Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Congestion in interviews for pediatric surgery fellowships

 In recent years, pediatric surgery has been a very popular subspecialty among Stanford surgical residents (upon completion of their 5 year general surgery residency).  A lot of time and treasure is spent interviewing for these relatively few fellowship positions: except in 2020 when interviews were remote, fellowship applicants pay for their own travel, etc.  And Stanford hospitals pull back on elective surgeries while the surgical residents are on the road interviewing.  Is so much interviewing inefficient?  Many think so, and here are some data.

Analysis of the pediatric surgery fellowship application process using the Thalamus™ database, by  Saunders Lin, Jason Reminick, Ephy Love, Benedict Nwomeh, Sanjay Krishnaswami, Journal of Pediatric Surgery, Volume 56, Issue 6, June 2021, Pages 1095-1100

"Background: The pediatric surgery fellowship interview process is costly and time intensive. We hypothesized that the increasing number of interviews completed by applicants and programs have become inefficient over time.


"Results: Our dataset included 34, 41, and 45 programs, which represented 81%, 91%, and 97% of all programs in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. The median number of interviews completed per program remained constant, while the median number of interviews per applicant increased from 9.0 in 2018 to 13.0 in 2020. For 75% of programs, a program required only 4 or less candidates to fill their position. On average, 96% of program interviews do not result in a matched candidate.

"Conclusions: Programs offer interviews out of proportion to the number of positions available, and most applicants attend all interviews offered. We recommend an initial program goal of 20 interviews, which may be achieved by increased use of virtual interviews and the creation of program-level data on ideal applicant profiles.


"1. Introduction: With the advent of computer scheduling software and electronic interview platforms, data collection regarding the pediatric surgery fellowship interview process on a national level is now possible. One such platform is Thalamus, a scheduling software currently used for pediatric surgery fellowship interviews [1].

"The pediatric surgery match remains one of the most competitive fellowship application processes, with a total of 43 available positions for 78 applicants in the 2020 match cycle [2]. Published data show that extensive time and monetary resources are used every applicant cycle, with the average candidate spending around 14% of pretax salary and using up to three full weeks of residency days to complete interviews [3]. Despite these costs, however, programs continue to place considerable value on in-person interviews.


"2.1. Data source and methods: Thalamus is a comprehensive online and mobile Graduate Medical Education (GME) scheduling and communication software currently used in the pediatric surgery interview process. For applicants, features include a real-time scheduling system with online and mobile compatibility that allows applicants to self-schedule and instantly confirm their interview dates. From a program perspective, Thalamus is able to handle all interview confirmations, cancellations and rescheduling, and allows for comprehensive collection of applicant and program data both on the aggregate and individual levels.

"Thalamus was founded in 2013 and has been used in pediatric surgery since December 2016. The software is also currently used by more than 2200 residency and fellowship programs at more than 200 hospital systems across more than 100 specialties. It segments each institution by institutional ID and each program within each institution by program + ACGME ID (or a similar number for non-ACGME accredited programs). This is a cloud hosted database on the Microsoft Azure/SQL Server. Thalamus maintains several IRB approved/exempt research relationships with various specialties and other leadership organizations in Graduate Medical Education. This data is not shared between programs nor any other organization outside of Thalamus.

"We performed a retrospective investigation using Thalamus to identify population-level parameters regarding the pediatric surgery match between 2018 and 2020. This study was deemed exempt from approval by the Oregon Health and Sciences University Institutional Review Board as it did not contain patient data and applicant data was de-identified.

"3.2. Individual program and applicant data: With regards to individual program and applicant match data, the mean number of interviews offered and completed per program were similar in all three years (Table 2). The highest number of interviews a program completed was 44 in 2020. The number of interviews offered and completed per program have remained constant during the time-period. In contrast, both the mean and median number of interviews received and completed by applicants have increased. The median number of interviews completed per applicant increased 33.3% between 2018 and 2019 and an additional 12.5% between 2019 and 2020. Furthermore, the number of applicants who complete three or less interviews have been decreasing in the past three years: 25% in 2018, 20.6% in 2019, and 11.4% in 2020. Conversely, the number of applicants who completed more than 20 interviews has also been increasing in the past three years.

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