No. 18: I got caught dancing during residency interviews

7 minute read

Medical School:

He wouldn’t smile at me. No matter how charismatic or funny I thought I was being, his facial expression didn’t change. He was the director of a dermatology program that I was very interested in, and though I was halfway through my 20-minute interview with him, I had not sensed a single moment of connection. 

This was particularly frustrating for me, because I had made it my personal goal to make each interviewer laugh (or cry! I tell such moving life stories *wink*), and until this point I had succeeded. *NOTE: Don’t try this at home. If jokes aren’t naturally your thing, interviews aren’t the time to experiment, you might just offend someone. Just saying.*

I had basically given up hope that I could turn the interview around, until he said, “I see on your application that you write and perform poetry.” He looked up at me dryly.

“Yes, I do!” I smiled. Ask me to perform a poem! ASK ME TO PERFORM A POEM!

“I’d like to hear one.”

YES! I KNOW I’ll get some emotion out of him with this one! I know, I know,  it seems weird that I was actually excited to perform a poem in an interview. For context, this was my third dermatology interview, and I had already been asked to perform during every interview before this. The first time it happened I was thrown off; Which poem will I do?! All my poems are like 5 minutes long! And all about controversial topics! Gahhh! However, the first time went really well (the interviewer cried). After that, I was ready. I picked a moving poem that was not politically controversial, and cut it down to 60 seconds long.

I proceeded to pour my heart out in the form of my perfectly memorized, well curated, highly emotional poem and then… nothing. He didn’t smile, didn’t cry, didn’t clap. Nothing. 

“Thank you for your time,” he said, looking at his watch. “We’re done here, you have about 4 minutes to make it down the hall to your next interviewer.”

At most of the programs I went to, the interview day consisted of up to 10 short interviews in different rooms with one or more faculty members each time. I walked to my next interview room feeling defeated, trying to pull together the energy to be the best version of myself, again.

A few hours later, a staff member knocked on the door of one of my interviews, whispered something to the dermatologist interviewing me, and then left. She looked a bit puzzled when she said, “The program director would like to see you in his office right now. Our interview will be cut short, but it was a pleasure meeting you!”

As I walked back to his office, my mind was reeling. Did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble? OMG what does he want?

I knocked on his door gingerly and entered. “I was told you wanted to see me again?”

“Yes, sit down,” he said. I sat, and he closed the door behind me. “The poem that you shared with me earlier… it… moved me.” His face remained blank, unchanged from before. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and I’ve decided that I want you to perform it in front of everyone at lunch today.”

I gulped. “Excuse me?”

“You will perform that poem at lunch today, in front of the faculty, residents, and other applicants.” He turned away from me and started writing something down. I stared at him in disbelief. He turned partially toward me and made a dismissive wave with his hand, gesturing for me to leave the room.

I left his office and went to the nearest bathroom. Perform a poem in front of everyone? As an applicant?? On the interview day??? I felt that at BEST, it would be humiliating because interview lunches, with everyone wearing full suits and feeling nervous about their interactions with others,  are simply not the forum for passionate spoken-word poetry, such as the piece I had shared with the program director earlier (an emotional poem about colorism). At WORST, it would make me look like a show-off, like I had actually asked to perform, or like the program director was playing favorites. Applicants might think I was a total douche-bag (excuse my French), and I would still have to interact with many of them over and over again at other interviews. For these reasons, in addition to the general interview-season jitters, I WAS FREAKING OUT. 

I called the guy I was dating at the time (we’ll call him Cooper) and told him the situation quickly. “What should I do?” I croaked.

“Go back to his office and tell him you don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Cooper said emphatically. “That’s so inappropriate. The answer is no. He can’t force you.”

So I did just that. I marched back to his office, knocked on the door and entered. “Hello again, Sir, I’ve been thinking about what you asked me to do and… I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”

“Why not?” he gave me a look that said caution yourself.

“I just feel like it would give the wrong impression to the other applicants. It might make me look like a show off.”

“Well, are you?”

“No, sir.”

“Then there’s no issue here.”

I took a deep breath. “I think it might look to them as though you’re playing favorites.”

“Well… I’m not. It’s a moving poem. They should hear it. I would highlight their talents too, but we can’t very well drag a basketball hoop in here and have people play, or bring an easel for those who paint. Your talent is easy to display. That is all.”

“I understand,” I said. “But I’m sorry, I still don’t feel comfortable.”

“You’ll do it,” he responded dismissively. “I’ll call you up at lunch. Please head to your next interview before you are late.” And with that, he turned his back to me and worked on his computer.

I returned to the bathroom (my new safe haven) in disbelief. I felt defeated for the second time that day. If I refuse to do the poem, I might as well leave the interview now, I thought. This is the program director. I can’t refuse. I then thought of how the other applicants would feel if I performed. I thought of Cooper, and how ashamed I would be to tell him at the end of the day that I meekly did what the program director asked, instead of standing up for myself. I thought of my journey to dermatology thus far, and all the fears I had… the fear that I wasn’t good enough, the fear I wasn’t smart enough, the fear that I wouldn’t match. I started to feel hot. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt faint and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. I knew that I was starting to have a panic attack (because it had been happening occasionally since my second year of medical school). I also knew that if I didn’t find a way to stop it, I wouldn’t be able to complete the interview. Someone would come in the bathroom, see me freaking out, and take me to the emergency room, or something equally embarrassing. So…

I frantically pulled out my cell phone, picked a random Gucci Mane song on Spotify (don’t judge me HAHA) and… started to twerk in front of the mirror. A full on, bent over, skirt-hiked-up, let-me-see-you-get-loose dancing session.  And I laughed at myself so hard I cried. And my breathing slowed down. And my chest didn’t hurt any more. I got myself together, and walked out of the bathroom with my head held high.

This became my anti-stress coping strategy for the rest of my interview season. 

Like the time I went into an interview at a program, and the faculty member didn’t ask me a SINGLE question, just talked about themselves the whole time: TWERK. 

Each time the following exchange happened:
Person: “Which medical school do you go to?”
Me: “University of Illinois at Chicago”
Person: “OH! University of Chicago! Such a great program!”
Me: “No, not University of Chicago. University of Illinois at Chicago.”
Person: *Blinks*
Me: “It’s another medical school in Chicago. Down the street.”
(Knowing that many of them only knew University of Chicago because it was ranked higher than my medical school. UIC all day though baby!!!)
Person: *Disappointed look* “Ohhhhhhh. Yeah. OK, great.”

The times when I tried to be friendly to other applicants on the interview trail, and I got ignored:

The time I was walking out of an interview and my suit jacket got caught on the door and ripped:

The time a faculty member asked me in an interview why the dermatology program at my home school was “so bad”… Yes. Elitist jerks really asked questions like this.

The time I flew into a city the night before an interview with plans to stay at a friend’s house, but she didn’t answer any of my calls and I didn’t have her address OR any money for a nice hotel so I had to book a disgusting room in a roach-motel at the last minute:

The time I was extremely late to an interview because the program had two campuses and I went to the wrong one:

Looking at my credit-card statements towards the end of interview season:

On one particularly stressful interview day, as I was dancing to keep from crying in front of the bathroom mirror, another applicant walked in. She was a short, brunette girl with dark green eyes and a bright smile. I had seen her on multiple interviews, but we had never spoken to each other before. She looked at me, my leg propped up on the sink and trap music playing from my phone. I looked back at her, embarrassed. And then… we both just burst into intense laughter, as she joined me to finish out the dance session. Later, she told me that it became her anti-stress strategy too.

If you are wondering if I performed my poem at the lunch for that interview I talked about earlier, I’m slightly ashamed to say: Yes, I did. I simply didn’t have the heart to refuse when he called my name in front of everyone. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and quite frankly humiliating. Luckily for me, many applicants came up to me afterwards saying things like “Man, that must have been so awkward for you! I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Amazing poem though.” I got lots of compassion and sympathy, instead of people thinking I was attention-seeking or a suck-up. It was still a net-negative experience though. Next time something like that happens to me, I’m saying no. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to go to a program with a director like that anyway.

For those of you in the midst of interviews right now, know this: it will turn out OK. IT WILL TURN OUT OK! You’ll make it through, you’ll match, you’ll graduate, and you’ll become a well-trained physician in your field of choice. You’ll look back on the struggle days and chuckle. I’m proud of you, finish strong!

Until next time,

Dr. Oye

10 Replies to “No. 18: I got caught dancing during residency interviews”

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