For the 2020-2021 Residency Match Season, the interview process for the thousands of programs across the United States will necessarily be done remotely due to the COVID-19 restrictions that have been put in place generally for Graduate Medical Education (GME). This article describes newly recommended changes and restrictions and offers some guidance for what to expect and how to prepare for video interviews, also known as virtual or remote interviews.
Each year, more than 38,000 applicants participate in the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP). The matching process typically involves interviews conducted by the residency program directors and staff members with prospective applicants. Up until this year, that interview was usually required to be in-person (face-to-face), meaning that the applicant would travel to the location to meet with their prospective colleagues and take a tour of the facilities. Thus, applicants would have to plan and budget for several trips, and they would work with program schedulers to arrange the itinerary. The median number of such trips for US applicants in 2019 was 13, which meant considerable costs for airfare, lodging, meals, and time away from work. (Comparable numbers for IMGs are not available.) For the Couples Match participants, travel logistics can be even more complicated. This year, due to COVID-19, programs are restricting and/or eliminating in-person interviews, even with candidates who are already studying at their own institutions.
When the crisis first started, there was much uncertainty about how to manage the application, interview, and matching process for the 2020-2021 Season. For example, the USMLE Step 2-CS (Clinical Skills) was suspended for 12-18 months, and this required residency programs to work with the AAMC and the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) to develop alternative measures for gauging students’ readiness for residency.
Other aspects of the application and matching process were adjusted as well, including deadlines. By May 2020, the GME community and practitioner organizations had gotten together to formulate recommendations that were aimed at helping programs and applicants have a clear path for the 2020-2021 Match Season.
The Coalition for Physician Accountability convened a Work Group on Medical Students in the Class of 2021 Moving Across Institutions for Post Graduate Training developed a set of recommendations in May 2020 that were aimed at helping programs, students, and practitioners navigate the current situation and urged everyone to “work together to create an equitable, transparent, and successful residency selection cycle.”
Regarding interviews, the Working Group recommended, “that all programs commit to online interviews and virtual visits for all applicants, including local students, rather than in-person interviews for the entire cycle and that the medical education community commit to creating a robust digital environment and set of tools that will yield the best experiences for programs and applicants.”
Based on the Coalition’s recommendations, residency program directors began assessing how to implement the changes necessary at the individual program level, and the key associations of medical specialties began issuing their own recommendations. For example, a group of six family-medicine oriented associations issued a statement that says in part, “[Family Medicine] Programs should exclusively conduct virtual interviews and virtual visits for all applicants, including local applicants, rather than in-person interviews. Care should be taken toward holistic application review and a consistent interview process for candidates to mitigate unconscious bias. We also encourage programs to work closely with their institutional IT officials to put systems in place to address the access to and stability of technology to minimize technology challenges for candidates.”
According to the AAMC, several other specialties have developed their own guidelines for modifications to the application process in light of COVID-19. For example, the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine states, “AAIM strongly recommends residency programs eliminate in-person interviews and adopt virtual platforms to conduct all interviews and site visits, including those for learners at their own institution.” And the American Academy for Neurology recommends that residency programs “Commit to online interviews and virtual visits for all the applicants, including local students, in place of in-person interviews for the entire cycle. This is both to minimize health risks from traveling and to provide an equitable platform for applicants and programs to create a robust virtual environment and share virtual interview best practices.”
By August 2020, most programs were responding to those recommendations and putting in place program-specific action steps. As the interview process normally takes place in the Fall of each year, the guidelines, recommendations, and action steps are (mostly) available just in time for applicants to incorporate into their own preparations.
As the procedures and protocols continue to be refined at the individual program level, medical professionals are looking to other sectors, including business, research, and education, to identify best practices for conducting virtual interviews, virtual tours, and online networking sessions.
It is generally acknowledged that reliance upon video interviewing will have advantages and disadvantages for both programs and applicants alike. For example, one advantage is expected to be reduced costs for all involved. Another is that it can create a more equitable process both for those applicants who cannot afford extensive travel as well as for smaller, remotely situated programs that previously were challenged to attract applicants to visit their locations. Disadvantages might be that interviews are less robust without personal contact. And those participants who are uncomfortable being on camera may feel at a disadvantage.
Applicants can expect that any program that invites them for an interview will be conducting that interview remotely via video or a related online meeting application (e.g., Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Skype, and Team Viewer). They will need to coordinate with the programs to which they are applying (and with which they will be interviewing) to get specific instructions for when and how to set up the interview application with the right hardware and software.
Some schools are convening group sessions with other applicants (and with their team members in addition to one-on-one interviews. So the applicant may need to expect not just one interview session, but several with the same program. This format would be similar to what an applicant might have experienced in person, where a series of meetings would be scheduled with various staff members. Some programs are arranging virtual tours of their campus and/or facilities. Others may allow for chat sessions and/or threaded discussions to keep the conversation going before and after the official interview time frame.
For applicants who may want to have the option to see a program’s operations first hand, it still may be possible to visit the location separately (after the interview and prior to final match selection), but that would have to be addressed in consultation with the program staff and in keeping with state and local guidelines about out-of-state visitors and cross-border travel.
Preparation will vary for each individual and may depend on the requirements of a specific program. In general, as with an in-person interview, interviewing in a virtual environment benefits from adequate attention to detail. The Applicant will want to prepare mentally as well as with regard to his or her physical appearance and style of dress. A major difference when it comes to video interviewing is the technology. Proper installation and testing of the hardware and software in advance is essential to avoid glitches and lapses in communication.
Applicants will also want to choose an attractive setting with a visually pleasing background. Practicing with a friend or colleague who can provide feedback would be helpful. Asking someone with technical expertise and experience in video interaction would also be recommended.The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has put together a set of Virtual Interview Guides, including one for Medical School Applicants, that provides tips and suggestions for how to prepare for and conduct interviews with residency program directors and other interviewers. The guide has sections on not only how to anticipate the format and the questions that may be asked during an interview, but also how to set up and test the technology and the setting for the interview (the environment.) It encourages Applicants to practice ahead of time in order to be able to address any potential technology glitches and to get comfortable in front of the camera.
The AAMC website also includes several Virtual Interview Webinars to help Applicants walk through the process and to better understand what to expect.
A resource provided by the American College of Physicians (ACP), entitled, “Guidelines for the Residency Interview Process,” was developed prior to the current crisis, but still includes a useful checklist for the Applicant. Helpful reminders include what to do prior to and during the interview as well as how best to follow up afterwards.
International Medical Graduates (IMGs) are highly encouraged, especially this year, to seek coaching and guidance services to help them prepare for this important step in their application for US-based residency programs. Even if an IMG is experienced with online interaction and has strong technical skills, it is difficult for even the most seasoned medical school graduate to grasp all the nuances for successful interviewing with any given program or sub-specialty. All of the new requirements and adjustments that are in place for this Match Season make it even more challenging.
Fortunately, IMGPrep LLC is here to help. Our Interview Prep service has garnered extremely high positive reviews on Google Reviews and with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). We have years of experience in working with IMGs in all aspects of the residency application process. We believe that interview prep should be highly personalized, so our process consists of four separate hours of live 1:1 sessions that are conducted online in a video format. This allows us to complete a highly specific guidance experience for each candidate in preparing for interviews.
To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, visit https://www.imgprep.com/medical-residency-interview-preparation-imgs/
For more information about the Interview Process, check out IMG’s (pre-COVID-19) articles that have useful tips and suggestions for a successful outcome: Maximizing the Impact of Your Application from Interview Selection to Ranking! Match 2019-2020 and Residency Interview Important Enough to Prepare with a Coach and 7 Steps to Generate Additional Residency Interviews.