Interview Tips from the PEMNetwork

We’re deep into interview season for PEM fellowships. In addition, many senior fellows are back on the interview trail looking for the perfect job(!). Since none of us completed that “How to actually interview for PEM” elective rotation, we asked our PEMNetwork staff of PEM faculty from around the country about how to get the most out of your interview day. Here is what they said.

Know something about your interviewer.

todd-changTodd Chang, CHLA: Do a background search (not the criminal kind, though) on your interviewers and find out a bit about their clinical and non-clinical academic interests. It will better frame the discussion because you will know if your interviewer can offer support for your intended career. Even if there is nothing in common, they may recommend someone. If the interviewer can’t recommend anyone, that’s very useful information too!

If you want to meet someone specific at your interview day, be proactive.

Marc Auerbach, Yale: If you have a particular area of interest, request an interview with that individual. Or at least try to find a time to meet them on the day before or after the session.

Brad SoboBrad Sobolewski, Cincinnati Children’s: Reach out to the program leadership and coordinators well in advance. Don’t wait until the day of to ask to meet a specific person. Schedules are tight. Giving busy faculty 2-3 weeks to find time to meet with a motivated applicant will help make sure the interview day is filled with maximum contact with people who will be able to help you form an accurate impression.

Make it an inside job.

dkDavid Kessler, Columbia: Invoke 6 degrees of separation. If you look close enough, we all have somebody at each place who we are connected to. For example, consider alumni from medical school or residency. Reach out to that person and say you’ll be in town and see if you can grab coffee. This can really help go get a sense of the culture and may even create some buzz about you.

Your first interviewer should be you.

Brad: Anyone who is going for an interview (PEM or otherwise) should answer the following question about themselves:

  1. What gets under your skin the most about (chosen field)
  2. How will you go about fixing it.

I think this creates a thematic starting point for career-niche development. Interviewers don’t want to just hear that you think sepsis is bad and that you had a cool case. We want to know why you can’t stand that we aren’t recognizing it fast enough or why treatment is sometimes delayed. This is essentially about creating the “elevator pitch” for who want to be in PEM. You should be able to explain who you are, what you want to do, and who you want to be in a succinct and concise manner.

Think about how you are different than other applicants.

Todd: Every applicant probably wants great clinical experience, procedures, resuscitations, ultrasound, global health, QI, and education. But are there unique questions within these fields that you’d like to explore? How do you want to improve in any of those fields?

Don’t let your interview feel like a daylong sprint.

lumba_angela_0_0_0Angela Lumba-Brown, Washington University: Approach your interview with the enthusiasm of a marathon runner. The interview days are long. All too often candidates can’t stop yawning post-lunch, which doesn’t leave a warm fuzzy feeling despite an interviewer’s empathy. You get one shot on the interview so nail it.

The whole visit is an interview.

marcMarc: Treat everyone from the parking attendant to the front desk staff, fellows, residents, co-applicants with respect and as if they are interviewing you. we have had a few applicants who really “let loose” at lunch with language/disrespectful behavior. These things are noticed and come up later.

Treat your interview like an interview.

Todd: I tend to be more specific and detail-oriented. So folks who are looking to just chat and talk are in for a tough time.

BrianWagersBrian Wagers, Riley Children’s: Using concrete examples from your career/fellowship/residency/life during an interview helps you better express the idea you want to get across. And if you’re asking a question, relating your question to an example makes your question easier to understand.

Back up your ideas with your own experience.

S TatSonny Tat, UCSF: Connecting at least some of your answers intelligently to your own real experience or skill demonstrates both some personal insight and shows that you are speaking more than abstractly. Anyone can say anything but being able to back up what you’re saying with supporting evidence makes your grand ideas seem plausible.

Interviews may open other doors down the road.

maneeshaManeesha Agarwal, Emory: Interviews are an awesome way to connect with individuals in PEM that you will hear from over the course of their career. Don’t burn bridges, because you may that former interviewer is now the division chief! Interviews are a way to connect with people and potentially garner new opportunities in the future. I interviewed at Boston Medical Center for fellowship and really clicked with one of their fellows. I didn’t go to there for fellowship but fast forward 6 years, she’s now joined my division as an attending!

Some general dos and don’ts of interviewing to consider. Always.


  • DO NOT come off as stressed or crazy—Even if you have a crappy day and flights delayed and snow in your boots.
  • DO enjoy your day and time.
  • DO NOT reiterate your CV and publications/personal statement (They will have read them) .
  • DO be honest. If you are thinking location Q is not ideal for you and have concerns because family is on other side of country explore that before the interview and have an answer to those sort of questions.
  • DO NOT B.S. If you do not know what you want to do and are undifferentiated that is okay. You can say that. When you say you want to grow up to be like all four of your interviewers, this comes up in our discussions.

But what I really want to know: Do people still write thank you notes?

David: Nobody expects a thank you afterwards but everyone appreciates it. It’s like bringing wine to a dinner party. And email is acceptable. Handwritten notes are nicer but don’t always reach people in the hospital mail system.

Angela: I like receiving thank you notes but maybe it’s just me. Coming for a second look shows dedication.

Only do it if you mean it.

Marc: If you are excited about the program let them know but if you are not do not fake it (we can tell). Avoid sending the same stock thank you note to all programs. If you do write them, make them personal.

David: They say thank you notes don’t matter and that’s mostly true. But I’ve seen some game time decisions go to the person who wrote a nice (and genuine) thank you.

Good luck on your interviews! Let us know your own tips for interviewing on our Facebook page or by commenting below.

Sonny Tat

Sonny Tat

Assistant Clinical Professor at University of California at San Francisco
Sonny's academic interests are in team performance in resuscitation, developing learning platforms for medical education, and transitioning academics to the digital age. Sonny created PEMAcademy, a collaborative regional blog for PEM education and is the Editor-In-Chief of the PEMNetwork Blog. His hobbies include photography and cooking.
Sonny Tat
Sonny Tat

Sonny Tat

Sonny's academic interests are in team performance in resuscitation, developing learning platforms for medical education, and transitioning academics to the digital age. Sonny created PEMAcademy, a collaborative regional blog for PEM education and is the Editor-In-Chief of the PEMNetwork Blog. His hobbies include photography and cooking.