Why plastic surgery?

This is one of the most common questions you get in an interview.  Why did you choose to go into the field to which you are applying?  Every individual has their own story, and really let that shine through.  Being authentic is the best way for programs to see your best self.  Many students discuss why they chose the field they did in their personal statement.  Ensure that your narrative is consistent from your personal statement to the answer you give on interview day. 

I had prepared for most interview questions by explicitly writing out brief paragraphs or outlines that I could briefly review prior to each interview.  I recommend that you write out an outline to answer this question in either a quick paragraph or bullet points, because you are sure to get it.  Here was my initial outline:

“Going to medical school, I knew I wanted to operate. I had learned working with a general surgeon in high school. My first thought of plastic surgery was when I was in college, working with children with special needs many of which had various craniofacial abnormalities. Listened to a plastic surgeon speak at a pre-med event, and he did a lot of international work with kids which I thought was really cool.  During the first two years of medical school, I shadowed in the operating room and was exposed to numerous surgical subspecialties. The breadth and complexity of plastic surgery attracted me.  I am extremely interested in both aesthetic and reconstructive aspects of the field, the diverse anatomy, and helping patients with various disease processes, such as trauma, cancer, and congenital and acquired deformities.”

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I never gave this exact answer (and I don’t know if I ever explicitly mentioned the plastic surgeon I heard speak in college except at Harvard where he was on faculty), but it gave me a consistent framework to speak from in each interview: I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, spent time shadowing in various fields, became interested in plastic surgery because of X, Y, and Z.  I don’t want to give a formula for answering this question because students have such diverse reasons for deciding on their field of choice.  Telling your story should be priority number one.

There a few general points that are particular to plastic surgery (and I am sure other fields) that I would want to discuss to help guide you in formulating your response. 

A program director told me at a social, “The last thing I ever want to find out when our trainees graduate is that I trained yet another cosmetic plastic surgeon.”  I don’t think that every program director has that intense of a repulsion for private practice aesthetic surgery, but the stigma against it in academic plastic surgery certainly exists and I felt it while interviewing at numerous institutions.  The people you are interviewing with are academic plastic surgeons that have dedicated their careers to mainly reconstructive plastic surgery and training future surgeons.  Generally speaking, that is what they want to train their residents to become.  Knowing that, it may not be the wisest decision to say that you want to do plastic surgery because you watched a reality TV show about plastic surgeons and your goal is to do cash-only private practice aesthetic surgery.  A large part of effective interviewing is telling your story, but also telling them what they want to hear to put you at the top of the rank list.

Some applicants already know exactly what they want to do in their careers.  For example, I met an applicant who had done research in craniofacial surgery and was applying specifically for the purpose of becoming a craniofacial fellowship trained plastic surgeon.  It is great that this individual had clear cut and specific goals.  At the same time, if you are in an interview with a hand surgeon and breast surgeon, why would they want to invest time in training you if you’re already set on what you’re going to do?  Your goal in an interview is to impress everyone who helps determine the rank list.  Tailor your responses to that objective.

Interviewers often interview anywhere from 10-30 applicants on a given day and some programs have multiple days.  How do you stand out when they are asking this same question to every applicant?  They often take notes and jot down something that may trigger their memory or that highlights what you said.  Give them great soundbites by including buzzword phrases that are applicable to your story or what they want to hear.  Some of my favorite buzzword phrases I used in answering this question included: “head to toe anatomy”, “ability to operate anywhere”, “diversity of patient populations…pediatric population, patients with cancer, trauma”, “variety in pathology and defects”, “breadth and complexity”, “principled approach”, and “excited about learning more about all fields in the specialty”.

This is one of the most classic and common questions you will get as an applicant.  Prepare for it so that you are ready come interview day.  As always, tell your story, but remember your audience. 

Why did you decide to apply to your specialty?  What questions do you have about speaking to your audience while also telling your story?  Comment below or contact us directly

Back to more interview prep.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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