The COVID-19 pandemic forced sweeping changes to graduate medical education over the last several months, and as we plan for the new academic year, it is clear that residency recruitment will fundamentally change as well. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a position statement encouraging medical school, residency, and faculty interviews to be held virtually [1]. While there is precedent for holding residency and fellowship interviews online [2-4], these new circumstances present significant challenges for applicants and residency programs alike.

One important change will be the loss of the pre-interview reception. Information exchange between students and residents over dinner at these receptions influences rank order list decisions [5,6]. These receptions provide opportunities for applicants to learn about resident life, satisfaction with their training, cost of living, and many other topics not authentically covered during the interview day. How can residency programs address the information gaps that will result from the loss of pre-interview receptions? Well-designed virtual receptions can provide a unique welcome to applicants and a means to communicate directly with faculty and residents. Here are some suggestions for the use of video conferencing to create ‘virtual receptions.’


Pre-interview receptions were often held the night before an interview day. Consider instead holding lunchtime sessions that might result in similarly high attendance, or several sessions throughout the day. Applicants aren’t traveling and may be joining you from different time zones so “lunchtime” and “evening” are relative terms this interview season. Programs may also consider holding asynchronous receptions throughout the interview season. Alternative reception times may make it easier for residents and faculty to participate.


Applicants have shown a preference for receptions without faculty presence [5]. This year, with the limited ability to interact with faculty otherwise, it may be beneficial to include them in some form. For instance, programs could offer a faculty reception prior to a resident-only reception. This will allow for applicants to have more time to interact with faculty as they would on traditional in-person interview days while maintaining the preferred resident-only reception.

Small Groups

There are several services available to host virtual pre-interview receptions. Two popular platforms, Zoom and Cisco Webex, both include the functionality to host small group sessions within the main session. These small group sessions can be helpful for allowing questions and discussions to happen in a smaller, more intimate setting. Sessions could be organized by residents’ PGY-level or by interests that students may want to discuss further (e.g. special interests, hobbies, pets, family/spousal support).

Food and Drinks

Most pre-interview receptions were complementary and held in local eateries to highlight local culture. This could be replicated by providing applicants with local food and/or drink to be enjoyed during the pre-interview reception. Programs could ship ingredients directly to the applicant, though details such as shipping methods should be considered. As a cost-saving alternative, applicants could be sent a recipe for a local specialty dish or drink.


We recommend sending program-branded gifts to applicants that can be displayed, used, or worn during the residency reception as well as after in order to keep your program in the forefront of applicants’ minds. T-shirts, hats, outerwear, bags, and drinkware have been shown to be particularly effective. Programs should strive to send well-made durable products that can be used regularly at least throughout the interview season. The creation of promotional items has been found to be one of the most cost-effective means of advertisement per impression [7].


A crucial aspect of selling your program to applicants will be creating a positive atmosphere so that they could imagine themselves enjoying their co-workers and time outside of work – you want them to answer the “Are these my people?” question with a resounding “Yes!” An important step will be ensuring a large resident turnout from your program – the more residents, the more spontaneous chatter will be generated about your program and life outside. As the prospect of yet another Zoom meeting with strangers may not be immediately appealing, it may be worthwhile to remind residents at the beginning of the season of the importance of these sessions for applicants, or even consider offering incentives of some kind (e.g. food, swag).

Conversation starters

To ensure conversations feel more organic, we recommend programs establish ice-breaker questions to start a discussion either in a general session or in small group sessions. Keep your receptions fun and avoid a focus on selling the program. The use of online games, such as Houseparty, Heads Up, Outburst, and Taboo, among others, could be used to break the ice and create a more natural and fun atmosphere.


Virtual pre-interview receptions will take considerable coordination. We suggest having at least one practice reception to test the functionality of your preferred platform. Pay attention to sound and lighting. Ensure that there is a selected ‘host’ for each reception who can control the main session and any small group sessions. While there will likely be unforeseen technical issues, planning and practice will allow you to put your best virtual foot forward.


The most valuable aspects of a traditional, in-person interview day can be replicated during virtual interviews with a little creativity and deliberate planning. This includes the pre-interview virtual reception. Think outside the box! Reimagine the pre-interview reception, keep the student consumer at the forefront of your mind, and impress your applicants with a well-designed virtual experience.

Resources and References

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  1. Conducting Interviews During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Association of American Medical Colleges website. Updated May 14, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2020.
  2. Healy WL, Bedair H. Videoconference Interviews for an Adult Reconstruction Fellowship: Lessons Learned. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2017;99(21):e114. PMID: 29088046
  3. Shah SK, Arora S, Skipper B, Kalishman S, Timm TC, Smith AY. Randomized evaluation of a web based interview process for urology resident selection. J Urol. 2012;187(4):1380-1384. PMID: 22341282
  4. Pourmand A, Lee H, Fair M, Maloney K, Caggiula A. Feasibility and Usability of Tele-interview for Medical Residency Interview. West J Emerg Med. 2018;19(1):80-86.  PMID:  29383060
  5. Schlitzkus LL, Schenarts PJ, Schenarts KD. It was the night before the interview: perceptions of resident applicants about the preinterview reception. J Surg Educ. 2013;70(6):750-757. PMID: 24209651
  6. Love JN, Howell JM, Hegarty CB, et al. Factors that influence medical student selection of an emergency medicine residency program: implications for training programs. Acad Emerg Med. 2012;19(4):455-460. PMID: 22506950
  7. Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study: 2016 Edition. Advertising Specialty Institute. 2016. Accessed July 17, 2020.
Daniel J Ritter, MD

Daniel J Ritter, MD

Attending Physician
Johnson County Emergency Medicine
Daniel J Ritter, MD

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Corlin M Jewell, MD

Corlin M Jewell, MD

Clinical Instructor
BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine
University of Wisconsin
Corlin M Jewell, MD

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Charles A Brown MD, MPH

Resident Physician
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of Michigan

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David A Haidar, MD

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Benjamin Schnapp, MD

Benjamin Schnapp, MD

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
Assistant Program Director
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Michael Gisondi, MD

Michael Gisondi, MD

Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Education
Department of Emergency Medicine
Stanford University
Editor, ALiEM EM Match Advice series