During the last three days of October, several Department of Medicine faculty members staged mock interviews via Zoom with 16 medical students from Puerto Rico’s Ponce Health Sciences University School of Medicine (PHSU). It is one of four LCME-accredited medical schools in Puerto Rico.
“It was a pleasure to meet with these bright and talented young people,” said Rakesh Mehta, MD, who is Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Medicine. “I was so impressed with their passion for medicine and for making a difference.”
These students are preparing to interview for residency positions outside Puerto Rico, as the number of medical students on the island exceeds the number of residency spots available there, explained Sylk Sotto, EdD, MBA, MPS, who is the department’s Vice Chair for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity.
The department has an informal partnership with PHSU that began several years ago following a meeting of the AAMC’s Group on Diversity and Inclusion. This is the first year we’ve offered to host mock interviews as part of that partnership, said Sotto.
“We don’t want to contribute to ‘brain-drain,'" which is the problem of professionals leaving an area for opportunities elsewhere, said Sotto. “However, the reality is that many Puerto Rican students need to leave the island to complete their residencies. We hosted the mock interviews to help PHSU students in this position.”
Each mock interview session consisted of a 15-minute question-and-answer period, followed by a 15-minute “debrief.” The debrief gave the participants the opportunity to discuss how the interview portion went, and for the faculty member to share feedback on how the student might improve their performance.
Participation was open to all fourth-year PHSU students, regardless of their interest in specialty, program or institution.
Brianna Gonzales, a PHSU student who interviewed with Mehta, said that the experience was “fruitful” and that it provided her with valuable insights as she prepares for real interviews.
“I really appreciated the experience because it helped me to control my nerves and practice articulating my answers, given that I am bilingual,” Gonzalez said.
This effort was not only beneficial to the students. It also demonstrated the value of recruiting students from Puerto Rico to our residency programs, said Mehta.
“It is imperative that we as a school identify a diverse applicant pool to ensure that we enrich our training programs, and our faculty, with people that all our patients can identify with,” said Mehta.
Sotto agreed, emphasizing that Puerto Rican students are highly accomplished, resilient, and have earned valuable skills and knowledge through their cultural experience, in addition to being fully bilingual.
The students can attest to that themselves.
“My class has been through Hurricane Maria, earthquakes, and now a pandemic, and we came out with our medical degrees,” said PHSU student Denise Soto, who interviewed with Sotto. “We can do our residency anywhere.”