Interviewing during a pandemic: Getting to know DFCM’s future family medicine residents

Apr 15, 2021
Interviews are always stressful. But residency interviews, trying to select and get into the program that will determine your future career in medicine, can be particularly fraught – especially during a pandemic.

Prospective residents would usually spend weeks crisscrossing the country to find and interview for their perfect program. Given COVID-19 restrictions, this year saw residency programs trying out online alternatives, including pre-recorded video responses or asynchronous interviews.

The University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) was one of the few residency programs to hold live virtual interviews, with great results.

“Patient relationships are at the core of family medicine, so communication is a key part of the role of a family doctor,” says faculty Dr. Vanessa Rambihar, Associate Program Director Admissions, Awards and Recruitment at DFCM. “We felt strongly that we needed to have a conversation with potential residents, so we could get to know them and select strong candidates with a passion for family medicine and primary care.”

Traditionally, residency interviews are also an opportunity for candidates to learn more about the program and connect with faculty and current residents. DFCM’s Postgraduate leadership wanted to replicate this virtually so candidates, faculty and residents could have real conversations and feel like they were truly part of the interview process.

“DFCM is one of the largest family medicine residency programs in Canada, so planning and managing interview logistics is a herculean task,” says faculty Dr. Stu Murdoch, Postgraduate Education Program Director at DFCM. “It would not have been possible without the dedication of our core administrative team, led by Dr. Vanessa Rambihar and Elicia Bryant, alongside hundreds of DFCM faculty, resident and staff volunteers.”

Thanks to this DFCM-wide collaborative effort, a team of over 360 faculty, residents and staff were able to seamlessly interview 850 prospective residents over five days.

“Interviews are always incredibly stressful, but by doing them in the comfort of home – without the added logistical burden of travel – it felt easier to get to know candidates,” says Dr. Gray Moonen, DFCM’s co-chief resident and one of DFCM ‘s resident interviewers. “Having recently been on both sides of the interview process I thought the virtual experience was actually quite comparable to in person, I enjoyed the experience and hope we can learn from it moving forward.”

An added benefit to virtual interviews is cost, easing the financial burden for those who might normally have had to travel significant distances to interview in person, and making it easier to take part from across Canada and beyond. Given the success of the 2021 interviews, the team is considering how the experience might shape future iterations.

“We’ve had a great response to our virtual interviews, with many participants surprised at how well these live Zoom interviews replicated the in-person experience. I hope we were able to share a window into what our residency program has to offer,” says Dr. Rambihar. “We wish all our applicants the best ahead of match day on April 20, and look forward to welcoming our new family medicine residents in the fall!”