My initial gut reaction to this question was, “I just want to get to residency first.” While you may share that sentiment, interviewers are trying gauge a sense of your vision. Do you have goals? What do you envision for your career? Would this training program be able to prepare you for achieving the success you want?
As should be standard practice by now, I would write out your goals as preparation for this question.
My preparation notes: “I want to become the best plastic surgeon I can be by putting in the time and work during residency to achieve that goal. I’m undecided exactly on fellowship at this point, but if I had to choose I would do microsurgery. I envision myself graduating and becoming a faculty member at an academic institution where I would also try to seek administrative opportunities. I want to be involved in the training and education of students and residents and be able to give back. I also plan on developing a strong research machine in whichever area I decide to specialize in. Personally, I want to get married, start a family, and become good at golf. I want to be able to find a work life balance where I’ll be able to succeed both professionally and personally.”
With any answer, frame it in the way you want to. While the interviewers aren’t asking about any personal qualities I have, I used my goal of becoming an excellent surgeon to highlight my work ethic. That is a subtle move that helps establish the tone and emphasize one of the overarching themes I wanted to convey to programs (that I am a hard worker). It is okay to be unsure of what you want to do (I was then and still am), but you can still paint a broad picture of your vision. Remember, no one is holding you to your answer. Interviewers just want to know that you’ve thought about the future.
Consider your audience when formulating the question. These are by in large academic surgeons that are interested in teaching and research. People tend to like people that are like them. So if your plans are to buy into or start a private practice immediately after graduation, never work with students/residents, and not be involved in research, I’d critically think about how stating those plans might be perceived. While you want to always have your audience in mind, you shouldn’t tell the microsurgeon you want to do a micro fellowship and then go to the next room and tell the hand attending your plan is to do a hand fellowship. Interviewers will pick up on inconsistencies when they get together and discuss your application in the rank list meetings. Be authentic and deliver a consistent message.
The last two sentences in my notes shocked and impressed a lot of interviewers for some reason. In nearly every interview that I mentioned ‘personal plans’ for after residency, the interviewers would share some sentiment expressing that they hadn’t ever heard someone tie in personal and career success in responding to that question or if they had heard it, it was overwhelmingly rare. Mentioning some aspect of personal goals is a great opportunity to humanize yourself and show that you have true vision…i.e. our lives as future physicians don’t just take place in the hospital, clinics, or operating rooms.
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