Tech Anxiety and Zoom Interviews
While some faculty anticipated technology-related mishaps, most were pleasantly surprised and said the process went smoothly. Dr. Cabrera-Muffly credits the efforts of the University of Colorado program coordinator and a pre-interview tech meeting with all interviewers that was meant to anticipate glitches.
Explore This IssueMay 2021
And, as the pandemic wore on, people just generally began mastering the art of videoconferencing. “By mid to late fall, the students and faculty were already comfortable and adept at videoconferencing, so the logistical efforts of interviewing were straightforward,” said Sonya Malekzadeh, MD, professor and residency program director of otolaryngology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Academic departments, residency programs, and student applicants were all able to pivot and rethink the traditional paradigms,” she said. “Innovative virtual events and social media efforts were successful alternatives to in-person experiences.” Dr. Malekzadeh believes that, thanks to their ease of use, some form of virtual recruitment sessions and interviews may be here to stay.
One of the biggest issues for us was trying to figure out how to let the students know the subtleties and the character of our program if they’re not physically there to see it. —Stacey T. Gray, MD
For medical students, the biggest advantages of virtual interviews were largely socioeconomic. Emma Martin, MD, a first-year otolaryngology resident at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences in Chicago, said that virtual interviews can level the playing field for students who don’t have unlimited financial resources.
“In the past, I think candidates with a large number of offers were somewhat limited by how many hotel stays and round-trip plane tickets they were able to purchase in addition to the other expenses that come with traveling,” she said. “I think it helps eliminate those disparities to make interviews virtual.” She added that, generally, applicants this year received about as many interviews as they would have in any other year, so she wasn’t sure how much of a difference the pandemic actually made in that regard.
Virtual interviews did allow for a student who was offered interviews on the same date at different times in different states to attend both. When Dr. Martin was interviewing, she had to turn down several opportunities because they conflicted with dates she had already set for a different interview. “Even if one was in the morning and the other was in the afternoon on the same day, physically I couldn’t teleport from one place to another,” she said. “But, virtually, I could have logged off of one, had an hour or so break, and then logged on to the other.”
There was a downside to the fact that virtual interviews literally didn’t cost medical students a dime, however. Early on, Dr. Gray said, the Association of American Medical Colleges sent an email alerting programs about their concern that some students might take as many interviews as they were offered, a problem that could happen across the board, not just for otolaryngology.
“There was a lot of talk about interview hoarding,” said Shadi Mehrabi, MD, who matched this year in otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. “People who are rock stars on paper could just go to as many interviews as they wanted. And there would be no self-limiting thing, like traveling and coordinating being on the West Coast one day and the East Coast the next day.” There was also concern that interview hoarding would lead to unmatched spots, although that didn’t happen, possibly due to the record number of applicants in the cycle this year.
Another downside to virtual interviews for medical students was missing out on the in-person interaction and social cues that would let them know a particular institution was “their place” and that these were “their people.” “Every program can say, ‘We’re the best. We’re incredible. We all get along and we love each other so much,’” said Corinne Pittman, MD, who matched this year in otolaryngology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “But is that really true? It’s harder to get a feel for that when you’re not interacting face to face in person.” For some students, virtual-only interviews also meant choosing a city to live in for the next five to seven years that they had never even visited.