Fellowship Interviews: COVID-19 Edition

08 Jul 2020

By Megan Delisle

I never imagined fellowship interviews unfolding as they did this season. As efforts to “flatten the curve” escalated, emails regarding intentions to conduct all interviews virtually flooded my inbox. This came as a relief as the feared alternative was that interviews would be canceled altogether. Many of my mentors were eager to help me prepare for interviews, but virtual interviews were a new territory. There are several key insights and lessons I learned along the way specific to virtual interviews that may be helpful for future candidates.

Lesson #1: Research the city and program

In-person interviews offer an opportunity to visit the city and facilities. While many programs still provide a “virtual tour”, this is often abbreviated compared to what would be available in person. Spending some time understanding the local context can help tailor your questions and answers during the interview to maximize the opportunity.

Lesson #2: Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint

Many programs offer several opportunities to virtually meet with faculty and fellows. I initially thought I would have more energy given that I would not be traveling and moving around as much for the meeting. It proved to be challenging to maintain an engaging and enthusiastic demeanor while interacting with a computer screen for up to eight hours. Most programs sent the schedule ahead of time. Planning bathroom and snack breaks throughout the day was essential to maintaining good energy levels.

Lesson #3: Familiarize yourself with the technology

While the majority of programs used Zoom, there were some that used other platforms such as Cisco, Webex, and Microsoft Teams. Logging in up to 30 minutes prior to the first meeting allows time to download any necessary plugins and additional software.

Lesson #4: Strategize your environment

Interviewers will notice your surroundings. Make sure all distracting noises and objects are removed. You can consider placing a few purposeful objects that serve to stimulate the discussion and to provide a more personalized experience. Play around with the angle of the camera to optimize eye contact and allow for some natural body language to be visible. A camera that is too close or too far can reduce the effectiveness of nonverbal communication. Consider doing some practice runs to ensure the lighting, sound, and internet connection are functioning smoothly.


These lessons are a few of the key takeaways from my experience. Several excellent resources are now available to help candidates prepare for virtual surgical fellowship interviews. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what traveling will look like in the future and it is possible interviews may need to continue virtually for the foreseeable future.

Even after COVID, there are many other reasons interviews should continue virtually. After visiting 15 cities and traveling 16,425 Km for residency interviews, Dr. Kevin Liang estimated his CO2 emissions during the process were equivalent to 62% of the average yearly Canadian household emissions per capita. The financial and administrative burden of organizing coverage for fellowship interviews is well recognized. Watson et al. conducted a survey of U.S. General Surgery residents and found over half of candidates spent more than $4000 and missed at least 7 days of work during the process. Personally, coming from the Midwest, virtual fellowship interviews allowed me to save over $10,000 and greatly reduced the number of days I was away from clinical duties. It is likely the virtual process was cost and time-saving for programs as well.

While there are a lot of benefits to conducting interviews virtually, there is still a lot to learn about how the process may affect selection and ranking for both candidates and programs. It may be that virtual interviews become a part of a multi-step process used to determine a shorter list for in-person interviews. Ultimately, the pandemic created an opportunity for us to examine the way we do things. While there is still a lot to learn about the optimal way to change the process and how it will influence outcomes, I think virtual interviews offer an opportunity to change the status quo.

Megan Delisle, MD MPH MSc is a final year General Surgery resident at the University of Manitoba, Canada. She obtained her medical degree from McGill University. During her residency, she obtained an MPH in epidemiology from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a MSc in Surgery from the University of Manitoba. She is the incoming complex general surgical oncology fellow at the University of Ottawa. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog Charlie and doing yoga and biking. You can follow her on Twitter@MeganDelisleMD.

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.

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