Advice From The Virtual Residency Interview Experts: Q&A Dr. Christina Bergin, University Of Arizona College Of Medicine –Phoenix
Rachna Rawal (RR), Section of Hospital Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Christina Bergin (CB), Associate Program Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program,
University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix
This year, COVID-19 has bestowed all medical programs in the country with a new challenge: to transition from in-person interviews to all virtual interviews for medical residencies and fellowships. AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) recently came out with this recommendation prompting a swift change in the application process for educational leadership faculty and all trainees. As can be expected, this abrupt change in the application process has caused angst amongst trainees and residency/fellowship faculty.
University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix is nationally recognized for having already established a virtual interviewing process for their internal medicine residency program for the last three years. We had the opportunity to learn from the experts on how to prepare for virtual interviews and what to expect. We interviewed Dr. Christina Bergin, an Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program at University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. Dr. Bergin is an academic hospitalist in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix.
RR: How did virtual interviews start at University of Arizona?
CB: We transitioned from all in-person to all virtual interviews in 2017. We realized that we were maximizing our resources with in-person interviews in terms of finances, scheduling, and time of the faculty, residents, and applicants. We were receiving more applications every year and wanted the opportunity to interview more of these candidates; however, the number of in person interviews we could complete was limited by the time constraints of faculty and number of dates available. We also were concerned about the financial and opportunity costs experienced by medical students travelling to interview at multiple programs. Our Program Director at the time, Dr. Cheryl O’Malley, had a vision to include more applicants without placing additional strain on their or our limited resources.
We therefore worked to create a virtual interview process where we built upon the technology and resources we already had. This would fulfill three goals, it would increase the number of applicants we could interview, it would be more time efficient for faculty and residents, and it would reduce costs for applicants.
RR: What does a virtual interview mean for your program?
CB: We pair a video interview day with an optional in-person visit day for applicants. We also provide in-depth information about our program through a website dedicated to applicants invited to interview with us. The video interview day component has two parts. The Program Director interviews every applicant for 10-15 minutes (~250 applicants total). There is an additional 25-30 minute interview with one of our APDs (Associate Program Director).
To make the most of our limited video interview time with an applicant, they complete a supplemental information form prior to the interview day, which includes standard questions on the applicant’s interests and their ties to Phoenix. Additionally, during our video interviews, we utilize “behavioral interview questions.” These questions are a deliberate, standardized list to help assess for qualities we look for in our residents and to help determine if applicants would be a good fit for our residency program.
The optional visit day is an opportunity for applicants to come see the campus, the city, and meet our residents and faculty. Applicants have enjoyed this day for multiple reasons, but most importantly they can focus on getting a sense for the culture of our program, and it is not stressful for them because it is separate from the interview. The candidates can schedule the visit day for a time when it is most convenient for them. To save on travel costs, they frequently sign up for a visit day during a period of time they are coming to Phoenix for another interview. Because we truly wanted this new process to be beneficial to students also, whether or not candidates participate in a visit day will not affect where the program ranks them.
To help ensure applicants have a good understanding of our program, we created a dedicated invited applicant website that provides specific videos and written information about the day-to-day life as a resident at University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. For example, the call schedule, main hospitals, quality improvement/patient safety curriculum, and our academic half day are all discussed in videos by the residency leadership. When our applicants are invited for an interview they receive a link to this website. It remains available to them to access all throughout recruitment season.
RR: What do you think are the benefits of the virtual interview process?
CB: The virtual interview process has allowed us to interview more candidates and decrease the burden on our faculty and residents. We have increased the number of applicants interviewed by ~50% in the last three years. Faculty love the system and the flexible interview scheduling facilitates complex schedules. We now have a smaller group of faculty involved in the process to decrease the variability in assessing candidates. This group of faculty is dedicated to preparing for the interviews and standardizing the interview process for our applicants. Residents like it also, since the number of in-person recruitment events we ask them to attend has been significantly reduced. In the old method, we had around 30 events total between breakfasts/lunches and happy hours; now, we have about 10 visit day events in total with our new system. In addition, by scheduling the visit days for about 4 hours in the late afternoon and evening, residents aren’t torn between clinical duties/rounds, educational conferences, and recruitment events like they were previously.
Applicants have enjoyed it as well. They love the website and are grateful that we are trying to make things easier for them. We do not feel that we have lost the kind of applicant we are searching for; if anything we are able to reach out to a greater breadth of students who may be a good fit for our program. Our trainees have been more diverse. We are also helping our applicants financially and providing them with an overall less stressful interview process compared to other programs.
RR: Do your faculty feel that it can be harder to get to know the applicants virtually?
CB: We have not felt that the virtual process has been detrimental in knowing the applicants. If anything, it has given us the opportunity to hone in more on the qualities we are looking for in our applicants. It has helped us standardize our holistic approach to evaluating each candidate.
RR; What feedback have the applicants shared with you on the virtual interview process?
CB: We have data from post-interview season surveys. 50% of the applicants who completed the survey reported that the virtual interview process had no impact on how they ranked the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, either positively or negatively. About 33-35% reported the virtual process impacted their ranking positively. Of the 16-18% that reported that the virtual interviews negatively impacted their ranking, it was noted that these applicants did not come for an in-person visit day.
99% of our applicants did like the recruitment website with videos of day-to-day life for our residents and in-depth information about the program.
RR: How do you think the virtual interview process has affected your Match results?
CB: Our trainee culture has not changed with the virtual interview process. Our match results have been just as good if not better than before.
RR: How will COVID-19 affect your interview process?
CB: We will be continuing our virtual interview process. The main challenge for us will be transitioning from the in-person visit days to virtual visit days. We are still working out the details, but we will be coordinating a number of different virtual visits. There will be a welcome from our Program Director, and applicants will meet with current residents on zoom to maintain candid conversations with residents without program leadership or faculty present. We are planning on showcasing our city and hospitals as well.
RR: What is your advice for trainees who are applying for residency or fellowship virtually this year?
CB: I have some tips for our trainees:
Treat it like a REAL in-person interview. Prepare for the interview and maintain professionalism. The technical aspects may be the most challenging. Pay attention to the lighting, camera angle, and background during your video interview. Please make sure you have a good internet connection.
Consider finding a study room in your medical school or library you can use for the virtual interview. Those settings are less likely to have distracting or untidy backgrounds and will have a strong internet connection.
Try your best to understand the culture of the program; really ask yourself “Is this a place I can thrive in?”
RR: What is your advice to residency and fellowship leadership embarking on the virtual interview process this year?
CB: YOU CAN DO THIS. We know it seems very challenging and insurmountable. Please expect a few technical challenges, but be flexible and it will all work out. You can always resort to a phone call if you’re having connection difficulties. Overall, we found the virtual interview process is easier compared to the in-person process, and we can’t imagine ever going back. Make sure you stay true to your program. Ensure that when you are evaluating applicants, you are thinking about whether or not they are good fit for your program, in addition to the other criteria you evaluate.
We would like to thank Dr. Christina Bergin for taking the time to share her experience with us. We wish all the applicants and training programs good luck for the upcoming application year.
Dr. Christina Bergin
Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
Associate Program Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program
Interim Clerkship Director, Internal Medicine
University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix
Division of Hospital Medicine, Banner- University of Medical Center Phoenix
Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine
Section of Hospital Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center