How Prevalent Are Potentially Illegal Questions During Residency Interviews? A Follow-up Study of Applicants to All Specialties in the National Resident Matching Program

Acad Med. 2016 Nov;91(11):1546-1553. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001181.


Purpose: To describe the prevalence and effects on applicants of being asked potentially illegal questions during the residency interview process by surveying all residency applicants to all specialties.

Method: The authors surveyed all applicants from U.S. medical schools to residency programs in all specialties in 2012-2013. The survey included questions about the prevalence of potentially illegal questions, applicants' level of comfort with such questions, and whether such questions affected how applicants ranked programs. Descriptive statistics, tests of proportions, t tests, and logistic regression modeling were used to analyze the data.

Results: Of 21,457 eligible applicants, 10,976 (51.1%) responded to the survey. Overall, 65.9% (7,219/10,967) reported receiving at least one potentially illegal question. More female respondents reported being asked questions about gender (513/5,357 [9.6%] vs. 148/5,098 [2.9%]), marital status (2,895/5,283 [54.8%] vs. 2,592/4,990 [51.9%]), or plans for having children (889/5,241 [17.0%] vs. 521/4,931 [10.6%]) than male respondents (P < .001). Those in surgical specialties were more likely to have received a potentially illegal question than those in nonsurgical specialties (1,908/2,330 [81.9%] vs. 5,311/8,281 [64.1%]). Questions regarding their commitment to the program were reported by 15.5% (1,608/10,378) of respondents. Such potentially illegal questions negatively affected how respondents ranked programs.

Conclusions: Two-thirds of applicants reported being asked potentially illegal questions. More women than men reported receiving questions about marital status or family planning. Potentially illegal questions negatively influence how applicants perceive and rank programs. A formal interview code of conduct or interviewer training could help to address these issues.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Internship and Residency / standards
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Interviews as Topic / standards
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • School Admission Criteria / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult