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Residency Process Interviews: The Student Experience

Megan Maurina, MCW School of Medicine Class of 2021, hopes to become a pediatrician. She, along with her classmates and peers across the nation, will find out on March 15 if she matched into a residency program. While always an interesting period, this year’s graduating class faced new challenges in the residency interview process. Most notably, the Covid-19 pandemic shifted residency interviews from in-person experiences to virtual events conducted using video conferencing platforms. We sat down with Megan to learn about her residency application experiences this year.

How much time would you estimate you spent preparing your ERAS application?

Way too long! At least 20 hours not including time to develop her personal statement.

What was your experience with conducting interviews via video conferencing? What are the pros and cons of this approach from the student viewpoint?

It saves a lot of money not to have to travel everywhere. It feels like it evens the playing field with peers in that regard. Residency interviews are typically a huge expense – especially if you get a last-minute offer. It was helpful to sleep in your own bed the night before. And it was also nice not having to walk around everywhere in high heels!

You don’t get to see the facilities. What are the call rooms like? How are work rooms set up? Are the facilities updated? How are work rooms used (just for residents or multidisciplinary)? How are residents treated, how do interactions go? It’s hard to get a view on how those details differentiate programs. You hope you get a true understanding of the programs and their values, including how they interact with one another, but no one is going to tell you that they don’t get along with one another.

It was off-putting trying to do Zoom and you can’t hear what half of what the people are saying because they are zooming in from different locations in a shared space. That really showed how they felt and what was a priority to them. It was also difficult not knowing what your schedule will be ahead of time, whether and when you will have breaks to use the restroom, etc.

One phenomenon that occurred this year was “interview hoarding:” a smaller number of people who scheduled a lot more interviews than others because they could due to low cost. Some residency programs increased overall interviews as well. However, there are rumors that a lot more students may be SOAPing [participating in the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program] this year.

Did you experience any technical difficulties during your interviews? If so, what support did you receive when technical difficulties occurred?

Many programs gave out cell numbers for their faculty or coordinators so you could reach out to them if problems occurred. The main technical difficulty was someone interviewing her and their internet kept cutting out. Everything was delayed and they kept talking over each other. In that situation, it was difficult to feel like there was another method to ask to reach the interviewer.

All but one program Megan interviewed with used Zoom. She feels it would have been helpful to have a consistent approach to how to schedule interviews as some programs used ERAS, some used other programs.

Did you complete student interview logs in the ERAS system to track information about the programs with which you interviewed? If so, was this a helpful tool when it came time to create your rank list? How so?

Megan wasn’t aware ERAS had that feature. She created a spreadsheet using the Residency Explorer tool. She used that to help she decide on where to apply, record where she interviewed, and track what characteristics she valued, such as if they offered specialized tracks and fellowships she was interested in. She created tabs for her calendar with everything she needed to do for the application cycle and when she had interviews. She also noted general feelings about the programs. Megan also used Notes to keep track of interviews and impressions as she interviewed. This allowed her to keep a running rank list as she went through the interview process. She is using her running list to talk things over with her advisors before certifying her final submission.

Did you receive career advising and counseling throughout the application, interviewing, and rank list process? If so, from whom did you receive this support?

Yes. She contacted an advisor in Pediatrics as soon as she decided to go into it. Dr. Danita Hahn was her Pediatrics attending and helped her with her application. Dr. Kathleen Beckmann, her CPD advisor, was also a resource for her. She could talk to her about how many programs she applied to and interviewed with, what to look for in programs, etc. Dr. Beckmann also helped advise her on when to apply for more programs once she started getting interview offers. She even did a Zoom call with Megan and asked her about why she liked the program to help prepare her for interviews. She encouraged Megan not to limit herself in getting a residency at a program where you could excel. She really took a step away from her own discipline to really advise Megan well throughout the whole process.

What advice would you give to future students participating in the Match?

Megan wishes she would have not overthought her personal statement too much. She had six people review it and the day before she submitted it had someone else review it and tell her they could tell she had edited her own voice out. She encourages future applicants to make sure their own voice comes through when they are writing their statement. It needs to reflect who students are.

With Step 1 going Pass/Fail, residencies are being more holistic in how they interview. Megan hopes that continues. One piece of advice she would like to pass along: If they offer you an interview, they like you. Don’t forget you are interviewing them too. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that are important to you. Also, you can have a positive experience with video conferencing. Don’t let that intimidate you or put you off.

What advice would you give to faculty who provide career advising and counseling through the Match process? What can they do to help students like you?

Being honest is of utmost importance. Encourage students to have a certain portion of the list that are “reach” programs (aspirational), and then going to programs that are in their “bubble” as well as including a couple of “safety” programs. It’s very similar to how you apply to medical school: apply to a broad range of programs. Talk about the culture of the programs and how that plays a role in creating the list for applications and ranking. Direct students to programs that will fulfill their career aspirations and goals. Make them think about why they are applying to the programs – what personally makes them connected. When interviewing, be human, ask questions, and understand everyone is nervous.

If you are using a dual monitor, make sure you are looking at the camera when you are interviewing or being interviewed. Put a smiley face next to the camera to remind you to look there if that helps. With virtual versus in person, you wouldn’t be staring at a computer screen and not looking at the applicant. They need the same experience and level of attention you would give someone in the room.

While we recognize this year had its challenges, we admire the adaptability and perseverance of our graduating students. The Office of Educational Improvement wishes the School of Medicine Class of 2021 a very Happy Match!