Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Ob/Gyn fellowship programs across the United States transitioned to a virtual interview platform. Our study demonstrated that virtual interviews were effective, as a majority of interviewers felt that they were able to adequately assess candidates via the remote platform. In addition, most recommended future use of virtual interviews. We believe the lessons learned from this experience will be valuable in providing guidance to the planning processes for virtual interviews, should they continue in future application years.
All programs utilized Zoom as the platform, with no technical issues reported. Program introductions were varied, with most utilizing either live in-person introductions by an attending, a Powerpoint, and/or a pre-recorded video. In previous studies that have analyzed the utility of web-based interviews, several strategies were used to introduce the program and promote engagement with faculty. These included: a prerecorded video by the program director (PD), a live stream session with the PD, or a hybrid approach [11, 12]. The live-streamed session has been shown to offer greater exchange of information and interaction with the program director . In a recent study analyzing cardiothoracic fellowship applicants and program directors’ views on the virtual interview process during the pandemic, applicants felt that introductions should be an open interaction or a private session with trainees to give as much exposure to faculty and staff as in-person interviews otherwise would .
Virtual interviews offer several advantages over traditional in-person interviews including greater convenience, lower costs for applicants and programs, increased scheduling flexibility, and mitigation of geographic constraints . Additionally, applicants are able to apply to a greater number of programs given the travel cost savings. On average, residents applying to fellowship spend on average $4000–$8000 on the fellowship interview process and miss an average of 7–10 days of clinical work for travel . Programs may also have a financial burden, spending an average of $8000 per fellowship cycle (including food, social gatherings, supplies, shuttle fees). Additional estimated effort cost for faculty was $77,000 . In the era of an ever-increasing national student debt, the cost savings associated with virtual interviews also breaks access barriers associated with applicants’ personal financial constraints. Hence, Ob/Gyn fellowship programs should consider restructuring recruitment strategies by including virtual interviews in future application cycles.
Virtual interviews may also pose significant challenges to both applicants and programs. Limitations to remote interviews from programs’ perspectives include missing out on intangible indicators that would otherwise be apparent, such as body language and applicant-to-applicant interactions. From the applicants’ perspective, they may not be able to fully appreciate the relationships between current faculty and fellows, nor have a true understanding of where they will be training and residing due to lack of adequate facility tour. To overcome this, studies have demonstrated that providing applicants with virtual hospital tours, videos, and electronic handouts to be beneficial for applicants . However, in our study the only virtual tour was performed by the REI department. Technical difficulties may also present as a problem, even though in our study, there were no reported technical issues.
Our study found that attendings were more likely than fellows to report that they could assess candidates as a whole via the virtual platform. This finding could be due to attendings having more years of experience with the interview process than fellows in general or that a large amount of fellows participated in a question and answer session as opposed to a one-on-one interview with less interaction with the applicants. Fellow assessment of their future co-fellow is important, and whether virtual interviews hinders this should be explored in future studies.
Previous studies on the virtual interview process have demonstrated mixed opinions regarding future use. In a recent article by Majumder et al., the authors describe their experience with the virtual interview process for Advanced Gastrointestinal Minimally Invasive Surgery Fellowship during the 2020 interview cycle . Applicants and interviewers were both surveyed with a 94% satisfaction rate by applicants and 100% of faculty recommending the use of the virtual platform in the future . In another study, 70% of candidates who took part in a virtual interview for an adult reconstruction fellowship felt that it was an appropriate format when compared with in-person interviews . The latter aligns with our study findings where overall, a majority of respondents felt that virtual interviews should be used in the future.
While in-person interviews have strong benefits, they are not possible in the setting of a public health crisis where the risk of exposure to an infectious disease outweighs the benefits. However, when it is safe to hold in-person interviews in the future, it is possible that the disadvantages of in-person interviews (high cost etc.) will outweigh the benefits validating the utility of virtual interviews. This remains to be determined and future studies are needed to explore this further.
Strengths to this study include participants containing multiple subspecialties within Ob/Gyn. In addition, all subspecialties were well-represented by both attendings and fellows. Lastly, the 2-min survey format allowed for more convenience for completion and participation as a result.
There are several limitations to this study. First, we did not capture the applicants’ perspectives. As this survey was initially sent after rank lists were made and before the match, it was decided to postpone surveying applicants until after the match. As with all surveys, there is the potential for recall bias from respondents; however, the survey was dispersed shortly following interview completion by all subspecialties to minimize this risk. In addition, our sample size is small as this was from a single institution. However, the number of attendings and fellows from fellowship programs is usually relatively small and not all members from each department conducted interviews. Future studies utilizing a greater number of institutions among various geographical regions are needed before drawing definitive conclusions.