Residency programs readjust during COVID


Recruitment effects

When it comes to recruiting during a global pandemic, the experiences and predictions are mixed. Dr. Hall believes virtual interviews are making recruitment easier, but in turn, the fact that they are virtual also makes it harder for the applicant to get a good feel for the program and the people involved in it.

Dr. Ricotta reported that recruitment numbers have been fairly steady at Beth Israel Deaconess over the last few years. “In addition to the critical care physicians, hospital medicine was really the front line of this pandemic and so in some ways, we gained some recognition that we may not have had otherwise,” said Dr. Ricotta. He believes this has the benefit of attracting some residents, but at the same time, it could potentially scare others away from what they perceive as a demanding, grueling job. “I think it has been mixed. It’s dependent on the person.”

At UC Denver, Dr. Gottenborg said they are seeing a rapid rise in the number of applications and interest in their programs. Still, “I think this could go both ways,” she acknowledged. With the focus on hospital medicine in the media, medical students are more aware of the specialty and what it involves. “I think the sense of mission is really exemplified and everyone is talking about it,” she said. This is evident in the arrival this summer of the first new class of interns since the pandemic. “They’re incredibly passionate about the work,” said Dr. Gottenborg.

However, there is also the notable increase in physician burnout since the pandemic started. That this has been regularly featured in the media leaves Dr. Gottenborg to wonder if prospective residents will shy away from hospital medicine because they believe it is an area that leads to burnout. “I hope that’s not the case,” she said.

“I would actually argue [recruitment] is easier,” said Dr. Rawal. Like Dr. Hall, she sees virtual interviews as a big benefit to prospective trainees because they don’t have to spend a large amount of money on travel, food, and other expenses like they did before, a welcome relief for residents with significant debt. “I think that is one very big positive from the pandemic,” she said. Her trainees were advised to make a final list and consider going to see the top two or three in person, but “at this point, there’s really no expectation to go see all 15 places that you look into.”

Dr. Rawal also pointed out that recruitment is affected by whether or not trainees are expected to see COVID patients. “I know in some places they aren’t and in some places they are, so it just depends on where you are and what you’re looking for,” she said.

Shifts in education

It remains to be seen if all the educational changes will be permanent, though it appears that many will remain. Dr. Hall hopes that virtual visits to provide care to patients who have difficulty getting to physical clinics will continue to be a focus for hospital medicine trainees. “For medical students, I think this will allow us to better assess what content can best be delivered in person, synchronously online, or asynchronously through recorded content,” he said.

Dr. Ricotta predicts that virtual conferences will become more pervasive as academic hospitals continue to acquire more community hospitals, especially for grand rounds. “The virtual teaching that occurred in the residency program because it’s required by the [Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education] has, I think, informed how academic centers do ongoing faculty development, professional development, and obviously education for the residents,” Dr. Ricotta said. “I think virtual teaching is here to stay.” This includes telehealth training, which had not been a widespread part of residency education before now.

Trainees have been given tools to handle high patient censuses and learned a whole new set of communication skills, thanks to the pandemic, said Dr. Rawal. There has been a focus on learning how to advocate for the vaccine, along with education on situations like how to have conversations with patients who don’t believe they have COVID, even when their tests are positive. “Learning to handle these situations and still be a physician and provide appropriate care regardless of the patient’s views is very important. This is not something I learned in my training because it never came up,” she said.

Dr. Gottenborg has been impressed by the resident workforce’s response across all specialties throughout these difficult days. “They were universally ready to dive in and work long hours and care for these very sick patients and ultimately share their experiences so that we could do it better as these patients continue to flow through our systems,” she said. “It has been very invigorating.”

The pandemic has also put a spotlight on the importance of being flexible, as well as various problems with how health care systems operate, “which, for people in our field, gets us both excited and gives us a lot of work to do,” said Dr. Gottenborg. “Our residents see that and feel that and will hopefully continue to hold that torch in hospital medicine.”

In spite of everything, Dr. Rawal believes this is an exhilarating time to be a trainee. “They’re getting an opportunity that none of us got. Usually, when policies are made, we really don’t see the immediate impact.” But with recent mandates like masks and social distancing, “the rate of change that they get to see things happen is exciting. They’re going to be a very exciting group of physicians.”


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