For applicants to surgical fields, interviewers commonly ask about the most interesting case you have seen. Choose a case in the field you are applying to and most importantly be able to speak intelligently about the details of the case. I’ll describe basic criteria for choosing the most interesting case you have seen, then will provide my example at the end.
Picking a Case
You undoubtedly will have witnessed hundreds of operative cases during your surgery rotations. It is hard to choose a case to discuss for many reasons. First, the attending is almost always going to know way more about the case than you. They are residency trained and board certified in the field. They have expertise beyond the medical student fund of knowledge. Second, while seeing your first tympanostomy procedure may be exciting as a student, the ENT doctors you are speaking to may perform four to five of those cases in a day. For these reasons, you want the case to be a topic that you have spent time studying. If you don’t know much about the case, be sure to learn the details. Speaking on a unique or novel case is a good way to mitigate what you are expected to know. If the interviewer doesn’t know much about the case, then they probably won’t expect you to either (though they may ask you to teach them, see below).
Consider the message that the case you choose sends. If you state that knee replacements are the coolest cases you’ve seen, programs may infer your interest in a joints fellowship. Be sure to choose a case that is in the field you are applying to. It may muddle your message if you are a urology applicant, speaking about parathyroidectomies.
Describing the Case
It is helpful to give the background of the case. Set the scene of where you were when you saw the case. Give a brief HIPPA compliant description of the patient and indication for surgery.
Give a short statement naming the case. Brevity here is helpful to you for several reasons. The longer I started talking about a case as a medical student, the more likely I was to state something incorrectly. Keeping this portion succinct enables you to speak more about why you find this to be the most interesting case. Let them followup with questions if they have any.
Focus the rest of your answer on why you thought the case was interesting. This is really want programs want to know when they ask this question. They want to understand what excites you and hear your reasoning. This should be the bulk of your answer.
Answer any additional questions the interviewers may have to the best of your abilities. You aren’t expected to know every detail, but if this is the one case you are going to carry around in your back pocket to use at every interview, it is worth reading and knowing as much as you can about it.
Common followup questions may include:
- Who was the attending on that case?
- What was your role in the cases?
- Tell me more about the procedure.
- What approach/technique did the surgeon use?
- How was the outcome for the patient?
Here was my response after a planned pause:
“The most interesting case I saw was a robotic DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) for breast reconstruction. I saw this case while on an away rotation. It was a joint case with Gyn Onc. The patient was undergoing prophylactic robotic bilateral oophorectomies. Since the robot was already out, the microsurgery team elected to do a robotic bilateral DIEP. I had never even heard of this before—that is certainly not the way we do them in Alabama. There was extensive collaboration with the robotic surgery experts from other fields in the case. Outside of the novelty of the case, I found it particularly interesting for some of the questions it raises. Is this an efficient allocation of resources? What’s the benefit to the patient or healthcare system? I’ve thought a great deal about the case sense then and am interested in learning more about it in the future.”
The great thing about this case was that the majority of attendings that interviewed me hadn’t heard about the case. If they had, they knew very little about it. Almost no one had performed one, so I did get a lot of questions about how exactly the robot was used. Others really latched on to the portion where I mentioned the most efficient allocation of resources and that generated good discussion. This case created substantial excitement any time I spoke about it.
In summary, choose a case in your field that is novel, excites you, or is unique in some way. Prepare before interview season by reading about the case and know the basics. Paint the picture with background details, but focus your response on why the case interests you. Field any followup questions with poise and confidence.
What is the most interesting operative case you have seen? Comment below or contact us directly.