Avoiding the Virtual Pitfall: Identifying and Mitigating Biases in Graduate Medical Education Videoconference Interviews

Acad Med. 2021 Jan 12. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003914. Online ahead of print.


Public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic are leading many residency and fellowship programs to transition from in-person to videoconference interviews (VCIs). The magnitude and speed of the shift to VCIs, the lack of existing research around bias and VCIs, and the underlying stress on all involved related to the pandemic put programs at risk of implementing virtual interviews without fully exploring their implications for diversity and equity. VCIs can promote diversity efforts by reducing the need for travel, making interviews more convenient and cost-effective for applicants. However, VCIs may also introduce new biases and amplify existing biases in recruitment. VCIs introduce a dependence on technology to conduct the interview process, which may amplify systemic inequities in access to broadband internet and high-quality hardware. Communication delays due to technology challenges may negatively affect interview scores. Additionally, users experience increased cognitive load when participating in videoconferences, which can activate implicit biases. Exposure to cues in the interviewee's personal living situation previously unavailable to interviewers may lead to unconscious assumptions by interviewers, which may also influence scoring. Graduate medical education programs committed to maintaining equitable recruitment processes must be able to recognize potential biases in VCIs and implement strategies to mitigate them. This article identifies some of the biases VCIs can introduce to the recruitment process and offers strategies for programs to mitigate them. These include making interviewers aware of potential technology-based inequities, encouraging interviewers to minimize multi-tasking, and offering guidance on use of standardized backgrounds. The authors also recognize the limitations of offering behavioral strategies to mitigate systemic inequities and suggest that structural changes are needed to ensure equitable access to technology.