Applications To Internal Medicine Programs Up During Pandemic

Published: Monday, May 10, 2021 - 5:05am
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The pandemic has disrupted traditional medical education, from upending trainee schedules to requiring students and educators to provide COVID-19 vaccinations and patient care.

But a research letter in the journal JAMA Network Open says it's also brought an uptick in internal medicine residency and fellowship applications.

Although those applications have been on the rise for years, data from the Electronic Residency Application Service, the online conduit for residency applications, finds last year's increase of 6% was twice that of any of the previous five years.

Dr. Cheryl O'Malley, associate dean of graduate medical education at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said she's seen similar patterns, but is less inclined to interpret the data as pointing to a major shift.

"I think that it was a continuation of a trend that was already underway," she said.

Of the 11 subspecialties studied, seven in particular outstripped their previous application rates: allergy/immunology, cardiology, endocrinology, geriatric medicine, hematology/oncology, nephrology and hospice/palliative care medicine (HPM).

The authors suggest the uptick may stem from a desire for short-term job security amid the pandemic and from the wider availability of virtual interviews. They also hypothesize the pandemic might have focused greater attention on clinical and research opportunities in COVD-19-related fields such as infectious disease, geriatric medicine, HPM and pulmonary/critical care medicine.

But O'Malley, whose medical school has been offering virtual interviews for three years, says more research is needed to support such suppositions.

"It's a conclusion that I think is too early to be made. The number of applications per applicant, both for residency and for fellowships, has been increasing preceding the use of video interviews," she said.

O'Malley added she hopes studying the effects of such disruptions will inform future policies and programs.

"This will be the time that we get to see what programs and applicants find is the right sweet spot for doing some things perhaps virtually and then some aspects in person."