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Making the Most of Your Physical Therapy Residency Interview – Part 2

Learn how to distinguish ones self from other top-notch physical therapy residency interview candidates, and prepare for the most commonly asked questions. Part 2 of the series also serves to assist the interviewee in developing questions to ask during the physical therapy residency interview. For more physical therapy residency interview content, please refer to Making the Most of Your Physical Therapy Residency Interview, Part 1 – an overview of interview preparation, trip planning, interview day tips, and post-interview suggestions.


By the time you’ve reached the interview you’re essentially up against clones of yourself. All the candidates look like rockstar physical therapists on paper. The key to being a memorable candidate is in how you distinguish yourself from others. This may seem easy, but is often challenging for the most commonly asked questions.

To get a better idea of what I mean, answer the following question:

  • Common Question
  • Generic Answer
  • Distinguishable Answer
Why do you want to be a physical therapy resident?
Most of us want to become physical therapy residents for the same reason – to “gain knowledge,” “help people,” “improve patient care,” and so forth. Although truthful, these answers are generic, non-distinguishable, and non-memorable.
The key to distinguishing yourself is to elaborate on the aforementioned responses by showing you have spent time in introspection. Meaning, you understand how your experiences have shaped you and influenced your decisions about choosing a physical therapy residency.

As you prepare for your physical therapy residency interview, spend some time reflecting on your past and how you arrived at this point. By all means, still take the time to highlight the accomplishments on your resume that make you unique. Then complement those answers with the experiences that you wouldn’t necessarily see in a resume, CV, or personal statement. Ask yourself some of these questions:

      1. What is your story?
      2. What in life influenced your decision to become a physical therapist? To pursue a physical therapy residency in this specialty area?
      3. Besides physical therapy, what do you have in your life that you feel passionate about?
      4. What have you done in your life that shows you are hard-working and dedicated?
      5. What is your vision of your life as a specialized physical therapist?

Remember, people will not remember everything you say, but they will remember how they felt when you spoke.


The first step to nailing your physical therapy residency interview is to have a clear idea of who you are and what you want. At this point in the application process this may seem intuitive. However, the most simplistic questions are usually the ones candidates will fumble over during the interview. Review the following points from Part I either the night before or morning of the interview:

      • Refer back to your “Top 5 Plan.”
      • Review your list of top strengths, goals, values, and accomplishments.
      • Review your application and be prepared to discuss anything you mentioned.

The next step to having a successful physical therapy residency interview is making a list of potential questions. Practice your answers ahead of time. Some questions that are often overlooked but require special attention include:

      • “How are you today?” – This question screens for individuals whose demeanor stays upbeat, even under adversity. So always respond positively.
      • “Do you have any questions for us?” – This is an interview question and the answer is always YES! Prepare questions that show your knowledge and interest in the company. When this question begins an interview, ask questions that highlight your strengths and knowledge of the specialty. If you cannot think of anything, ask something you think you may know the answer to. Better to ask a question than to not ask one at all and risk seeming uninterested.
      • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” – First, answer the question about your strengths concisely. As for the weaknesses, you are basically being asked to jump off a cliff of your own design. All you need to do is redesign the cliff.
            • Think about what character flaws your colleagues might approve of. Pick one that is fixable.
            • Describe your weakness in a neutral way without sounding negative or defensive.
            • Finally, describe how you have taken initiative to improve on your area of weakness. Formulate the answer to demonstrate your motivation to be the best clinician you can be.

Other commonly and not-so-commonly asked questions

      • Tell me about yourself (keep it brief).
      • Why are you interested in this specialty?
      • Are you considering any other specialty?
      • Why are you interested in our program?
      • What are you looking for in a physical therapy residency program?
      • What makes you unique? Why should we choose you? What can you contribute to our program?
      • What is your greatest strength clinically? Behaviorally?
      • What characteristics do you think a successful resident should have?
      • Present an interesting case that you had.
      • Present a challenging case that you had.
      • Tell me about a patient encounter that taught you something.
      • Describe a person you admire.
      • Tell me about… Item(s) on your resume, transcript, essays, etc.
      • Be prepared to discuss any deficiencies on your record, but do not mention if not asked.
      • Describe your learning style.How do you manage your stress?
      • What do you do in your spare time?
      • Give me an example of a time when you had a conflict with another person. How did you handle it?
      • What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
      • Teach me something non-medical in 30 seconds. (Yes, I was asked this question.)
      • Sell me this pen. (And this one, too.)



Remember these basic points when asking questions:

      • Everyone who applies for a physical therapy residency is seeking something different in a program. So it is imperative to develop a set of questions that will extract the information you need to assess the program. Use the wants/needs list you outlined earlier (refer to part I) to generate questions that must be answered during your visit. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
      • A typical list of questions should be general and specific. General questions would be those questions you would ask at every interview. Specific questions would be those that are program specific.
      • Divide questions into those for appropriate personnel: Residency director, Clinic director, Current residents, faculty, etc.
      • Demonstrate your knowledge of the specialty by formulating questions based on latest issues within the specialty, as well as advances in research.
      • Don’t forget to ask questions that give you a sense of the work environment, community, and culture. Will you be in an environment that will enable you to succeed? Can you afford to live in that area?
      • Don’t ask questions about information already on the residency program’s website. Instead, start by talking about the website and ask a related question.

Questions to ask during the physical therapy residency interview
Questions for the Program Director:

      • What makes this program unique?
      • What are the greatest strengths of the program?
      • Tell me about areas needing improvement?
      • What is the pass rate on board exams?
      • Have you ever had any residents leave the program? If so, why?
      • Do you foresee any changes to the program within the next 3 years?
      • Are there any opportunities for research?
      • Are there any ongoing research investigations?
      • What are your research interests?
      • Does the program enable flexibility in order for me to achieve my residency goals and objectives?
      • What qualities or characteristics should a resident possess in order to be successful in this program?
      • What careers paths have previous residents taken after completing this residency program?
      • Are there any teaching opportunities?
      • How are physical therapy residents evaluated? How often? By whom?

Questions for the Clinic Director:

      • How well do the faculty and/or staff, and residents get along?
      • What is the patient mix and what are the community demographics?
      • What are the clinical, non-clinical, and administrative responsibilities of the resident?
      • Are residents required to supervise DPT or PTA students? If so, to what extent?
      • What is a typical workweek like? How many hours are spent in the clinic, teaching, covering events, mentoring, etc.?
      • How does an evaluation count towards productivity?
      • What are the productivity standards?
      • How much time is set aside for evaluations? A follow-up visit?
      • How many evaluations do your therapists perform each day?
      • What other disciplines are on staff (e.g., PTA, SLP, OT)?
      • On an average day, how many patients will I see?
      • How many units a day do you expect your therapists to bill?
      • What is your policy on professional development/continuing education?
      • What type of clinician succeeds here?
      • How do you record documentation?
      • How long does it take the average therapist to become proficient with this system?

Questions for current or past residents:

      • Why did you choose this program?
      • Where else did you apply?
      • How much experience did you have practicing in a particular setting prior to applying for a residency program?
      • What have you enjoyed most about the program?
      • What do you feel are the strengths/weaknesses of this program?
      • If you could change one thing, what would it be?
      • How available/supportive is your mentor(s) and/or program director?
      • How much time is dedicated to mentoring on a weekly basis?
      • Are you receiving adequate feedback?
      • What is the patient population I will see?
      • Do you like the city? What are the financial implications of living here?
      • Do you feel that the residency curriculum prepared you for the board exam? Were there any areas that you were weak in?
      • Did you use any other resources to assist in preparing for the board exam?

General questions: 

      • What do you look for in a candidate?
      • How much time is dedicated to mentoring?
      • What is this physical therapy residency program most known for?
      • If working in a sports setting – What other disciplines will I have interaction with? What sports will I be covering? How much interaction will I have with the athletes? What will my role be on-field and in the training room?
      • What is the patient mix? Describe the community demographics?
      • What kind of community outreach might I be involved in?
      • What is the relationship between this program and other specialties? Area physicians/surgeons?
      • Outside of the day-to-day residency objectives, what other learning opportunities are available through this program?


Question for the reader:
What was the most off-the-wall question you were asked during a physical therapy residency interview?


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About Shanon Fronek

Shanon Fronek
Dr. Shanon Fronek completed her B.S. in Biology at Wilmington College in 2011 and graduated from the University of Dayton in 2014 as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Currently, she is working towards becoming a Sports Certified Specialist while completing the Sports Residency program at Saint Francis University. Dr. Fronek also holds a leadership position within the Sports Physical Therapy Section on the Public Relations Committee.

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