Virtual residency interviews may be on the horizon given the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic.
Changes to the traditional residency application and interview process are inevitable during the Covid-19 pandemic. This will become especially apparent within the next few months. Several national organizations have already begun to recommend that residency interviews be conducted remotely. The changes are unprecedented and may require applicants to adopt new strategies this upcoming cycle. This article discusses some of the pros and cons of residency interviews being conducted remotely.
You will save a ton of money! It has been reported that neurosurgery applicants interview at 20 programs and spend close to $10,000 for travel, accommodations, and other expenses during the interview season. If a majority of the process moves online to platforms such as Zoom, this will save applicants both money and the stress of traveling across the US in search of a residency position.
If you want to stay at your home program, this application cycle may be even more advantageous for you. Home programs may be more risk-averse in selecting candidates. If you have already made strong connections at your home program, they are more likely to go with someone who they know will be a good "fit."
Virtual interviews may become more fair for applicants who cannot afford to spend upwards of $10,000 traveling for interviews. Away rotations and interviews are a costly up-front investment, so it is possible that the playing field is evened this year for those financially disadvantaged.
One of the hardest things to do during the interview cycle is schedule interviews without overlapping or missing interview dates. This leads to sacrificing some interviews entirely or missing part of it. With virtual interviews, this may be less of a problem since scheduling conflicts due to travel would potentially be eliminated.
Finally, it requires a lot of time, money, and effort to schedule all the interviews. If interviews are conducted virtually, this frees up a substantial amount of time not just from traveling, but planning all the necessary details of traveling for interviews.
With everyone confined to their computers, it won't be possible to see the program and its surrounding city in person, nor will you get to experience some of the more personal interactions with residents and faculty. This is especially true for the pre-interview dinner, which was formerly the prime opportunity to really "feel out" the program and residents to determine if you would be a good "fit." A virtual happy hour may replace these interactions but there will be less opportunity for applicants to get to know the culture of programs from the residents and their peers. It will also be harder for programs to determine an applicant’s personality and if he or she fits into their culture.
This application cycle will undoubtedly be more difficult to navigate for students who don't have a home program. Reaching out to your closest program and securing a rotation early or taking a research year at a well-known program in your area is likely to be your best option this year.
Virtual interviews may allow for the opportunity to interview at more programs, and for programs to interview a greater number of candidates. Will this increase your chances of matching or simply make it more competitive? This is difficult to predict and not something you will necessarily have control over.
It remains to be seen how virtual interviews will be implemented this year for neurosurgery. There could be broad adoption of virtual interviews by all programs, or some programs may choose to conduct traditional in-person interviews. Another strategy recently suggested is using virtual interviews as a screening tool and only inviting a handful of candidates to interview in-person. However, these screening interviews would have to be done early and with full disclosure from the program without interfering with in-person interviews.
Nonetheless, the utmost priority should be to uphold the safety of all applicants, residents, faculty, administrative staff, and all those peripherally involved in the process. Therefore, the decision to conduct virtual interviews will be guided by this principle and further influenced by regional and local factors.
The Editorial Board, Brain & Spine Report
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