Challenges of virtual interviewing for surgical fellowships: a qualitative analysis of applicant experiences

Surg Endosc. 2021 Aug 27;1-9. doi: 10.1007/s00464-021-08691-9. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic forced surgical fellowship programs to transition from in-person to remote applicant interviews; the virtual interviewing format presented new and unique challenges. We sought to understand applicants' perceived challenges to virtual interviewing for a surgical fellowship program.

Method: A grounded theory-based qualitative study was performed utilizing semi-structured interviews with fellowship applicants from the 2020 fellowship match. All Fellowship Council-registered applicants were eligible. We purposefully sampled participants to balance across gender, specialty-choice, and academic versus community-program affiliation. Interviews were inductively analyzed by two researchers for prominent themes.

Results: Fifteen interviews were conducted. Participants were 60% male (n = 9), with 33% (n = 5) from non-academic institutions. They applied for the following fellowships: Advanced Gastrointestinal/Minimal Invasive (55%), Bariatric (30%), Hepatopancreatobiliary (10%) and Surgical Oncology (5%). Four main themes emerged to describe virtual interview process challenges: (1) perceived data deficiency, (2) superficial personal connections, (3) magnification of non-professionalism, and (4) logistical frustrations. Applicants recommend program directors provide more information about the fellowship prior to interview day and offer informal independent interactions with current and previous fellows.

Conclusions: According to fellowship applicants, virtual interviews resulted in a lack of information for rank-list decision making ultimately requiring them to rely on other information avenues to base their decisions. These applicants have offered advice to fellowship program directors and future applicants to better optimize this process.

Keywords: Fellowship; Graduate medical education; Surgical training; Virtual interview.