Yvette Bordelon, MD, PhD
Professor of Neurology
Associate Program Director of UCLA Neurology Residency
Neurology medical education did not escape the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 during the 2020-21 academic year. Neurology residency recruitment in particular had to be completely overhauled on short notice and transitioned to an entirely virtual experience. Pre-COVID, it was typical for senior medical students from institutions across the country and around the world to rotate with our services in UCLA Neurology as they began to consider and compete for positions in our residency training program. However, the COVID pandemic brought an abrupt end to visiting student rotations and to the traditional on-site interview process for residency applicants. Suddenly students and residency programs alike needed to find creative ways of re-inventing these experiences to allow for the best Match possible this spring.
UCLA Neurology quickly brought together a work group comprised of key stakeholders throughout the department to brainstorm and implement an entirely virtual experience for applicants to our program. The social media aficionados in the group developed a campaign to highlight our program through multiple venues (@ucla_neuro on Instagram; @UCLANeurology on Twitter; connecting with @NMatch2021). The education content on the Neurology website was completely redesigned and enhanced with embedded videos to provide critical information for potential applicants (https://www.uclahealth.org/neurology/residency). We conducted a Virtual Open House and scheduled webinars for high-interest topics such as our unique tracks where residents may specialize in research or train to be a clinical educator.
The interview day itself was expertly scheduled to provide face time with the department chair, program directors, a variety of faculty and chief residents while simultaneously (somehow miraculously) avoiding Zoom fatigue. Our talented and energetic Education Office staff were able to organize and carry out the entire complicated virtual enterprise spanning several months without a hitch! However, it was the twice weekly Happy Hours with our residents that made the biggest impact on the entire recruitment season. One of the most important considerations for applicants as they choose and rank potential programs is resident camaraderie and overall culture and feel of the program. They want to find their best fit, their “people”. To try to accomplish this virtually is almost impossible. Yet UCLA Neurology was certainly successful, due solely to the enthusiasm, sincere interest and hard work of every single one of our residents conducting a total of 18 of these virtual sessions, each one to two hours long, over a three-month time period.
Given the lack of travel necessary for interviews in this virtual environment, students applied to many more programs compared to previous years. At UCLA Neurology, we saw a more than 30% increase in number of applicants this season and interviewed more than 100 applicants for our nine positions. While COVID restrictions will ease with the return of visiting student electives later this year and possibly in-person interviews, we will likely maintain some of the most effective, high-yield components of our virtual recruitment process. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and the innovations implemented quickly this year by our amazing residents, staff and faculty have turned out to be quite successful.