The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes in the neurosurgery residency application process. Early decisions by the Society of Neurological Surgeons led to the canceling of away rotations, installation of virtual interviews, and a required eight-week home rotation in lieu of visiting rotations. Despite being disappointed that I would be unable to visit programs physically, the neurosurgical response to the challenges as a result of COVID-19 was very proactive, and it was a relief to have a definitive idea of the process early on.
Standing out during the home rotation became essential. Letters of recommendation could only come from home programs, so I used the eight weeks to form stronger relationships with key faculty members. During my rotation, I went to clinic with two of my anticipated letter writers, which proved to be an excellent opportunity to prepare and showcase history-taking, physical exam and imaging interpretation skills. Standing out in the operating room did not change much, but the added time of the rotation allowed me to see a wider variety of cases than I would have on a four-week rotation. I have become more familiar with the inner workings of my home health system. As the eight weeks progressed, I was able to take on more and more tasks associated with running the clinical service. The wider breadth of these experiences helped me learn much more about how to function as a neurosurgical resident than I would on a shorter, four-week rotation.
Many neurosurgical programs have started webinars or meet-and-greet sessions, where applicants can learn about the program directly from faculty and residents. Some programs — my home institution included — have organized lecture series, where faculty and residents give didactic sessions about various neurosurgical topics. These are great opportunities for students to get to know both the logistical aspects of the program, such as rotation schedules, research emphases and to get a feel for the all-important “fit.”As the time to submit applications approached, I reached out to friends who applied last year, current residents and faculty members to better understand the programs and compile my list. While the process has certainly been different from years past, some positive things have come from these changes, including the longer home rotation, webinars and lecture series. To say that the virtual interview dramatically affected the ability of programs and applicants to gauge “fit” may be an overstatement, and the real drawback is likely from loss of longitudinal exposure during in-person rotations. Nevertheless, this year has been exciting for both programs and applicants, and I enjoyed seeing how programs showcased themselves through virtual interviews.
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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital
New York, N.Y.