A Match Made in Cyberspace: Applicant Perspectives on Residency Application (2020-2021)

August 05, 2022

Authors: Shirley Chen, B.S.1*; Melanie Schroeder, B.S.2*; Natasha Topolski, B.S.3; Emelyn Zaworski, B.S.4; Kseniya Anishchenko, B.A.5; Shyon Parsa, B.S.6; Christina Zhu, B.S. B.A.7; Esther Bae, B.S.8; Whitney Stuard, Ph.D.9; Jay Patel, B.S.10; Shanon Quach, B.S.11; Sahar Panjwani, B.S.12; Thomas Kun Pak, M.D., Ph.D.13⇞


The COVID-19 pandemic caused a paradigm shift in the residency application process (the Match) to virtual interviews during the 2020-2021 cycle.1–3 Comprehensive evaluation of the virtual interview format requires collecting insight from applicants. Existing studies on the 2020-2021 virtual application process surveyed applicants before interviews occurred, asked residents in the context of fellowship applications, or assessed how faculty viewed virtual interviews.4–10 Residents applying for fellowship expressed mixed opinions about whether virtual interviews should continue.5–10 

We aimed to evaluate applicants’ perspectives on the 2020-2021 virtual residency application cycle. To accomplish this, we surveyed 158 medical students from 24 states who applied to 31 specialties post-Match. 

Five common themes from qualitative analysis of free response answers were identified (Figure 1). Many applicants found it difficult to determine compatibility, or “fit”, with a program due to the lack of casual, in-person interactions. In addition, applicants could accept more interview invitations because of fewer geographical, financial, and time constraints. One applicant mentioned they attended two interviews on the same day for two institutions located across the country, which would not have been possible with in-person interviews. 

Resident interactions served as the most important interview day component for determining program fit within the virtual setting. However, the virtual setting hindered applicants’ ability to evaluate interactions among faculty, residents, and other hospital staff. In terms of resources provided to students, medical schools ranged from providing students with interview kits with laptop stands and ring lights to providing nothing. There was a shared theme that applicants would have accepted fewer interviews due to financial, geographic, and time constraints had interviews been conducted in-person.

Our surveys showed that most applicants were satisfied with the 2020-2021 Match and wanted residencies to continue providing virtual interviews. However there are equity concerns that should be addressed as virtual interviews continue for upcomingMatch cycles.


Figure 1: Supporting Quotes for Novel Themes


Novel Themes Supporting Quotes
1. Reduced cost and travel logistics allowed people to accept more interview invites. – “I interviewed at 2 programs on the same day, and many of my interviews from different regions were scheduled on consecutive days.”

– “It would have been costly and logistically difficult to travel to all of the interview locations.”

2. Strength of online presence (social media and website usage) greatly impacted applicants’ perception of programs – “Programs that put the time into developing an online platform via either social media or a well-developed website were significantly more attractive. It showed that they were willing to innovate and cared to engage applicants during the virtual cycle as best as possible.”

– “A strong online presence was key in getting to know a program and being able to reference its information frequently. I likely ranked higher programs with whom I was more engaged online.”

3. Interactions with residents and structure of interview day were most important in determining fit within the virtual setting. – “Seeing how current residents interacted with one another as well as with the PD was a great indicator. Also how the program structured the interview day and the apparent effort they put into making it interesting, engaging and informational was a big indicator.”

– “I looked at the general feel or atmosphere of faculty and/or residents when speaking to them. For example, most programs had residents who spoke to how close and helpful they were to each other, but only a portion actually demonstrated their positive/friendly relationships when interacting with each other.”

4. Program fit was difficult to determine due to a lack of organic, in-person interactions  – “I believe the biggest factor [in determining fit] for me was not being able to see how other hospital/clinical staff acted towards us, the faculty, and current residents”

– “Socializing with strangers virtually is not the same as it would be in person. It’s not relaxed at all despite how much residents want them to be, and people can’t talk with each other the way they would in real life.”

5. There was disparity in the amount of resources offered by medical schools to prepare for virtual interviews – “My school didn’t provide anything, and because of covid we weren’t allowed to use any on-campus physical areas. When asked if we could, we were told it would be too challenging for them to figure out how to do so in a “safe manner”. I had to interview in my parents house, in my old bedroom. Very very humbling.”

– “Myself and other SGA reps organized virtual interview kits that could be checked out by students in the library. These kits included a laptop stand, ring light, USB port, web cam, pop up photo background, and photo background stand. Students were expected to provide their own laptop. Students could check out rooms at the school to conduct interviews in. The list of items in the kit was also sent out to every student, so those students who would like to purchase their own kit could do so.”




1Shirley Chen, B.S, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.

2Melanie Schroeder, B.S., University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona.

3Natasha Topolski, B.S, Houston, Texas.

4Emelyn Zaworski, B.S., Medical College of Wisconsin, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

5Kseniya Anishchenko, B.A., University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado. 

6Shyon Parsa, B.S., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.

7Christina Zhu, B.S, B.A, Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine, Lubbock, Texas.

8Esther Bae, B.S, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan.

9Whitney Stuard, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.

10Jay Patel, B.S., University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine, Memphis, Tennessee. 

11Shanon Quach, B.S., University of North Texas Health Science Center, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Fort Worth, Texas.

12Sahar Panjwani, B.S., University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, Edinburg, Texas.

13Thomas Kun Pak, M.D, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.



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