Dealing with the new and unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly all aspects of life, including the most recent residency application process. The visiting sub-internships, in-person interviews with faculty and residents, hospital tours and social events that have often been part of the residency application process for decades all had to be changed in order to maximize social distancing.
At Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Urology, faculty and residents hosted virtual town halls where potential applicants, current residents and faculty members met to discuss what residency training is like at IU. Two Department of Urology residents, Ethan Ferguson, MD and Ramzy Nagle, MD played key roles in making sure these online meetings were high yield for all involved. Below, they discuss how the town halls made a big impact.
Where did the idea for the virtual town halls come from and how did you end up with such a prominent role?
Nagle: Virtual town halls happened all over the country among many different urology residencies. They were a great way for us to showcase our program and get to virtually interact with prospective applicants. Since there were no in-person interviews this year and no visiting students, prospective applicants needed many opportunities to understand the ins and outs of the program.
Ferguson: While working together at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, we were "voluntold" by Dr. (Chandru) Sundaram (our residency program director) that we would be leading it!
How many residents and faculty were involved?
Ferguson: Each session had about eight residents and approximately 20-40 potential applicants. Dr. (Michael) Koch, the chair of the department, and Dr. Sundaram, the residency director, both participated and briefly gave applicants their thoughts on IU School of Medicine Department of Urology.
We all have extensive experience with virtual meetings as well as the hiccups that can occur, particularly with large groups. How have you been able to work around these limitations?
Nagle: Prior to the start of the town hall, we met to prepare for the meeting and think about what applicants (and our former selves as applicants) would want to know. We began the virtual town hall with a large group session where we went through specific details of the residency program. Then we had breakout sessions where one or two residents "met" with four to six applicants via Zoom. This helped greatly to facilitate a more conversational discussion about the residency, which can be very difficult in large virtual settings.
What do you feel was the most important thing for these town halls to accomplish? What parts of the non-COVID residency application and interview process are these events replacing?
Ferguson: We felt it was important to provide applicants with a detailed look at our residency program, including hospitals, operative exposure, call schedule, benefits and living in Indiana. But more importantly, we wanted them to get to know the residents. We feel that IU usually stands out on interview day because we are a laid-back group of residents who are friends with each other and genuinely enjoy what we do. We wanted to show our camaraderie as best as possible from a virtual platform.
What do you think applicants are looking for when attending these meetings? What do you do to try and make sure they get the most out of it?
Nagle: We think applicants are looking for the specifics of what makes IU stand out compared to other programs. Applicants wanted to hear about our operative volume and our exposure to a variety of specialties within urology, but they also specifically asked about if we get along with each other. We felt the breakout sessions really allowed applicants to ask the questions in an informal, low-pressure setting and also allowed the residents to get a chance to just be ourselves as best we could virtually. We received several emails from students thanking us for taking the time to speak with them and that they definitely planned to apply!
Do you see virtual town halls outliving the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ferguson: This is a definite possibility. Looking back, when searching for programs to apply to as applicants, it would have been awesome to attend virtual town halls prior to the application process to start to narrow down which programs we were interested in. Many applicants had been to as many as 20 or 30 town halls prior to our last meeting, suggesting that they have been very popular among applicants. Even when we are able to resume traditional in-person interviews, we suspect many residency programs (including ours) will continue to offer a virtual town hall.
Nagle is a third-year urology resident. Ferguson is a chief resident who will be pursuing fellowship training in advanced urological robotic and laparoscopic surgery at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in 2021.Learn more about the Department of Urology residency program.