Preparing for Residency

Chicago programs collaborate to cut residency interview travel costs

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

In an effort to control the cost of residency interviews, the emergency medicine programs at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago entered into an arrangement that is saving interviewees money and mileage.

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In many instances, the two residency programs draw from the same pool of applicants. In order to benefit medical students interested in both programs during the 2015–2016 interview season, Northwestern and the University of Chicago began offering coordinated interviews within the same week.

Those who took advantage of the arrangement saved on lodging, travel and meals. Based on historical data, applicants from outside of Illinois who interviewed at both programs within the same were estimated to have spent $225 less than out-of-state applicants who interviewed with the two programs on separate weeks, according to a recent study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.

“We found it interesting that there has been a lot of work done in terms of characterizing the amount of expense associated with interviews, especially in a lot of specialty programs … but there are few published efforts to reduce it,” said the study’s lead author, Eric Shappell, MD, clinical associate in  the University of Chicago’s emergency medicine section and also the medical education fellow.

“The thing that we really like about this study is that the bar is so low to complete this,” said Dr. Shappell, who was chief resident at University of Chicago in 2016. “This is so easy to accomplish and [it] can have a very real impact without reinventing the interview process or having to create a new structure.”

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Naturally, the arrangement was met with widespread satisfaction. The study said “the majority of target applicants reported that this intervention increased the ease of scheduling (84 percent), made them less likely to cancel the interview (82 percent), and saved them money (71 percent).”

Prior research cited in the study indicates that residency applicants have total expenses ranging from $4,000 to $15,000. Furthermore, an October 2015 Academic Medicine study indicated that, in the search to find their match, fourth-year medical students interview with 12.3 residency programs on average.

Maureen Canellas, MD, interviewed at 13 programs during the 2015–2016 residency interview season. Because of the coordinated interview program she was able to interview at Northwestern and the University of Chicago on back to back days in December 2015. She also interviewed with another Chicago-area residency program earlier in the week.

“Chicago was one of my least expensive trips,” Dr. Canellas said. “Because they had so many close dates and I knew I was going to spend a long time in Chicago, I was able to do one flight there. Even over Christmas it was one of the cheaper cities because I was able to coordinate everything all at once.”

Dr. Canellas, who is now a resident at the University of Chicago, said she was able to get to know the programs and city better during her eight-day stay in Chicago for interviews.

“Usually when I would go on interviews, I would go just for the day and I would leave that afternoon or night,” Dr. Canellas said. “So I was spending maybe 24 hours max in a city per interview because it was just too expensive to stay there when I wasn’t having another interview. In Chicago, I had a reason to stay in the city and I was able to explore it more. I really got to know it better and spend more time with the residents from each school and go out to more events.”

The number of applicants interviewing at both programs within the same week in the first year coordinated interviews were offered may have been stunted by a lack of awareness and available spots for applicants, the study said. In 2016–2017, potential interviewees were sent a letter about the opportunity prior to registration. In addition, the two programs opened up their interview slots on the same date at the same time.

The logistics of coordinating interviews with more than two programs, Dr. Shappell said, are somewhat challenging. But he believes it would be possible for other residency programs in close proximity to follow the model the two Chicago programs have created.

“You need a program that’s nearby and you need that program to have a significant amount of overlap of similar applicants,” Dr. Shappell said. “But if you have a nearby program that shares a lot of applicants, and your interviews days are adjacent or could easily be changed to be adjacent, I think this makes a lot of sense. It’s very low-hanging fruit to save applicants a lot of money.”

From a medical student’s point of view, the idea is one that should spread far beyond Chicago.

“I wish other cities that have so many programs would do this,” Dr. Canellas said. “It is a lot for us and it definitely allowed me to explore the city more and I would have appreciated that opportunity at other [programs].”