During the COVID-19 pandemic, the residency match process switched from in-person to virtual interviews. Going forward, should specialty residency programs offer a fully virtual match process, return to prepandemic ways, or forge a hybrid approach? A recent study on the virtual interview’s impact on the residency match, using ophthalmology as a prototype, addressed these questions.1
Comparing 2021 to earlier years. The study was a collaboration between the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology’s Match Oversight Committee and researchers at Duke Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina, said coauthor Pratap Challa, MD, at Duke.
Using data from the AUPO database, the researchers analyzed 3,343 applicants to compare 2021 virtual match outcomes to those that took place between 2016 and 2020.
Hypothesis No. 1. The researchers hypothesized that significantly more applicants would match at their home institutions during the virtual application cycle than in previous years. This hypothesis proved correct; 26.1% of applicants to ophthalmology residency programs matched at their home institution in the virtual match cycle, versus 20.6% of the 2016-2020 matches.
Hypothesis No. 2. Another hypothesis—that applicants would apply to significantly more programs—also held true. The 2021 cohort applied to 78.8 programs, versus 73.1 in the 2016-2020 matches. Furthermore, with an all-time high number of applications, the national match rate for applicants dropped from 81.3% in the 2016-2020 time frame to 76.6% in 2021.
More information is needed. The numbers, however, did not convey how virtual interviews affected outcomes such as rank choices and perceptions of residency programs. In their study, the authors attempted to provide insight, citing small surveys that found applicants to other specialties gave mixed reviews to the virtual match.
In a separate study, which was conducted within ophthalmology, Venincasa et al. found that 126 of 205 applicants (71.2%) and 22 of 37 program directors (78.6%) preferred in-person interviews.2
Dr. Challa noted that, although more feedback is needed from applicants and programs as to their satisfaction with virtual interviews, the process did eliminate some of the travel and financial constraints of the in-person process. “Therefore, I suspect that the virtual trend will continue.”
1 Aggarwal S et al. J Grad Med Educ. 2022;14(6):674-679.
2 Venincasa MJ et al. Semin Ophthalmol. 2022;37(1):36-41.
Relevant financial disclosures: Dr. Challa—None.
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Full Financial Disclosures
Dr. Basit Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: S.
Dr. Bharti None.
Dr. Challa Aerie: P; NIH: S.
Mr. Pollard Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: S.
Dr. Stan Argenx: C; Horizon Therapeutics: C; Immunovant: C; OrthoDiagnostics: C; OSE Immunotherapeutics: C; Roivant: C; Septerna: C; Sling Therapeutics: C; Third Rock Ventures: C; Tourmaline: C.
Dr. Tao None.
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