AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 4, 2019


Future Developments in the Neurosurgery Residency Application Process

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Times are Changing

The process of applying to neurosurgery residencies has not changed drastically in decades, despite rapid developments in communication technology. Just twenty years ago, cell phones were only beginning to gain popularity. Then in 2007, the smartphone was introduced and radically changed how people communicated; email, text and the entire Internet were now in the palms of our hands. Twenty years from now, undoubtedly, new technological advances will continue to reshape the path to becoming a neurosurgery resident. No one can truly look into the future but several trends seem highly likely.

Virtual Reality for Program Exploration

Currently, there are limited options for learning about a program prior to the interview process. Program websites and word of mouth are the most easily accessible options, but they each have significant limitations. Department webpages are often generic and do not effectively convey the culture of the program, which is an important factor for applicants as they formulate their rank lists. Word of mouth can provide more insight, but will often differ depending on the source. The gold standard for surveying a neurosurgery program remains externships.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a true substitute for the month-long sub-internship away rotation experience. However, many alternatives will likely exist that can allow prospective applicants to vet training programs. Using virtual reality technology, programs can offer a tour of the hospital, work areas and operating rooms to applicants long before the interview day. In addition, there will be simulated virtual experiences available where applicants can meet and “interact” with current residents and attendings.

New Age of Interviews

As the application season starts, interview scheduling will be done through a centralized system. Rather than emails from each program coordinator, applicants will be notified in advance when interview invites will be released, and they will be able to access their invitation on a centralized webpage. Then, they can schedule and/or waitlist their preferred dates. This will help to resolve the current limitations created by scheduling conflicts. 

As the interview season approaches, some notable changes may benefit both applicants and programs. There is an irreplaceable intimacy of a face-to-face interview that will always remain the gold standard. However, due to the increasing number of applicants and programs, video interviews may also be offered as a substitute for students who are unable to attend the formal interview date. How these video interviews are weighted will have to be determined on a program-by-program basis. Overall, they will allow programs to interview a much wider scope of applicants. Another benefit to video interviews is the flexibility, not only for the applicants, but also for the interviewers. Attendings will no longer have to block off an entire day for interviews, but can schedule them in 15-minute blocks at their own discretion instead. Reducing the enormous costs to both programs and applicants is yet another tangible benefit.

Benefits of Innovation

There was a time when the topic of online dating left a bad taste, yet today there are few who have not engaged in it at some point. Similar changes should and will insert themselves into neurosurgery as well. Through these changes in the application process, our field will be able to reach a wider scope of prospective applicants. Of course, these are only some of the possibilities. As technology continues to advance rapidly, our ability to innovate will be limited only by our imagination. 

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