Best Practices for Virtual Interview Season

This past summer, the Council of Academic Family Medicine (CAFM) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), as well as the Coalition for Physician Accountability released recommendations for residency programs to conduct virtual interviews for the 2021-2022 recruitment season.

Last year, many programs experienced virtual interviewing for the first time. We talked with several Program Directors to discover what they learned from last year and their plans for the upcoming recruitment season.

Showcasing Your Program

To help applicants get a feel for the program and community, many programs turned to video tours, expanded information on their websites, and an increase in social media presence.

At Cascades East Family Medicine Residency, Program Director Joyce Hollander-Rodriguez, MD, and her team put together several videos about different parts of their residency, curriculum, and community and made sure that their website was an effective way for people to get a feel for their program, setting, and mission.

Holding virtual chats and open houses before interviews was another way to showcase programs.

“We held a series of virtual chats, one hour long, that showcased a particular area of expertise of our program, followed by a Q&A session for applicants.  Both faculty and current residents attended, and all applicants were invited.  Six sessions were held, and the average attendance was about 20-30 people,” David Araujo, MD, FAAFP, Program Director at Ventura County Family Medicine Residency said.  

Erin Kavanaugh, Program Director at ChristianaCare Family Medicine, and her team hosted several pre-interview season Zoom happy hours and invited students from all the surrounding medical schools. During the interview season, the program hosted weekly happy hours for applicants. The program had historically held these happy hours in person and since they always seemed to go well, the program found a way to continue the events virtually.

Connecting with the local government or the convention and visitor’s bureau for videos, brochures, and promotional products was an easy way to showcase the community. Those who were unable to use an outside organization for community videos had a volunteer video a virtual tour, providing personal commentary as they traveled around the community.   

Programs also signed up for conferences that were holding residency fairs such as AAFP’s National Conference, the Family Medicine Midwest Conference, the Family Medicine Education Consortium (FMEC) Annual Meeting, and fairs held by AAFP state chapters.

Kelsie Kelly and her program at the University of Kansas Family Medicine Residency collaborated with the other family medicine residency programs in Kansas, their state AAFP chapter (KAFP), and the University of Kansas Rural Health Education Office to create a virtual residency fair. They promoted the fair to their local Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIGs), Rural Medicine Interest Groups (RMIGs), Student National Medical Association (SNMA), and the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA).

Dr. Kavanaugh’s program had a virtual booth at the AAFP’s National Conference and plans to participate in the residency fair at the upcoming FMEC Annual Meeting.  

Residency programs also used social media to showcase their programs virtually. Many programs already had Facebook and Twitter accounts and added Instagram. Programs without robust marketing and communication departments largely relied on tech-savvy residents and staff to help run these platforms.

By looking at the number of views and interactions on social media posts, programs could see which platforms were being looked at by applicants and what posts were engaging.

“We found that our program’s Twitter account was not viewed as much as our Instagram. For the upcoming year, we have decided to focus on our Instagram posts and not spend as much energy on Twitter. We are also trying to be more consistent with our social media posts and have started to do weekly Resident Spotlights and Faculty Spotlights. Also, we will focus on creating posts that share the message and mission of their program and highlight community engagement,” Dr. Kelly explained.  

Interaction Between Applicants and Residents

Allowing time for interaction with current residents gave interviewees an inside look at the culture and environment they could be a part of. Programs held Q & As, panels, and virtual social time for applicants.

Part of the interview day at Dr. Araujo’s program consisted of a resident panel. The applicants were placed on a Zoom call with 2-3 residents and no faculty. They were given an hour for a Q & A to learn about the program, what life was like for a resident, and a typical day in the life of a resident.

While programs wanted to keep these sessions as informal as possible, a lack of structure sometimes led to the events not going as well as hoped.  

Dr. Hollander-Rodriguez’s program tried to have an informal Q & A with applicants after lunch didactics during the virtual interview season last year.

“This didn’t go as well as planned, with an awkward amount of silence. We had a fairly successful social hour at the end of the day between applicants and residents. This year, we plan to add some facilitation, light structure, and games or questions to help get people interacting but keep it informal.”

Resident programs found having an online trivia night, playing online games together, and even having online scavenger hunts helped applicants and residents interact in a fun, engaging way.

Overcoming Challenges

The switch to virtual interviews was not an easy task, and many programs found that being adaptable was the most important lesson from last year’s interview season.

Technical difficulties were a concern for both applicants and programs. Having a backup in case the planned videoconference platform went down, ensuring programs had the correct contact information for the applicant, and holding practice sessions beforehand were all ways programs overcame technical difficulties.

Dr. Araujo’s program had some challenges with applicants having unstable internet access or a lack of bandwidth for some to use video, but they were able to learn how to use the resources more efficiently throughout the interview season. Overall, everyone was pretty forgiving of technical difficulties and carried on as best as they could.

As the interview season went on, programs learned what was most useful to applicants.

“We overthought everything,” Dr. Kavanaugh explained, “I gave a presentation twice a day so we could accommodate central/west time zones. But we found that wasn’t necessary. It’s okay to do it only once and also, we are in Delaware, so not many people from the west coast are coming here. This year, we are doing the presentation one time a day.”

Finding ways to connect during the virtual interview season was also more difficult last year.

“We used to have large interview dinners at each other's houses during interview season and not being able to do that last year was hard on our own sense of community, our applicants’ ability to see our strong residency community and our ways to get to know the applicants. This year, we hope to increase the ways that we get all of our residents and faculty feeling more engaged in the virtual interview process and also find more fun and interactive ways to get to know applicants virtually. We plan to spend some time reviewing recent applicants throughout the interview season and planning informal interactions with the applicants,” Dr. Hollander-Rodriguez said.

Staying Connected

As we approach the upcoming interview season, staying connected to your community will once again be important. AFMRD members can use the online discussion forum to ask questions, seek advice, share best practices, and celebrate victories.

While there were few resources last year, many programs and organizations have created resources for virtual interviewing that will be useful this year. Dr. Kelly recommends using the STFM Virtual Interview Guide as a starting place, as well as the AFMRD PD Toolbox. A list of resources can also be found below.

And if you find yourself in a stressful situation, Dr. Hollander-Rodriguez recommends using your family doctor empathy skills.

“It’s easy to be stressed about our own dilemmas and anxiety during virtual interview season but using our family doctor empathy skills always helps. Think about the applicants and put yourself in their shoes. What will help them get the information they need, tell their story, have authentic interactions with the people in your program, and assess whether the curriculum and values align with theirs? Answering these questions will help you be gracious, authentic and show them the best version of your program while allowing you to get the same sense of them. We are family physicians – we are good at whole person interactions.”

Useful Resources