By Tishina Tittley and Shan Lansing
With residency interviews being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many speculations among medical professionals at all levels of training about the 2020 residency interview season. As flights and hotel costs will no longer be a factor, virtual interviews will lift a huge financial burden off of applicants, many of whom will already be graduating with 6-figures of student loans. According to a recent review by Dr. Jennifer Tseng, on average, 2020 surgical fellowship applicants saved approximately $6,000 due to virtual interviews. Many students applying to residency travel further and interview at more programs compared to a fellowship applicant, meaning that the cost reduction for medical student applicants will likely be even greater. The financial savings seem to come at minimal cost to the interview itself. In the case of Complex General Surgical Oncology fellowship interviews, over 80% of applicants felt they were able to convey themselves ‘very well’ or ‘well’ during the Zoom video conference interview.
While there are undeniable advantages to virtual interviews, many students remain concerned on what this will mean for the residency cycle as a whole. It is unclear if increased applications to each program will overwhelm the selection process. Now that cost and travel will not limit applicants in the number of interviews that they can accept, it is feasible that a portion of applicants could take a majority of the interview invites sent. Meaning that the middle tier applicants that traditionally have a good chance of matching, are likely being encouraged to apply to more programs to increase their interview odds. Additionally, many are concerned with the logistics of virtual interviews, and if backgrounds and poor internet connectivity will reflect poorly on the applicant. This, among other characteristics of virtual interviewing, may have deleterious effects on underrepresented in medicine applicants.
Finally, many medical students have voiced concerns that they will be unable to ascertain whether they are a good “fit” for each program without the in-person socials and hospital tours. After all, 89% of applicants said the most important factor influencing US medical student applicants’ ranking of residency programs is overall goodness of fit. Now, in addition to determining if they fit into a program’s culture without visiting in person, medical students will need to virtually showcase their personality so that programs can see if the student fits in well. Fortunately for students, Dr. Sophia McKinley and colleagues have published on their experience with virtual fellowship interviews to share lessons learned. While there is a plethora of advice being given out to students applying to residency this year, published and unpublished, many feelings of uncertainty still remain.
In response, the Association of Women Surgeons National Medical Student Committee has organized a Tweetchat to answer our medical students’ most pressing questions. Tune in on September 21st at 8pm EST to hear from our expert moderators on virtual residency interviews. We will be guided by Drs. David Spain, Shaneeta Johnson, Thomas Varghese, and Sophia McKinley to discuss what changes can be expected to the interview format this year, and advice on how interviewees can put their best foot forward virtually.
To participate, follow @womensurgeons and moderators, then tag your tweets with the hashtag #AWSChat. The questions will be posted directly from the @WomenSurgeons twitter account and you can also find them following the hashtag #AWSchat. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more. Be sure to keep an eye out for Tweets from members of the AWS Medical Student Committee and Twitter Subcommittee who helped to organize this TweetChat: Cheryl Zogg (@CherylZogg), Shan Lansing (@ShanSLansing), Abra Shen (@AbraShen), Tishina Tittley (@TishinaTittley), Lena Trager (@LenaETrager), and Niti Shahi (@niti12).
- Dr. Shaneeta Johnson (@SMJohnsonMD) – Associate Professor of Surgery, Director of the Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery Program, and Residency Program Director at Morehouse School of Medicine.
- Dr. Sophia McKinley (@SophiaKMcKinley) –General Surgery Chief Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. She recently completed a virtual fellowship interview cycle in complex general surgical oncology and will begin her fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in August 2021.
- Dr. David Spain (@DavidASpain) – Professor and Chief of Acute Care Surgery, and Residency Program Director at Stanford University Medical Center.
- Dr. Thomas K. Varghese Jr. (@TomVargheseJr) – Interim Executive Medical Director and Chief Value Officer at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Head of the Section of General Thoracic Surgery, Program Director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Fellowship at the University of Utah.
- Abra Shen (@AbraShen) – MS4 at Harvard Medical School and Chief of Chapter Development of the AWS National Medical Student Committee. Co-author of “Preparing for Plastic Surgery Residency Interviews in a Virtual Era” (Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, in press).
- Tishina Tittley (@TishinaTittley) – MS4 at Howard University College of Medicine, and Social Media & Marketing Coordinator of the AWS National Medical Student Committee.
We will be discussing the following questions during the TweetChat:
- What is the expected format of virtual interviews? (i.e. number of interviews, duration of interviews, breakout sessions with residents, etc.)
- What questions should students ask to gain more insight into the culture of a program?
- What are some essentials students should have on the interview day? (i.e. a glass of water, headphones, etc.)
- How should students handle technical difficulties during interviews, such as losing internet connection, or audio problems? If their interviews were affected by technical difficulties, how should students respond?
- How will other parts of the ERAS application be weighed differently this year given the virtual format?
Tishina Tittley is a fourth-year medical student at Howard University College of Medicine (HUCM). She grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC and attended Columbia University where she majored in Biological Sciences. After graduation, she worked as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of RR&D at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Hospital. During medical school, she has served as Co-Vice President of the AMWA Chapter of HUCM and as Vice President of Wellness for her class. When she first decided to pursue a career in medicine, she never thought that surgery would appeal to her. However, that mindset changed when she began her first clerkship on surgery and spent many days in all-female ORs. Her primary research interests include surgical technology and innovation, surgical outcomes and health disparities. Ultimately, Tishina hopes to pursue a career in surgical oncology or trauma. In her free time, she enjoys reading novels, improving her culinary skills, and running outdoors. She can be found on Twitter @TishinaTittley.
Shan Lansing is a fourth-year medical student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Originally from southern Oregon, she attended Oregon State University where she earned a dual Bachelors in Chemistry and Biohealth Sciences. She continued at Oregon State University for a Masters in Analytical Chemistry. Her current research interests include increasing surgical patient communication during the transition from inpatient care to outpatient followup to improve quality outcomes. Ultimately, Shan seeks to pursue a career in rural general surgery, aiming to provide compressive surgical care for an underserved community. Shan has served on the AWS Instagram Subcommittee since 2018 and most recently was the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for the 2019-2020 AWS National Medical Student Committee. In her free time she enjoys cooking, and cross-stitching, and trying to keep up with AWS Tweetchats. She can be found on Twitter @ShanSLansing.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.