Application and Interview Advice from UAB Emergency Medicine Program Director Dr. Charles Khoury

In the next installment in our series of interviews with program directors across the country, we had the chance to speak with Dr. Charles Khoury, the program director of the emergency medicine residency program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Read below to hear his thoughts on the challenges of this application cycle and on what you need to do to succeed with your residency application!

What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director?

The biggest challenge in the application cycle this year is having to find a new way to do almost everything. In a sense, it’s like reinventing the wheel. Program directors have a level of comfort with the ‘old’ way we did things. This year we will all be adapting to a new way of screening and interviewing residency applications. In the past, we’ve taken for granted the impact of sitting face to face with an applicant and having an organic, free-flowing conversation. Zoom will make this more challenging this year. An additional challenge is that the new system does not allow applicants to really see and experience Birmingham and all the wonderful things it has to offer. It doesn’t allow for the opportunity of visiting our medical center and visualizing yourself as a resident in our program.  

Dr. Charles Khoury, Program Director, UAB Emergency Medicine
With applicants not being able to interview in person, they lack the ability to show off their interpersonal skills, manners, and overall demeanor in person. Is there a way that they can still manage to do this during this application cycle?

There’s absolutely still a way to do this. My advice is to ‘stick the landing’ when it comes to Zoom. Treat it like it’s an in-person interview. Dress the part, set the tone with a really nice, well-lit physical background (a well-lit wall or a painting you like). Invest in the lighting, use a wired ethernet connection rather than WIFI if this is an option for you. Turn all distractions off (fans in the background, colorful aquariums, etc.). Change out all smoke alarm batteries ahead of time. But the most important piece of advice with regards to Zoom is proper lighting. Do whatever it takes.

UAB Emergency Medicine
Will standardized tests scores become more important this year? Less important? The same?

Standardized testing scores will likely become more important this year. Traditionally, letters from visiting rotations were counted quite highly in the application process. Now that students aren’t doing visiting rotations, something will likely fill the scoring void resulting from the lack of visiting rotation letters. I suspect that scores may come more into play because of this. On the bright side, personal statements, CVs, and letters from other specialties will mean more this year than they may have in previous years. At the end of the day, we’re going to look closely at the entire application. Specifically, we will be looking for themes. Does this person demonstrate consistent leadership skills? Does this student seem to be an incredibly hard worker based on her CV and her extra-curriculars? Does this applicant have a track record of teamwork and sportsmanship given his history of high-level competitive sports? We’ll be looking for patterns in all the applications we review this year.

“The goal is to make the interviewer visualize you as one of their residents.”

Dr. Charles Khoury, Program Director, UAB Emergency Medicine
Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

To put it simply, program directors are more likely to rank applicants highly if they are able to visualize them as excellent residents in their programs. Home students are sometimes easier to visualize being successful at their home programs, and unconscious bias may affect this. But ‘away’ applicants can quickly make up ground by doing a few things. First, it always helps if the applicant explains why they are looking at a particular program, or asks questions about where residents live and hang out. The goal is to make the interviewer visualize you as one of their residents. Familiarity with a program is nice, but so is knowing a lot about the program, the hospital, the city, and the food scene. Program directors can usually spot the most interested applicants, and this year, interest is key.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an applicant when it comes to how to succeed during the application cycle of 2021?

Be as genuine, honest, and transparent as you can be. Prepare well for each interview. Read each program’s website, watch their videos, and even play around on Zillow in their area. Email the residents. Call friends who have friends who are residents there. Figure out what you really, really want in a program. But at the end of the day, trust your gut. It’s what got you here!

Thank you so much to Dr. Khoury for taking the time to share his thoughts about his expectations for this upcoming interview cycle! Stay tuned for our next interview, where we speak with a program director at one of the top OB/GYN residencies in the country. If you missed any of the previous interviews and want to know how you can maximize your potential during this upcoming interview cycle, click on the links below!

Back to other program director interviews.

Back to more tips for applying to residency.

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