What Do Residents Look for in Applicants?

Andrew Jensen, MD, MBE | Elizabeth Dennis, MD | Cory Smith, MD

September 16, 2020

When applying to an orthopaedic surgery residency, you will want to impress as many decision makers as possible in order to maximize your chance of successfully matching. A residency’s program director, department chairperson, and faculty members may be the most influential of these decision makers, but the residents can strongly impact the ranking process as well. Therefore, it is in your best interest to impress the residents whenever you interact with them.  (Disclaimer: do not get caught in the mousetrap of residents or faculty implying that you are guaranteed an interview – it is often not in their control at the time of the sub-I to promise this).

So, what exactly are residents looking for in an applicant, and how can you demonstrate these qualities during your time with them? In this post, we will discuss four qualities that residents admire in orthopaedic applicants and some tips for demonstrating that you possess these traits.

Desirable Qualities in Residency Applicants

Ultimately, residents want to know that an applicant will contribute to the well-being and effective functioning of their resident body. A resident body is one large team, and everyone must work well together to optimize the team’s success.


Chief amongst the qualities that signal one will be a great teammate is dependability. Residents must know that you are not the type of person who will skip out on your responsibilities. If you were to fail to complete work, that burden would fall onto your colleagues, and so any indication that this may be the case is a major red flag. A culture of dependability is paramount to the success of the residency and therefore is a highly desirable trait in an applicant.

2Easy to Get Along With

The function of a team is much smoother when everyone enjoys and respects one another and, accordingly, residents look for applicants who are easy to get along with. Eighty-hour work weeks feel much shorter when surrounded by amicable colleagues. You do not need to be best friends with your future co-residents, or fit any certain personality mold, but congeniality is a must.


It goes without saying that being hard-working is critical for accomplishing all of the daily tasks during residency. An excellent work ethic benefits your co-residents and adds to the function of a team and, therefore, is another highly desirable quality in an orthopaedic applicant.

4Excited About Their Program

Lastly, residents look for applicants who are genuinely excited about their program. These applicants are the ones who will take pride in their future residency program and, in turn, work hard to keep it well functioning long after the current residents graduate.

How to Demonstrate These Desirable Qualities During the Application Process

A sub-internship, whether at your home or an away program, is an excellent time to demonstrate these desirable applicant qualities. For example, to demonstrate dependability, never be late or unprepared and always follow up on tasks that are delegated to you. By staying upbeat and refraining from negativity, particularly when working late, you can demonstrate a pleasant disposition. Always demonstrate hard work on your rotation by offering to take on extra responsibilities as appropriate. Most importantly, be a good teammate to everyone you work with, including other potential applicants – nothing shows a lack of teamwork more than butting heads with the other sub-Is in your cohort.

On interview day, some residency programs will have you formally interview with their residents. Whether this interview takes place in person or online, do your best to show that you will be a good teammate. Also, many interviews conclude with time for questions – this is an excellent time to ask well informed questions about the residency. This is particularly true for virtual interviews, as this indicates that you took time to research the program beforehand and are therefore enthusiastic about the program.

Lastly, there will be times when you interact with residents outside of formal clinical or interview settings. These events may include pre- or post-interview dinners, tours, social gatherings, or even conferences. Although these situations may feel less formal, remain cognizant of presenting your best self and continue to demonstrate the qualities that will make you a stellar co-resident.


As an orthopaedic applicant, remember that residents want to find future colleagues who will make excellent teammates by being dependable, easy to get along with, hard-working, and excited about joining their program. Make sure to demonstrate these traits on your rotations, your interview day, and at miscellaneous events to impress your potential future co-residents and optimize your chances of matching!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Dennis This individual reported nothing to disclose Dr. Jensen AAOS: Board or committee member Dr. Smith This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2020 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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