Re-Thinking the Radiology Residency Interview: The COVID-19 Guidebook

July 13, 2020

Residency programs must re-cast the screening and interviewing process in order to be successful during the pandemic.

Alongside complications in patient care, COVID-19 will also impact radiology education. Radiology residency programs and interested students face an uphill battle when it comes to the interview and selection process. But, there are proactive steps institutions can take to make the process not only easier, but just as selective.

Medical student activities have been stringently limited since the beginning of the pandemic. Not only did the Association of American Medical Colleges suspend student participation in any direct patient contact, but a group of several organizations governing medical education also mandated all 2020-2021 residency interviews be conducted virtually.

Without in-person interviews, away rotations, and campus tours, most residency programs are scrambling to re-invent how they attract potential applicants and interviewees. In an article published July 11 in Academic Radiology, a multi-institutional team outlined several ways academic institutions can offer the most comprehensive interview and Match experience for trainees.

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“The move to virtual interviewing means that both students and programs must make ranking decisions without information provided by the in-person interview experience,” they said. “Programs will need to find a reliable alternative means by which to market themselves and obtain additional information about applicants.”

Overall, the authors pointed to three areas critical to creating a robust and informative an interview process:

  • Establishing an active, online presence with reliable information for applicants
  • Implementing additional screening tools for better applicant selection
  • Creating virtual department visits that encourage information sharing between applicants and programs

Be Online

With in-person interactions now impossible, most students will turn to online resources for the information they need to rank programs. This means residency program websites must be up-to-date and include the details trainees rely on most for their decision-making.

Doing so sounds obvious, but a significant portion of residency programs do not make the cut, the study authors said. According to a recent survey, only 55 percent of websites list resident fellowship placements, and less than 70 percent outline departmental research projects. Additionally, one-third of integrated interventional radiology programs do not have their own dedicated site.

“As students scramble to gather information during this year’s virtual interview season, it is imperative that academic radiology departments quickly update their websites with accurate and complete information regarding their educational programs,” they said. “More than ever before, the information, images, video, and personal testimony provided on department website will be responsible for shaping student impression of residency programs.”

The authors also encouraged social media – particularly Twitter – as a medium for engaging in two-way communication with interested trainees.

Re-Vamp Screening and Interviewing

Without in-person interviews and visits – and fewer students being able to submit some test scores or recommendation letters from away rotations – programs will need to give more weight to other components of the screening process, such as personal statements or volunteer work, the authors said. Program administrators should also reassure applicants they will not be penalized if they do not have these application components.

“Programs should seek to level the playing field for student assessment by utilizing alternative screening and interviewing methods, such as holisitic application review, supplementary essays, and the multiples mini interview technique,” the authors said.

With this strategy, admissions committees can cast a wider net, they said, and take an evidence-based approach to screening applicants that recognizes diversity. And, students can convey their areas of interest or creativity in submitted writing prompts. Additionally, not only does the mini-interview strategy allow for more interviews to be conducted each day, but they can be based around pre-determined questions.

Create the Virtual Experience

Programs should try to create virtual avenues for applicants to get a feel for resident morale, faculty involvement, and faculty availability. These aspects of a program are critical in the decision-making process, the authors said.

“Successful programs will likely be those that can innovate ways to capture these opportunities and provide them to students online in time for the 2020-2021 interview season,” they stressed. “This will mean brainstorming department and residency strengths, devising strategies for how to best market those strengths, and then delivering the digital content to students.”

For example, programs could create a web-based platform that gives interested applicants a “virtual away residency” with access to teaching curricula, departmental educational resources, and live sessions with current residents. The American College of Radiology, as well as several academic institutions, has already ventured down this path with a two-week virtual curriculum program.

Short videos that highlight faculty involvement, department support, curriculum, resident morale, and professional development opportunities are also good tools for giving applicants a sense of what a program is like, they said. And, including brief messages from department chairs, program directors, and chief residents could underscore the program’s image.

Ultimately, they said, residency programs must find a way to re-cast their screening and interviewing process. Doing so is vital not only to the institution’s selection process, but also to the applicant’s decision-making efforts, as finding a mutually beneficial fit is the goal.

“Allowing applicants to visit programs virtually, either through virtual away rotations or the production of high-yield videos will help fill the information gap left by the loss of in-person interviews,” the authors explained. “Implementing these recommendations is likely to improve outcomes for both applicants and programs during the 2020-2021 interview season and beyond.”