The cumbersome process of scheduling interviews between medical residency programs and candidates usually involves a torrent of emails and phone calls between exasperated candidates and equally exasperated residency program directors. That may be about to change.
Scheduling interviews between residency applicants and medical education residency program coordinators is about to get easier, if one startup's promise to automate the process holds true.
Each summer, a bit of computer science commences which optimizes U.S. healthcare behind the scenes. The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS), operated by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), starts accepting fourth-year medical student applications for residency programs starting the following July. Candidates submit their transcripts, grades, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and an application fee, and hope for some good responses.
Invitations to interview follow from residency programs, and then a round of in-person interviews between residency programs and candidates. Then a second service, the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), accepts the rankings of both the interviewers and the interviewed, and via an algorithm recognized with a 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, produces the final matches, which are released on Match Day, usually the third Friday in March.
As wondrous as this process is, there has been a cumbersome productivity-drain and stress-inducing process in arranging those interviews. That is because ERAS produces a list of candidates for each residency program, which then invites potentially hundreds of candidates to choose from perhaps 20 potential interview dates, but it's left up to the prospective residents to arrange the actual dates and times of each interview.
Believe it or not, at least one residency program still uses the U.S. postal service to arrange the entire thing.
Mostly, administrative officials at each school are besieged by a flood of nearly-simultaneous emails and phone calls from hundreds of applicants trying to confirm their preferred dates and times. "We interview about a 170 to 200 people, so you get all those emails back, trying to get everybody scheduled in, so it's hundreds of emails and phone calls and stuff," says Amy Matenaer, anesthesiology medical education residency program coordinator at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Milwaukee.
Clearly, there was a need to more efficiently match available times to candidates and interviewers, and even to establish waiting lists, since in the scrum of candidates trying to reach their most desired interviews, there was bound to be variations in interview demands based on the prestige of the residency program.
Last fall, MCW's anesthesiology program became one of a handful of residency programs which turned to Thalamus, a service open to all specialties, which charges programs a modest fee, $250 to $1000 per year, and in return offers an online interview reservation and scheduling system, including wait lists, not unlike some airline reservation systems.
Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.
After traipsing about the country for residency interviews, I’m happily back in the Bay Area, with time to reflect on what a whirlwind process applying for residency can be. In this entry, I include statements that I heard from upperclassmen/peers before I applied and how the experience actually shook out for me. I’m applying in peds and some things might be different for other specialties -- but hopefully this is helpful for those of you who will soon go through the process.
Except for your personal statement, ERAS can be done in a weekend.
True. Unlike med school applications, ERAS (the Electronic Residency Application Service) is relatively straightforward, with four main sections: your CV, your personal statement, your letters of recommendation, and the list of programs you’re applying to. You can easily start working on ERAS in August – like I did – instead of starting it right when it opens, in early June. The one caveat to that is that you should try to ask for letters as early as possible (I asked in June) to give faculty plenty of time to write and submit.
Residency interview invites will start pouring in as soon as you hit submit.
False. You should absolutely submit ERAS when it opens for submission and make sure to tell your letter writers to upload their letters by then too. I know that some specialties (family medicine, for instance) send out interviews soon after, but -- at least for peds -- don’t expect an influx of invitations until a couple weeks later, when your dean’s letter goes in. I heard from the majority of the programs I applied to in the first two weeks of October, and a couple in late October/early November.
When you get a residency invite, you have to respond immediately!
TRUE. I received my very first interview invite at 5:54 AM one morning from an East Coast program. I was on radiology at the time and comfortably sleeping in each day. By the time I saw the invite, there were only two dates open, at the end of January. So, make sure to respond in a timely manner! Many of my classmates and I added the following emails (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, noReply@aamc.org) to our “VIP” list on our iPhone mail apps, so that we’d hear a custom notification sound when those emails came in.
I would say the majority of invites came through interview broker, with one or two from thalamus. Occasionally, programs would send applicants a message via ERAS (i.e. the aamc.org address) and ask applicants to respond with their top three dates of preference.
It’s better to schedule your interviews earlier in the season.
False. Schedule them based on what works best for you! I didn’t start interviews until early December because I wanted to finish up clinical rotations first. It meant that I had a slightly more hectic schedule, with multiple interviews each week, but it worked out so that I was able to cluster most of my interviews geographically, without making multiple cross-country trips.
Schedule a few “practice” interviews before interviewing at your top programs.
True…ish. It’s certainly helpful to have a couple interviews under your belt before you interview at the programs you plan to rank highest, so if you can make that happen, great! Because of scheduling reasons, I actually interviewed at one of my top programs first, and it still went fine – so don’t panic if your first-choice program happens to be your first interview. As a side note, if your school offers mock residency interviews, definitely take advantage of that – super helpful.
Those are the big things I can think of right now. If anyone has any other questions, send ‘em my way – email@example.com.
Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.
Hamsika Chandrasekar is a fourth-year student at Stanford’s medical school. She has an interest in medical education and pediatrics.
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