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Medical Residency Interview Scheduling, Automated

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   August 25, 2015

The cumbersome process of scheduling interviews between medical residency programs and candidates usually involves a torrent of emails and phone calls between exasperated candidates and equally exasperated residency program directors. That may be about to change.

Scheduling interviews between residency applicants and medical education residency program coordinators is about to get easier, if one startup's promise to automate the process holds true.

Each summer, a bit of computer science commences which optimizes U.S. healthcare behind the scenes. The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS), operated by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), starts accepting fourth-year medical student applications for residency programs starting the following July. Candidates submit their transcripts, grades, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and an application fee, and hope for some good responses.

Invitations to interview follow from residency programs, and then a round of in-person interviews between residency programs and candidates. Then a second service, the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), accepts the rankings of both the interviewers and the interviewed, and via an algorithm recognized with a 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, produces the final matches, which are released on Match Day, usually the third Friday in March.

As wondrous as this process is, there has been a cumbersome productivity-drain and stress-inducing process in arranging those interviews. That is because ERAS produces a list of candidates for each residency program, which then invites potentially hundreds of candidates to choose from perhaps 20 potential interview dates, but it's left up to the prospective residents to arrange the actual dates and times of each interview.

Believe it or not, at least one residency program still uses the U.S. postal service to arrange the entire thing.
Mostly, administrative officials at each school are besieged by a flood of nearly-simultaneous emails and phone calls from hundreds of applicants trying to confirm their preferred dates and times. "We interview about a 170 to 200 people, so you get all those emails back, trying to get everybody scheduled in, so it's hundreds of emails and phone calls and stuff," says Amy Matenaer, anesthesiology medical education residency program coordinator at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Milwaukee.

Clearly, there was a need to more efficiently match available times to candidates and interviewers, and even to establish waiting lists, since in the scrum of candidates trying to reach their most desired interviews, there was bound to be variations in interview demands based on the prestige of the residency program.

Last fall, MCW's anesthesiology program became one of a handful of residency programs which turned to Thalamus, a service open to all specialties, which charges programs a modest fee, $250 to $1000 per year, and in return offers an online interview reservation and scheduling system, including wait lists, not unlike some airline reservation systems.

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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