In a typical year, interviewees have plenty of face-to-face time with residentswhen they arrive for interviews. But with last year being so different, resourceful students made up for it by finding those residents on social media well ahead of interview time.
Steven D. Pletcher, MD, director of the residency program in the department of otolaryngology at the University of California, San Francisco, joined Instagram this year to follow his residency program’s posts but hasn’t yet posted himself. “Our social media-savvy residents identified this as an option to provide program information and a sense of residency culture,” he said. “While we initially had faculty developing some of the posts, it was quickly apparent that our residents are the content experts in this area, and we’re thankful that they’ve taken over.”
Medical students quickly took notice, and some became quite organized about keeping up with residency programs on social media. Shadi Mehrabi, MD, who matched in otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor this year, curated Twitter lists of certain types of accounts, like residency programs, and created an otolaryngology-specific feed for herself. Then she tweeted it out to share with others. She also created a Google calendar for all of the otolaryngology residency events taking place.
“It was hard to keep track of all of the wonderful virtual events happening,” she said. “Sometimes they overlapped.” She tweeted out the calendar, too, so that other interested students could see everything in one centralized place.
Dr. Mehrabi said about 80 programs hosted virtual open houses or “get to know you” sessions, and about a dozen hosted virtual subinternships in lieu of away rotations that couldn’t take place. Prior to COVID-19, Dr. Mehrabi said she was a passive Twitter user. But during the pandemic she noticed an influx of medical student and resident profiles on Twitter, as well as residents inviting medical students to virtual events.
“It was cool, because in a normal year, you wouldn’t be able to attend some of those events, like a research day for the department or grand rounds,” she said. “In a normal year, you couldn’t just randomly show up to grand rounds.”
The University of Michigan held a series of events through virtual resident mentorship groups for students whose away rotations had been cancelled, Dr. Mehrabi said. “Basically, it was a small group of applicants and two residents. We would talk about the program, but also talk about a clinical case,” she said. “It was really nice to have more exposure to people, learn more about the program, and also gain some clinical knowledge.”
Corinne Pittman, MD, who matched this year in otolaryngology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said she hadn’t used Twitter much prior to applying for residency. During her application period, however, she got on Twitter and followed the residency program accounts of her top-choice schools just to see what they were tweeting. Next, she decided to see who else those accounts were following.
“Typically, a program follows faculty, residents, or someone who works for their institution,” said Dr. Pittman. “And a lot of residents have their own medical Twitter accounts.”
Dr. Pittman started her account, thinking she wouldn’t use it much beyond keeping up to date with what each program was doing. But eventually she realized the people interacting with the accounts were often other applicants, faculty, residents, and program coordinators. “They say things in their bios like ‘Aspiring Otolaryngologist’ or ‘Interested in Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery,’” she said. “Then you follow them, and they retweet other things from residents or faculty, and you can see another person is a PGY1 at Georgetown and then you can follow them too. It really creates a web of networks.”
Dr. Pittman would reach out to residents in programs where she was going to interview to learn about their individual personal experiences one on one. “I was really able to get a better feel for the program based on just getting one-on-one casual conversations.”
Ultimately, this web of networks on social media became so interconnected for applicants, residents, and faculty this year that often, during interviews, some would feel as if they had already met. Or they would wave and say, “Hi. I know you from Twitter.”