Author: Jamie Shandro, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, EM Clerkship Co-Director, and director of EM student advising, University of Washington School of Medicine. An EM-bound student advocate.
Early interview season is stressful for all parties. It may feel similar to an awkwardly organized online dating service where only one side gets to ask the other out. Programs are hoping their favorite candidates will say yes, and candidates are anxiously hoping that their favorite programs will call them. As the initial interview offers come in, most students understandably say yes to every invitation, often scheduling many more interviews than they will ultimately need to attend. There are a lot of reasons why letting go of extra interviews is better for everyone.
Medical students: you got to where you are right now because you are organized, thorough, and plan ahead. The match adds a lot of unknowns to your planning minds, and uncertainty makes us want to limit risk and even act irrationally at times. Last year, it was identified that up to a third of medical students endorsed “interview hoarding” or holding multiple interviews for the same day. This year, interview broker has a new feature where programs can be notified when a student interviewing with them has double booked for the same day (wouldn’t this be a nice feature for a dating site?). Murmurings among program directors suggest that this has been helpful in reducing double bookings, but we still face the challenge of some students holding onto too many interviews, while other students anxiously wait for more.
For those lucky students with too many interviews, it is tempting to hold onto them, biding your time as you sort out which programs you are most interested in. It’s hard to let go of an interview, because it means you close that door (we get it—one of the reasons we go into EM is because we like variety, and it’s hard to close doors on interesting opportunities). Luckily we have some ideas for how to make this easier, because the sooner students who are holding an excess pare down their interview schedule, the better it is for everyone.
- It’s good for you. Going on too many interviews is stressful, costly, and unnecessary. Ask anyone who went on 15 interviews if they would recommend it, and we guarantee they will recommend fewer. Once you pare down your schedule, you have the peace of mind knowing what’s ahead, a more set budget for your interview costs, and you can focus on the important work of researching the programs you are interviewing with and finding the best match for you.
- It’s good for your fellow medical students. For those students with more average academic profiles (your amazing future EM colleagues) the stress of waiting for interviews to come in is really hard. They are waiting for those interviews that you aren’t going to use. Pay it forward and share the wealth. Importantly, for students from your home school, your behavior with cancelling interviews can affect their chances at a specific program both this season and beyond. You are an ambassador for your institution, and trust us that if you cancel at the last minute, that program is less likely to invite a student from your institution in the future. Conversely, if you are professional and give programs plenty of notice, they may be more likely to invite a student from your school!
- It’s good for programs. Programs invest great resources in their interview days, and have a set number of interview spots per season to reach a successful match. Last minute cancellations (less than 2 weeks in advance) mean they likely won’t fill those spots. Let go of interview spots from your less preferred programs as early as you can, so that programs have an opportunity to offer those spots to someone who is excited to come (see #2).
Looking at the hard data should be reassuring to most students. The NRMP’s 2016 Charting Outcomes in the Match shows that for US allopathic seniors, the mean number of contiguous ranks in those who matched EM was 12.3. In fact, those who ranked 10 programs already had a 95% chance of matching (see figure below).
Some helpful advice on considerations on how to pare down your list:
- Take a good look at your list and pare it down to 10-12 interviews (for special circumstances such as the couples match, talk to your advisor about a number). Make a realistic list of your priorities and know that you will get good training at all accredited programs. Talk to your advisor, mentor, and loved ones if you need help crystallizing your priorities.
- Communicate early with programs. Don’t underestimate the fact that programs appreciate early, professional communication about cancellations. Late cancellations are hard on programs, and don’t reflect well on you or your institution. For those cancellations less than one month out, it is nice to write the program coordinator a little note about why you are cancelling, respecting their time and work on your behalf.
- Never cancel an interview 2 weeks or closer to the interview date. Less than 2 weeks makes it nearly impossible for another student to be able to arrange time and airfare to fill that spot. 4 weeks or more is much better for everyone!
- If you are really struggling with what to do with a double booking opportunity for two programs you love, call the program and talk to them. They may be able to move you to another day so you can do both (and then let go of others).
In the modern dating world, you can swipe left or right, and the commitment level is low. For interview spots, the players are a set of professionals with big stakes in the outcome and a high level of commitment. We understand it is hard to let go of possibilities, but there are many benefits to paring it down earlier. Let’s all keep working together to make this awkward dating scheme more humane for everyone. Best wishes this match season!