How COVID-19 Will Potentially Affect Residency Applications

How COVID-19 Will Potentially Affect Residency Applications

Aug 09, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

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If you’re in the middle of making your application stand out or preparing for your interviews, then there’s more to residency applications during the coronavirus pandemic that you should anticipate. As estimated, there are currently over 40,000 medical graduates throughout the United States that will apply for residency programs.

Like the rest of the medical field, the current and future selection process for residency will be completely different as the pandemic progresses. COVID-19 amplified the already existing and longstanding issues in the residency selection process as well as bring new challenges that place such an incredible burden on students.

Closure of USMLE Testing Centers

Certain testing centers for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking the USMLE is an integral step for residency applications especially for international medical graduates (IMG).

Passing of USMLE Step 1 (Clinical Knowledge) and Step 2 (Clinical Skills) is needed for international medical graduates for them to be certified for residency program applications. Although it’s still possible for international medical graduates to still apply for medical residency, with the closure of testing centers, potential applicants may be prevented from entering the residency workforce which is crucial for coronavirus response.

Delayed Processing of Residency Requirements

Most medical schools in the United States immediately shifted to online learning as soon as the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the country. As a result, clerkships are shortened, and many relevant and important electives are canceled.

Such activities are huge opportunities for resident applicants to improve their portfolio and CVs. Moreover, expect a great delay in getting your residency application materials particularly your Letters of Recommendation. These recommendations can make or break your application and it’s important that you receive stellar recommendations aside from the chairman of your medical department. Because of stay-at-home implementations in the majority of the states, most universities and education centers are closed and it’s up to you to directly communicate with your professors.

Usually, your USMLE scores are also included in your residency applications. However, due to limited testing centers for the licensure exam, it’s possible that you might have not yet taken the exam. It’s best to check the guidelines of your target residency programs regarding delayed USMLE scores.

Timeline and Requirements Modification

Medical students would normally have a strict timeline in preparation for the Residency Matching Process. However, due to COVID-19, this timeline is disrupted and most likely delayed.

There’s already a call for medical students to graduate early and streamline the residency application process due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the medical workforce slowly buckles under the stress of COVID-19, health care institutions and organizations are now reviewing certain measures to take and forwarding their concern to policymakers.

The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) usually opens mid-September; however, there’s already a call to delay and extend the applications to residency programs. It’s foreseeable that programs will be much more flexible with their application requirements, including the USMLE results. More so, it’s expected for programs to allow applicants with pending requirements to proceed depending on the number of applicants on the position.

Change in Away Rotations

Residency programs place importance on applicants that have experience on away rotations. Having away rotations on your portfolio can greatly bolster your residency application especially if you’re trying to match on a specific program with a competitive specialty.

However, seeing as the transportation is limited and several states have already imposed travel limitations, away rotations are foreseen to be discouraged in the next year’s Match program. While some medical schools require away rotations as a graduation requirement, unnecessary pursuance of audition rotations may be discouraged.

Virtual Interviews and Tours

Residency interview is a crucial part of the residency process for both applicants and program directors. Both will have to adapt to the new normal as things go virtual. It’s likely that like telemedicine, residency interviews will move online as well as tours.

This is a new challenge for the interviewer and the interviewee. Face-to-face interviews are usually much more elaborate and informative. Plus, there are fewer barriers to proper communication. But in an online interview, it takes much more effort to make your point come across the way you would want it to.

Financial Burden and Support

As expected, starting off your medical career during a pandemic and in an impending economic recession have financial repercussions.

Which is why it’s important to stay updated on the recent development concerning residency applications. For taking the USMLE, fees are temporarily waived for Step 2 and other rescheduling fees. As for student loans, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid is actively monitoring the situation. As the CARES Act was signed into law, broad relief for federal student loan borrowers is implemented.

Payments will automatically stop until September 30, 2020, but you can still continue to pay if you choose to. As for financial support relating to residency expenses, several institutions are offering temporary housing support. Contact your institution if such programs are available to you.

Increase in Residency Competition

Healthcare institutions and organizations are predicting that the already rigid competition of residency will continue to be more competitive despite the current disadvantages brought up by the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s already been a call from different groups and organizations to reform the matching process in response to COVID-19 and have the applicants limit the number of applications allowed at the same time. It’s perceived as an effort to make residency slots accessible to those who are falling behind on their applications. More so, it’s could also be an effort to encourage the increase of quality applicants rather than the immense quantity of it and when it comes to the perspective of program directors, this will make handling the application process smoother despite the coronavirus pandemic.