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Discriminatory questions asked during residency programme interviews: perspective from both interviewers and applicants
  1. Elizabeth Harkin1,
  2. Michael Murphy1,
  3. Tomas Liskutin1,
  4. Lukas Nystrom2,
  5. Karen Wu1,
  6. Adam Schiff1
  1. 1 Orthopaedic Surgery, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois, USA
  2. 2 Orthopaedic Surgery, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
  1. Correspondence to Michael Murphy, Orthopaedic Surgery, Loyola University Medical Center, 2160 S 1st Ave., Maywood, IL 60153-5590, USA; mmurphy12{at}


Background The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) policy requires interview officials to refrain from asking illegal or coercive questions that may introduce discrimination; however, compliance is insufficient.

Method An Institutional Review Board-approved 12 question survey was distributed to 130 allopathic medical schools with 551 responses from 18 187 students applying in the 2015–2016 residency match. In addition, a 16-question survey was distributed through residency coordinators to residency programme interviewers with 481 responses from 21 of 22 residency specialities.

Results Discriminatory topics were frequently discussed across all specialities. Surgical interviews were significantly more likely to discuss age (relative risk (RR) 2.0, p<0.01) and gender (RR 2.7, p<0.01) during formal interviews. More-competitive specialities more frequently discussed age (RR 1.9, p<0.01) and gender (RR 2.0, p<0.01) during the formal interview, and gender (RR 1.4, p<0.05) during informal interview events. 47.8% of interviewers discussed potentially coercive topics during the interview, 57.5% considered these topics when evaluating candidates and 72.6% had misunderstandings. Interviewers given both oral and written instruction showed the greatest effect change towards discussing coercive topics (p<0.01) and correctly identifying non-discriminatory and discriminatory topics (p<0.01). While age and gender both constitute discriminatory topics, each of these topics is included in the majority of written The Electronic Residency Application System applications (85.5% and 89.8%, respectively).

Conclusions In modern recruitment where differential attainment is of interest, the presence of such explicit discrimination is worrisome. Formal interview training might reduce discrimination, but more active overnight is needed and a zero-tolerance approach to overt discrimination should be the ambition.

  • Discriminatory questions
  • Illegal questions
  • Residency applicants
  • National Resident Matching Program
  • The Electronic Residency Application System

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  • Contributors All authors substantially contributed to the conception of the work, analysis, interpretation of data, drafting the work, revising it critically, final approval of the version to be published and agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or non-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.