Virtual radiology residency match interviews save students thousands

By Will Morton, staff writer

December 7, 2022 -- Virtual radiology residency match interviews started during the COVID-19 pandemic have saved medical students thousands of dollars and may ultimately be increasing opportunities for some students, according to research presented at the RSNA 2022 meeting in Chicago.

A team from Case Western University in Cleveland, OH, compared estimated in-person and virtual interview costs for students who participated in the national radiation oncology residency match program between 2019 and 2022. They found the total in-person cost of interviewing at 14 programs throughout the U.S. was up to nine times the cost for virtual interviews.

"This sizeable difference can lead to an increase in opportunity for students, especially students of lower socioeconomic status," said presenter Dr. Yorleny Mora, PhD.

Residency interviews help students identify programs that may be a best fit for them. Research has shown that medical students may take loans of up to $7,000 to offset costs related to the residency match interview process, Mora said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. residency programs began adopting virtual interviews to replace in-person interviews. Mora and colleagues performed a cost analysis to determine the potential financial impact of this shift for students.

The average number of interviews per applicant was 14 during the radiation oncology residency match program in the study timeframe. The investigators calculated the cost for students based on Electronic Residency Application Services (ERAS) applications, transportation costs, and hotel stays.

The estimated total cost of interviewing at 14 programs in-person was $8,151, compared with $944 virtually, yielding a per-interview cost of $582.21 for in-person interviewing versus $67.43 for virtual. For applicants interested in interviewing at 20 programs (the maximum rank list size without increased ERAS fees), the cost of in-person interviews increased to $10,986 while remaining at $944 virtually. This translated to a per-interview cost of $549.30 for in-person interviews compared to $47.20 for virtual ones, according to the analysis.

"The financial toxicity for applicants applying to the average number of radiation oncology interviews is nearly nine times more for in-person versus virtual interviews," Mora said.

Both medical students and radiology residents have expressed concern about making virtual interviews permanent, noting that virtual interviews may hinder the ability to obtain a true sense of a program's community, she added. Nonetheless, virtual interviews may help students maximize the size of their program rank list, as the number of programs ranked by an applicant correlates directly with the probability of matching.

"Even though this study was conducted for radiation oncology programs, it could apply to other specialties," she concluded.

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