COVID-19 Increased Residency Applications and How Virtual Interviews Impacted Applicants

Cureus. 2022 Jun 19;14(6):e26096. doi: 10.7759/cureus.26096. eCollection 2022 Jun.


Background The number of residency applications submitted by medical students has risen at an alarming rate, causing increased cost of applications and subsequent interview travel. These both contribute to increased cost for medical students. In light of these concerns, specialty governing bodies have proposed ideas to fight these trends including, application limits, interview limits, using a preference signaling system, and continuing virtual interviews. During the Covid-19 pandemic, all residency interviews were performed virtually, essentially making travel expenses negligible. However, this created a new concern with regards to assessing program and applicant compatibility, as compared to in-person interactions and did nothing to combat the increases in application numbers. Therefore, we want to critically assess the effects of virtual interviews on number of applications submitted, number of interview invites received, and number of interviews attended. We also aim to analyze how applicants viewed the virtual process. Methods 600 medical students were eligible to participate. 456 students from years 2018-2020 were eligible to be surveyed following the NRMP match. 144 students were eligible to be surveyed following 2021 NRMP match. The survey was distributed to medical school graduates just prior to graduation and asked how many programs each student applied to, how many interview invites they received, and how many interviews they attended. The 2021 survey also asked, "How did virtual interviews affect your interview experience?" The quantitative results were compared with student's t-test and qualitative results are presented below. Results The average number of programs each applicant applied to increased from 35.4 to 47.7 (p-value=0.002) when residency interviews switched from in-person to virtual. However, interview invites received and interviews attended did not change (16.8 vs 16.3, p-value=0.91, 11.8 vs 12.7, p-value=0.18). There were 188 participants in the in-person interview group (response rate=41.2%) and 128 participants in the virtual interview group (response rate=83.3%). The standard deviation and range also increased for number of applications, number of interview invites received, and number of interviews attended. There were 123 responses to the free response question. 36 had a positive experience, 44 were neutral, 47 were negative. The positive themes included 15 noted less expenses, 18 noted more convenient/less time, and 18 were able to attend more interviews. Negative themes included, 38 noted difficulty assessing program fit, 19 wanted to see the program or city in person, eight had increased interest in home/local programs, six found it difficult to make connections or stand out. Conclusion Sixty-three percent of students reported a positive or neutral experience with virtual interviews. Students applied to more programs when interviews were virtual, but did not receive more interview invites or attend more interviews. These results suggest that virtual interviews are sufficient to conduct residency interviews, however the number of applications continues to rise with no increase in the number interview invites received or number of interviews attended. The increase in the standard deviation and range for all three variables may point to some applicants being able to get more invites and attend more interviews leaving less available spots for other applicants.

Keywords: applications; covid-19; finance; residency selection; virtual interviews.