The neurosurgery residency interview: assessing applicant perspectives on question content, utility, and stress

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  • 1 Department of Neurological Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee;
  • 2 Division of Neurosurgery, University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington, Vermont;
  • 3 Department of Neurosurgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; and
  • 4 Department of Neurosurgery, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
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OBJECTIVE

Residency interviews are integral to the recruitment process yet imperfect. Through surveys of neurosurgery residency applicants, the authors describe interview content and the perceived utility and stress of topics from the applicant’s perspective.

METHODS

All 2018–2019 neurosurgery resident applicants applying to three particular programs were surveyed. Across 10 interview topics, survey questions assessed topic frequency and the applicant’s opinion of the utility and stress of each topic (Likert scale 1–5). Analyses included descriptive statistics, Spearman’s rank correlation, and logistic regression.

RESULTS

One hundred thirty-three of 265 surveyed US residency applicants (50%) responded. Extracurricular activities, research, future career, non-medicine interests, and small talk were discussed in all interviews. The least frequent topics included neurosurgical knowledge assessment (79%) and manual dexterity tests (45%). The most useful topics according to respondents were future career objectives (4.78 ± 0.49) and prior research (4.76 ± 0.50); the least useful were neurosurgical knowledge assessment (2.67 ± 1.09) and manual dexterity tests (2.95 ± 1.05). The most stressful topics were neurosurgical knowledge assessment (3.66 ± 1.23) and ethical/behavioral scenarios (2.94 ± 1.28). The utility and stress of manual dexterity tests and neurosurgical knowledge assessments were inversely correlated (r = −0.40, p < 0.01; r = −0.36, p < 0.01), whereas no such correlation existed for ethical/behavioral questions (r = −0.12, p = 0.18), indicating that ethical/behavioral questions may have been stressful but were potentially useful topics. Respondents who attended ≥ 15 interviews were more likely to be asked about the three most stressful topics (each p < 0.05). Respondents with children were less likely to be asked about ethical/behavioral scenarios (OR 0.13, 95% CI 0.03–0.52, p < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS

Applicants found several of the most frequently discussed topics to be less useful, indicating a potential disconnect between applicant opinion and the faculty’s preferred questions. Ethical/behavioral scenarios were rated as stressful but still useful, representing a potentially worthwhile type of question. These data provide several avenues for potential standardization and improvement of the interview process.

Supplementary Materials

    • Appendix 1 (PDF 474 KB)

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Scott L. Zuckerman: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN. zuckerman.scott@gmail.com.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online July 17, 2020; DOI: 10.3171/2020.4.JNS2046.

Disclosures Dr. Chambless is a consultant for Stryker. Dr. Chitale has received clinical or research support from Medtronic, Cerenovus, and Microvention for the study described.

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