Virtual fellowship interviews during the COVID-19 global pandemic
The fellowship interview season is only a few months away for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility programs, and the global COVID-19 pandemic poses uncertainty for the upcoming interview season.
Erika P. New, M,D., M.P.H.1, Papri Sarkar, M.D.1, Ruben J. Alvero, M.D.2, Anthony N. Imudia, M.D.1
1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of South Florida, Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, FL, USA
2. Obstetrics & Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Stanford University Medical Center, Sunnyvale, CA, USA
The interview season for Fellowship programs in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) is rapidly approaching, with an application deadline of May 1, 2020 (1). While that alone may be anxiety provoking for fellowship applicants, what is more concerning is the global COVID-19 pandemic we are facing. Amid an unprecedented time, when social distancing is now the norm, it seems unlikely that the fellowship interview season which usually spans annually from June to September will be unaffected.
In order to preserve the integrity of our fellowship training programs, it is imperative we start thinking of alternative ways to conduct fellowship interviews should the COVID-19 crisis continue past June 2020. During the 2019 interview season and prior years, there have been no REI fellowship programs that have reported offering virtual interviews. Aside from the immediate benefits of reduced transmission of COVID-19, other proposed benefits of conducting virtual interviews are to improve schedule flexibility for applicants and reduce lost clinical time for program faculty (2).
One gastroenterology subspecialty fellowship match program trialed a virtual interview with 16 applicants, and while many applicants were satisfied with the interview, which was conducted via Apple’s FaceTime, 87% of the applicants did not believe virtual interview should replace the traditional interview process (2). In contrast, one surgical subspecialty program in orthopedic adult reconstruction has transitioned entirely to videoconference interviews, stating that the interview data is not as critical to their decision to choose or rank an applicant as the recommendations from residency faculty, performance during residency, and data gained from the actual written application (3). While benefits include more flexibility of dates and times of interviews, which could even include the evening, and reduced cost, the perceived drawbacks are significant such as not being able to fully interact with the faculty and staff or gaining little information about the program’s facilities and city (2). For example, in a survey specific to fellowship program directors in obstetrics and gynecology, factors such as clinical experience and residency program as well as letters of recommendation were important factors for deciding who to offer interviews too, but the interview itself is important to assess interpersonal and social factors (4) which may be more difficult to assess through virtual interview.
As proposed by Frishman et al, perhaps the role of the virtual interview may be more practical as an initial “pre-interview screen” to help select which candidates to invite for a full interview, thus potentially saving the applicant both time and money (5). Benefits to the program would include saving the time of other faculty from interviewing an applicant that may already been deemed a poor fit, or even allowing a reduction in number of interview dates. Every day, the current situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic changes. In person interviews may not be an option at all for the applicants participating in the 2020 season for a July 2021 start date. However, with so much uncertainty, if there were to come a time in the next three to five months where the spread of disease has declined and travel may be safe, perhaps an in-person component could be incorporated prior to the rank list deadline currently listed as September 30, 2020 (6).
While all major resources are being diverted to helping critically ill patients, what small actions can Fellowship Programs do to help potential applicants? At a minimum, programs should start considering a virtual component to conducting REI fellowship interviews this year. From research on general surgery subspecialty fellowship and the pediatric orthopedic match system, programs can provide more updated information on their websites to give applicants a better idea of programs prior to conducting an interview (7-8). The reconstructive surgery fellowship program that conducts all of their interviews by video has even created a virtual tour of their facilities to provide applicants with as much data as possible (3).
During this difficult time, healthcare providers from all specialties are facing uncharted territories, banding together amid a healthcare crisis. Many meetings, conferences, and even patient care visits are now being performed through video platforms. Incorporating a video component to fellowship interviews may be a necessary step we take during this uncertain time, and could even play a larger role in fellowship, residency, and medical school interviews in the future once we make it through this pandemic together.
1. REI Fellowship Applications. Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. March 2020. Retrieved from https://www.socrei.org/for-learners/new-item2
2. Daram SR, Wu R, Tang SJ. Interview from anywhere: feasibility and utility of web-based videoconference interviews in the gastroenterology fellowship selection process. Am J Gastroenterol 2014;109:155-9.
3. Healy WL, Bedair H. Videoconference Interviews for an Adult Reconstruction Fellowship: Lessons Learned. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2017;99:e114.
4. Gibson KS, Muffly TM, Penick E, Barber MD. Factors used by program directors to select obstetrics and gynecology fellows. Obstet Gynecol 2012;119:119-24.
5. Frishman GN, Bell CL, Botros S, et al. Applying to subspecialty fellowship: clarifying the confusion and conflicts! Am J Obstet Gynecol 2016;214:243-6.
6. National Resident Matching Program, Upcoming Deadlines: View dates for all Fellowship Matches. March 2020. Retrieved from https://mk0nrmp3oyqui6wqfm.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/SMS-Master-Calendar-1.pdf
7. Watson SL, Hollis RH, Oladeji L, Xu S, Porterfield JR, Ponce BA. The Burden of the Fellowship Interview Process on General Surgery Residents and Programs. J Surg Educ 2017;74:167-72.
8. Swarup I, Luhmann S, Woiczik M, Sankar WN. Eight Years of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Fellowship Match: What Have we Learned? J Pediatr Orthop 2019.