The 2021 residency interview season is coming to a close, and it was one for the books. For the first time, interviews were completely virtual and applicants met their future residency families on Zoom, sometimes with pajama pants on. It’s not yet clear to what degree programs will continue to use virtual interviews in the years to come, but it seems like the virtual meeting world will still have its place.

Here are some universal tips and tricks I learned:

Setting Up the Mothership

Full disclosure: I did not take this seriously at first. I had friends buying ring lights and house plants and microphones and headsets, and I couldn’t understand why my whole room setup needed to change for these residency interviews. Hadn’t I spent the last eight months Zooming and Housepartying with friends and family around the world and for online classes? I thought I was a pro.

I quickly learned that virtual interviews are a different ball game. They are often all day long, during which the angle of natural light in your room, your Wi-Fi connection and your level of comfort in your computer chair are all in flux.

For me, consistent lighting, super comfortable seating/back support and alternative Wi-Fi options were all key. So, go for the ring light (or something like it), move the desk/other furniture around, pick your background (it doesn’t need to be all white, just neat) and figure out your backup Wi-Fi situation (hot-spot-ing worked well) for those moments when connectivity is not being your friend.

Snacks and Snacks and Snacks

Different programs have different lengths for the interview day and different approaches to scheduling breaks. Some make very clear that you have a lunch break off camera at a certain point in the interview day, and others less so. I always found it difficult to eat while on camera, and there were one or two interviews for which I didn’t plan my snacks/lunch break carefully and found myself hungry but without time to head to the kitchen and prepare food. So close, yet so far away.

Be sure to take a look at you interview schedule carefully the day before —yes, to see whom you’ll be interviewing with, but just as importantly so you know what kind of snacks/lunch break to plan for. The night before or morning of, prep your breakfast and multiple snacks, and set them up within arms reach right at your desk alongside your coffee and water. Order or prepare your lunch at the same time so, if you only can take 10─15 minutes off camera to eat in the afternoon, you can focus on doing that rather than making a salad. If you get a full hour for lunch (for example, during a noon conference where you don’t have to be online), great — more time to eat.

Finding Family

One aspect of residency interviews that can feel more difficult to re-create virtually is your community of peers and fellow applicants. I remember this being a really fun part of the medical school interview season, and I found myself looking for ways to build this in the Zoom interview era. I joined an applicant-led GroupMe for the specialty I was applying for and found it was an amazing place to meet folks I would later see on the interview trail and to get a feel for the awesome community of peers I was about to join. This was also a great launching pad for individual conversations with applicants who perhaps had shared interests in medicine or types of programs.

Every applicant you speak with will likely have a different and important lesson to share about their virtual interview experience — it’s worth reaching out for those one-on-one conversations!

As for me: space, snacks and community saw me through the virtual residency interviews.


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