AM:  Attend Grand Rounds with residents and faculty.

  •  This sets the tone for the interview day.  The programs that really stood out to me had the residents and faculty intersperse themselves among all the applicants during breakfast to create a genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere.  The programs that really don’t stand out have the residents and faculty sit aloof and away from all the applicants during breakfast.  They also don’t have applicants introduce themselves to the audience and/or pretend like they’re not there.  Again, the programs that really stood out to me made this morning experience basically like a big recruiting pitch, displaying a teaching focus on residents and collegial conference environment.  
  •  Important tip for future applicants:  Consider this as the beginning of your formal evaluation.  Every conversation and every interaction you have with the residents and faculty can help or hurt your chance of matching at that program.  This doesn’t mean you should be anxious during breakfast or enter “professional-interviewee-with-a-pre-scripted-personality-and-talking-points” mode.  Just be yourself.  But don’t take anything lightly, because all the residents and faculty want to figure out if you’re someone they want to share breakfast with for the next five or six years.

8:00AM-11:00AM:  Morning interviews.  Go from room to room for between 3 and 17 total interviews.  Take a quick pee break mid-morning.  Or take two pee-breaks if you drink a ton of coffee.

  • Yes, at least one program has a total of 17 back-to-back interviews.  And yes, it is absolutely exhausting.  I’ve found getting plenty of rest the night before is key (although this can be difficult if you’re out the night before sharing a beer—or 6 plus beers—with the residents).
  •  Important tip for future applicants:  Do not psych yourself out or get overly nervous for any of these interviews.  Urologists are generally nice people.  Most interviewers just want to get to know you and see if you’re a good personality fit for the program.
  •  Exception to above rule:  one program conducts a series of “behavioral/stress interviews” to “objectively evaluate your character and personality traits.”  It is quite absurd, but maybe there is data to suggest this process rules out potential serial killers.  Here are some example questions they ask:  “What is your biggest regret or mistake, and what did you do after this mistake?”  “Give an example of an ethical quandary you were in…what did you do?”  “Tell us a story about a personal failure?”  I suggest you be honest and have fun with this.  I may or may not have discussed in detail the lessons I learned after being dumped by my middle school girlfriend.

11:30AM-12:30PM:  Have lunch with the residents, restoring blood sugar to normal levels.

  • Take advantage of this time.  In this more relaxed environment, I really do believe the residents will share with you the true strengths and weaknesses of their program.  As important as this is figuring out if you fit in socially with this group of people you will be spending years of your life with.

1:00PM-3:00PM:  Tour the hospital.

  • A necessary but at times painful process.  The best residents incorporate history of the hospital into their tour, or share a fun fact about the random bronze statue in the lobby.  Be prepared to put on a “bunny suit” (a white zip up full length body suit that covers up all your non-sterile clothes) for your visit to the ORs.

4:00/5:00PM:  Interview day ends.  Take a much needed nap at the hotel, or frantically rush off to the airport to catch the next flight.

That’s all for now.  Looking forward to sharing more details about the interview process and ridiculous things I’ve experienced on the trail.

Have a happy holiday season!