Interviewing for Residency Virtually?

Interviews for Match 2021 will be virtual this year, thanks to COVID-19 and the desire to keep the newest batch of physicians from dying before graduating medical school. Considering the difficulties I (a practicing primary care physician who used to be a web developer) have run into with Zoom and similar services I’m sure most soon-to-be MS4s and OMS4s are reasonably freaked out right now.

There are lot of questions that we can’t answer, but we reached out to several soon-to-be interns, and asked what concerns they have about the virtual match and what questions they’d suggest you ask during your video interviews.

Rabia Osman, MD

Rabia Osman, MD

I would recommend asking difficult questions – you are interviewing the program, too. Show both critical thinking and initiative through your question choices. My questions focused on resident outcomes, future direction of the program, upcoming changes, fellowship opportunities and academic medicine.

Ask about your non-negotiables during the interview. For myself that included resident wellness and overall experiences. I also asked residents what they wished they had asked at their inteviews, and why residents selected *this* program. I also recommend asking the same question multiple times (to faculty, residents, the program director) to observe for consistency. 

This is a daunting time for you – attending virtual interviews to determine your future plans. Use all of the resources at your disposal. Do research – know the programs that you are applying to. If a program selects you for interview, they are interested, they want to know more about you. Use the interview time to further engage. Enjoy the application cycle. Be creative, and have fun. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Julia Eicher, DO

Julia Eicher, DO

This worries me a lot because I already felt that the one day interview experience was barely enough to get a good feel for a place; and that feeling was so crucial. One of my top 3 programs on paper ended up being around number 9 on my rank list because when I went in person I really hated the vibe, which isn’t something you can accurately gauge over Zoom.

For my first few interviews I definitely felt that sense of not wanting to rock the boat, but the reality is you are interviewing the program as much as they are interviewing you. You have a right to know if it’s a place you want to be for three years, and a respectful line of questioning that gets to that point is always a good strategy.

Applicants should ask programs directly, “What do you think I am missing out on by not being there in person? What are the greatest, and not so great aspects of your program that I am not getting to see today?”

Ask how each program has been supporting its residents during the pandemic. When you speak to residents, I would ask these same questions – what am I missing by meeting with you virtually? Has your program been supporting you? Are you happy? That was a question that came up a lot on the interview trail – are you happy? That can be assessed without asking when you meet them in real life, but I think it’s worth explicitly asking, especially in a virtual setting.

Sarah Minney, MD

Sarah Minney, MD

Before I get to questions, my best advice would be practice the technology! Online interviews are totally different than in-person ones and preparation is key. Make sure you know how to troubleshoot the technology you’re using so if something goes wrong on your end you’ll be able to fix it.

For the Program Directors: what culture do you strive for here? How are residents involved in decision making about the program? What made you decide to be PD here?

For the Faculty: What is your teaching mantra/teaching culture of the program? What made you decide to be faculty here? What are changes/improvements that have been made to the program and what do you hope will change in the future?

For the Residents: How are residents supported by faculty/program director? Is there anything you wish you had known about the program before you started? What is your (obstetrics, procedural, rural, etc, whatever your interest is) experience like here? What is it like living in (town/city/state)? What do you do for fun?

Florence Yuan, MD

Florence Yuan, MD

Definitely ask how programs have been responding to COVID-19 and what protections they have in place for residents. How a program responds and how residents feel about that response says a lot about the culture of the program. Asking everyone you meet about perceived weaknesses and areas of improvement can be illuminating as well.

I asked program directors and faculty what characteristics they look for in potential residents and what characteristics they feel help residents succeed and thrive. These questions helped me understand the PD/faculty’s vision and how they wanted to shape their program, and gave me insight into how I might, or might not, fit.

T. Austin Witt, MD

T. Austin Witt, MD

One of my favorite questions for all members of the program was, “If you could imbue every incoming intern with one quality or characteristic what would it be and why?

It really helped me tease out the culture and identity of a program. If the answer was something generic like “hardworking” or “inquisitive”, it usually outed the program as lacking a core identity or mission compared to when you got thoughtful answers such as “a heart for service”, “empathetic communicators”, or “open-minded problem solvers”.

Clare O’Grady, DO, MPH

Clare O'Grady, DO, MPH

I asked Program Directors “What changes does your program have coming in the pipeline in one year? In five years?” They may include information on their COVID-19 response, which is telling of their adaptability and how much value they put in their residents’ and patients’ safety.

I also like to ask what alumnae of the program reflect back to the PD about perceived strengths or weaknesses in their residency education, now that they’re practicing physicians.

Online interviews will unfortunately also take away from that “gut feeling” response candidates can find touring the hospital. Therefore, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask candid questions to residents during their online interviews (to try and replace that in-person understanding for the program environment).

Asking residents questions about opportunities to bond with their co-residents outside of the clinical setting, perceived support from their attendings and program staff, and relationships with nurses and other ancillary staff in the clinic and hospital may be good inquiries for M4s to have in their armament.

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