Reducing Travel Costs of Interviews for Medical Students

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Northwestern University & University of Chicago Collaborate to Reduce Travel Costs of Interviews for Medical Students


Michael A. Gisondi, MD  –  Northwestern University

Eric Shappell, MD  –  University of Chicago

Two emergency medicine residency programs in Chicago schedule sequential interview dates to reduce travel-related costs incurred by students during interview season. As described in an article published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, this collaboration works!


The residency leaders in emergency medicine (EM) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine are working together to reduce the travel-related costs of interviewing at their two programs. In a report published in the April 2017 issue of the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine (WJEM), the investigators described a simple intervention that had a big impact: scheduling residency interviews on sequential dates.


Rather than potentially traveling to Chicago twice during different weeks, students interviewing at both programs instead had the option to interview on sequential dates. For example, here is how the investigators scheduled a single week of interviews:


Monday:          No interviews

Tuesday:          No interviews

Wednesday:     U Chicago interview day and U Chicago evening event

Thursday:        U Chicago / Northwestern interview days and Northwestern evening event

Friday:             Northwestern interview day


Students could interview at both schools by scheduling University of Chicago on Wednesday and Northwestern University on Thursday, while others could schedule a Thursday/Friday or Wednesday/Friday combination. During the 2016 Match© season, 62 applicants interviewed in the same week and saved an estimated total of $13,950 ($225 per student).


Not surprisingly, students liked this intervention. In a post-Match© survey described in the report, over 70% of respondents agreed that coordinated interview dates:

  • Increased the likelihood that they would accept interview offers from both programs
  • Increased the ease of scheduling their interviews
  • Decreased the likelihood they would cancel their interviews
  • Allowed them more opportunity to explore Chicago
  • Saved them money


Travel during interview season can be very expensive for students and may represent a key reason why students decline interview offers or cancel previously-scheduled interviews. Blackshaw, Watson and Bush at Medical University of South Carolina recently published an article in WJEM that surveyed applicants to their EM residency program and found that students on average spent over $400 per scheduled interview, inclusive of travel and lodging. Another study by Van Dermark, Wald, Corker and Reid from UT Southwestern and Temple University published in AEM E&T found that the average cost to apply and interview was $5,065 per student, with 72% of costs attributed to their travel. Studies of the cost burden of residency interviews among students applying to urology, orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery have shown similar findings.


Geography often drives student preferences when selecting programs. In 2016, there were 20 U.S. cities with two or more allopathic EM residency programs. Through coordination of schedules by programs in just those cities, as many as 67 (36.7% of all EM residency programs) could offer their applicants options for same-week interviewing. Regionalization of this intervention by programs in nearby cities could increase the effect size even more.


Anecdotally, students have tried for years to group interviews in the same region to reduce travel costs. “Try to schedule your Chicago interviews in one week, your NYC interviews in another week, your Bay Area interviews together…” While this advice makes sense, it is easier said than done. Certainly, there are opportunities for savvy students to create interview season travel schedules that group interviews, but often this results from coincident schedules rather than deliberately coordinated scheduling among programs.


Scheduling of same-week interview opportunities requires deliberate administrative effort by the directors at each program. The investigators wanted to prove that the effort was worth it. Importantly, how many students might take advantage of the coordinated scheduling at their programs? For the 2016 Match, 158 students were offered interviews by both programs and 106 students completed both interviews — 90 of which were from schools outside of Illinois. The significant overlap in the applicant pools at these two programs made the intervention well worth the effort, and the intervention was continued by these programs in the 2017 Match. This year, an estimated total of 120 students could take advantage of the coordinated interview dates. This adds up to big cost savings for students.


For programs that might consider collaborating to coordinate interview schedules, the authors recommend the following tips based on their experience:


  • Tell students that you are coordinating your interview dates. In this study, the programs simply coordinated their interview schedules but did not inform the students. Despite this, over a third of invited students took advantage of the sequential interview dates. For the 2017 Match, interview invitation offers included information about the coordinating schedules; anecdotally, many more students were able to schedule same-week interviews this year.


  • Tell students that they have been selected to receive an interview invitation before you begin your online scheduling process. The programs in this study use Interview Broker to schedule interviews, though other third-party vendors are available as well. This year both programs sent E-mails to all invited students informing them that they would receive a link to schedule their interviews the next day at a pre-set time. This notice gave students a chance to review potential interview dates ahead of time, as well as allow for an equal opportunity to select any date. Without providing similar notice, students will schedule on a ‘first-come, first-served’ manner according to who opens their E-mail first; that approach significantly disadvantages those students who are unavailable at the time that invitations are sent.


  • Send the links to your online scheduling systems at the same time. This optimizes the students’ chances of scheduling their interviews at both programs in the same week.


  • Post your interview dates on your programs’ websites well before you plan to extend interview invitations. This allows time for applicants to consider their travel options to your programs as they begin to receive invitations from elsewhere in the country.


  • Pair your interview days to double the effect size of your efforts, as in this study. While two days of interviews in a row may represent a big change to your current recruitment process, such scheduling greatly increases travel options for students. Paired interview days also allow for one ‘evening event’ for applicants interviewing at a program on sequential days, as in the example schedule above. Coordinating schedules between programs eliminates overlap of evening events, as well.


In summary:

This was the first study to demonstrate that a collaboration between residency programs can reduce the costs and travel burden to medical students applying to both programs. Same-week interviews were preferred by students in this study period, who favorably reviewed the intervention across all measures of their experience.


Article Citation:

Shappell E, Fant A, Schnapp B, Lin J, Babcock C, Gisondi MA. “A Novel Collaboration to Reduce the Travel-Related Cost of Residency Interviewing.” Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. April 2017. E-pub ahead of print.


Electronically published February 7, 2017: link to full article.


Study Authors:

Eric Shappell, MD (@ericshappell) is Clinical Associate and Medical Education Fellow in the Section of Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (@UChicagoEM).


Abra Fant, MD (@DrAbracadabra) is Instructor and Assistant Program Director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (@NorthwesternEM).


Benjamin Schnapp, MD (@schnappadap) is Assistant Professor and Assistant Program Director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (@UWEMRP).


Jill P. Craig, BS (@jillpcraig) is Residency Coordinator in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (@NorthwesternEM).


James Ahn, MD, MHPE (@ahnjam) is Assistant Professor and Associate Residency Director in the Section of Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (@UChicagoEM).


Christine Babcock, MD, MSc (@cbabs4) is Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Section of Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (@UChicagoEM).


Michael A. Gisondi, MD (@MikeGisondi) is Associate Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Medical Education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (@NorthwesternEM). He is the Emergency Medicine Residency Program Director and the Director of the Feinberg Academy of Medical Educators.


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