028 – #Medsessions – Dr. Ted O’Connell – Residency Interview Tips and Future of Medical Education

In this podcast, we gained insight to the secrets behind being a successful candidate during residency interviews and the future of medical education. Dr. Ted O’Connell gives us advice on how to approach residency interviews, the best way to review red flags in an application, the importance of board scores, and tips for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2. Moreover, Dr. Ted O’Connell introduces a new platform, ExamCircle, which medical students can use to crush their boards.

Q & A:

Q: What are your Top Residency Interview Tips?

A: Dr. O’Connell explains that residency program directors start by assessing each candidate to determine if they would make a great clinician and how that individual would work in a team. Below are some questions and thoughts that program directors think about when assessing a candidates:

Is this candidate best suited for this program?

Program directors are trying to assess the qualities they would want to see in their own physicians. These qualities include good bedside manner, communication skills, decent personality (sense of humor and warmth).

It’s important to note that program directors know what everyone will not have every personality trait. The key is to be an individual others would be comfortable having as a physician.

Are they passionate about [field of interest]?

Program directors want to know your story and care heavily about your personal statement and activities. They are seeking to have a conversation with you and may ask a variety of different questions, ranging from your hobbies to your academic work, such as volunteering, leadership, and research.

Additionally, program directors assess whether a candidates whole application comes together. If a candidate made a residency change, they must be able to explain the reason behind it.

Q: How should an interviewee address red flags in the application?

A: Dr. O’Connell explains that the applicant should know everything in their profile. Most applicants can read their dean’s letter and should prioritize in doing so. He also explains that applicants should sign away their rights to read letter of recommendations. The key points about red flags according to Dr. O’Connell are below:

Don’t get caught by surprise by a negative comment in an evaluation. Own it.

If you know it’s there, you can bring it up in an interview. For example, an applicant can say, “I want to explain the negative comments in my [speciality] rotation.” Talk about the experience and show that you have put it behind you. Explain what you learned from it and reassure program directors that they will not see that performance if you end up working with them.

Do not make excuses. Take responsibility and end it on a positive note.

Any failure, whether its exams, shelf, boards, or something personal, explain you went after the problem. This shows depth and maturity to the interviewee and gives them ease in your future performance.

Q: How important are board scores when it comes to residency?

A: Dr. O’Connell explains that it is dependent on the program you have applied for. Some programs focus more on board scores but many other programs focus on activities, research, and volunteer work. Additionally, he explains that some programs look more at Step 1 but many other programs look more at Step 2 CK because it’s a clinical exam and a better predictor of clinical skills.

Q: What is ExamCircle?

A: Question banks are expensive and eat up a huge amount of money. ExamCircle began with my partner, Matt Harris, 2.5 years ago and is a source that is completely FREE for medical students. This platform contains high quality and high yield questions. Currently, there are 1,400 questions for USMLE Step 1 and we are working on Step 2 questions.

Q: What are the best tips for studying for Step 1 and Step 2?

A: Dr. O’Connell explains that there is a “real wealth” of material on how to approach studying. Because of this, it is possible to see similar questions on the real exam. Below are the tips he states:

“Doing First Aid and World is the magic bullet.”

Buy Crush Step 1 because it will help you understand the material, which leads to better performance.

The best approach would be to start with Crush Step 1 and use that alongside your course. Buy FirstAid shortly after. Then, plan a study schedule and make sure you understand each question in UWorld and FirstAid.

Dr. O’Connell also states that while studying for boards, it is important to socialize, eat well, and sleep on time. “Focusing on wellness is key to do well,” he states.

To get in contact with Dr. O’Connell and learn more about him, follow him on his social media, visit his website, and listen to his podcast on USMLE Step 2 Secrets.



Social Media:

Twitter – @TedOConnell

IG: @TedOConnellMD


USMLE Step 2 Secrets (available on Apple Podcasts).

For study resources, visit:




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