The start of the COVID-19 pandemic changed my life and the lives of many other medical students forever. During the week of March 16th, 2020, the AAMC issued a position statement regarding the discontinuation of all clerkship rotations and clinical activities for 3rd and 4th year medical students. Essentially, we were resolved from our duties in the hospital due to concerns of patient safety and the increasing demands to carefully conserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). While I was rightfully more concerned about the effect that COVID-19 would have on my family and millions of others, I did not take into account how this would affect my medical education and the 2020 residency application season.
In the pre-COVID era, the residency interview season is filled with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and extreme anticipation as 4th year students plan their venture into residency. Over a period of 3 to 4 months, programs traditionally host a number of in-person interviews to meet prospective residents. From a medical student perspective, this often means booking anywhere from eight to fifteen flights to tour new cities and meeting a number of program directors and residents alike. Little did we know that the customary way of completing interviews would be abruptly uprooted with the emergence of COVID. Prior to my interview season, I found myself perusing through the aisles of BestBuy in search of a zoom camera and a LED ring light! None of us knew what to expect but we all quickly embraced the new era of “ZOOM interviews.”
“Am I looking directly into the camera? Hopefully they can sense that I’m really interested in their program. Maybe I should include my guitar in the background to show that I’m well rounded?” These were all parts of a continuing conversation regarding the best way to prep for impending interviews. Each time I interviewed, I knew that this 20-minute zoom sessions could potentially determine my trajectory for the next 4-5 years. This thought was daunting to say the least! Changes in 2020 weren’t all bad though. It’s estimated that the adoption of Zoom interviews saved students on average $8,000 in travel expenses. In addition, zoom interviews provided a sense of physical freedom as interviews could be done from any location. Many of my friends opted to spend more time with family by interviewing from home.
To ensure a successful match, medical students were pushed to become much more creative. Students applied and interviewed with more programs than those in previous years. Some of my peers also found it beneficial to email programs that they were interested in ahead of the season. In this way, they were able to express genuine interest much sooner than their interview. Whether or not these extra measures were widely successful is yet to be determined. In addition, conclusive data needs to be gathered to determine how zoom interviews affected match outcomes as a whole.
With vaccinations become more widespread and the waning of the COVID pandemic, we will soon see if Zoom interviews are here to stay!