The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant disruption to residency recruitment, including a sudden, comprehensive transition to virtual interviews. The authors sought to characterize applicant experiences and perceptions concerning the change in the application, interview, and match process for neurological surgery residency during the 2020–2021 recruitment cycle.
A national survey of neurosurgical residency applicants from the 2020–2021 application cycle was performed. This survey was developed in cooperation with the Society of Neurological Surgeons (SNS) and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Young Neurosurgeons Committee (YNC) and sent to all applicants (n = 280) who included academic video submissions to the SNS repository as part of their application package. These 280 applicants accounted for 69.6% of the total 402 neurosurgical applicants this year.
Nearly half of the applicants responded to the survey (44.3%, 124 of 280). Applicants favored additional reform of the interview scheduling process, including a centralized scheduling method, a set of standardized release dates for interview invitations, and interview caps for applicants. Less than 8% of students desired a virtual-only platform in the future, though the majority of applicants supported incorporating virtual interviews as part of the process to contain applicant costs and combining them with traditional in-person interview opportunities. Program culture and fit, as well as clinical and research opportunities in subspecialty areas, were the most important factors applicants used to rank programs. However, subjective program "fit" was deemed challenging to assess during virtual-only interviews.
Neurosurgery resident applicants identified standardized interview invitation release dates, centralized interview scheduling methods, caps on the number of interviews available to each candidate, and regulated opportunities for both virtual and in-person recruitment as measures that could significantly improve the applicant experience during and effectiveness of future neurosurgery residency application cycles. Applicants prioritized program culture and "fit" during recruitment, and a majority were open to incorporating virtual elements into future cycles to reduce costs while retaining in-person opportunities to gauge programs and their locations.