‘We cannot be complacent’: Virtual interview format likely to disrupt upcoming radiology residency match season

As residents begin online interviews this fall due to COVID-19, a group of radiologists believes the new process will likely exacerbate existing application problems. They’re warning programs that the expected uptick in applications may not actually indicate a growing interest in the specialty.

Eliminating the risk of contagion during travel and face-to-face interviews is an obvious benefit of virtual meetings, the authors noted Oct. 12 in JACR. But by making these interactions more convenient and essentially costless, students have nothing to lose by sending out additional requests, and may only use some interviews to polish-up their skills.

And this phenomenon would be particularly detrimental to radiology, given that medical students often use the specialty as a backup, according to Anna Rozenshtein, MD, MPH, with Westchester Medical Center in New York, and colleagues.

“Because the most desirable students are usually invited first, we foresee that the competitive cohort is likely to displace other qualified applicants who would have been granted an interview in prior years,” Rozenshtein, an associate professor of radiology at the Center, and colleagues added. “If this comes to pass, programs will interview the same applicants, resulting in a smaller rank pool and increase in the number of unfilled positions and unmatched applicants.”

Introduced in 2001, the Electronic Residency Application Service, or ERAS, has enabled med students to apply to a wide variety of programs with one click. Before this, a cumbersome process limited students’ willingness to send out applications. And inquiries have grown consistently since, with rad-specific requests more than doubling.

What can be done to fix this impending problem? The authors proposed a potential two-week “early action” period in which students could apply to a handful of programs, indicating their particular interest. More than 75% of radiology program directors were willing to try out the pilot, according to a survey conducted by Rozenshtein et al. That idea, however, fell flat with ERAS, after repeated attempts from the authors.

Medical students have taken note of the problem, creating a residency application preference platform known as Signaltoken. For $25, students can court up to 12 training programs, while participating institutions can sign-up for free.

The authors advised rad programs not using the platform to interview more applicants in order to fill all positions and to remain vigilant this upcoming fall.

“In the coming match season residency administrators should keep in mind that a rise in the number of applications and a higher interview acceptance rate from highly qualified applicants do not mean greater interest in either their program or radiology as a specialty,” Rozenshtein and colleagues concluded. “This year in particular we cannot be complacent.”

Read the entire opinion piece published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology here. And read more about how COVID-19 is hurting radiology residents here and here.