How Prevalent Are Potentially Illegal Questions During Residency Interviews?

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To study the prevalence of potentially illegal questions in residency interviews and to identify the impact of such questions on applicants’ decisions to rank programs.


Using an Electronic Residency Application Service–supported survey, the authors surveyed all applicants from U.S. medical schools to residency programs in five specialties (internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics–gynecology [OB/GYN], and emergency medicine) in 2006–2007. The survey included questions about the frequency with which respondents were asked about gender, age, marital status, couples matching, current children, intent to have children, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, and the effect that such questions had on their decision to rank programs.


Of 11,983 eligible applicants, 7,028 (58.6%) completed a survey. Of respondents, 4,557 (64.8%) reported that they were asked at least one potentially illegal question. Questions related to marital status (3,816; 54.3%) and whether the applicant currently had children (1,923; 27.4%) were most common. Regardless of specialty, women were more likely than men to receive questions about their gender, marital status, and family planning (P < .001). Among those respondents who indicated their specialty, those in OB/GYN (162/756; 21.4%) and general surgery (214/876; 24.4%) reported the highest prevalence of potentially illegal questions about gender. Being asked a potentially illegal question negatively affected how respondents ranked that program.


Many residency applicants were asked potentially illegal questions. Developing a formal interview code of conduct targeting both applicants and programs may be necessary to address the potential flaws in the resident selection process.

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