Navigating residency preparation virtually during COVID-19 (Online Exclusive)
COVID-19 has impacted nearly all areas of pharmacy education, forcing academic institutions to use alternative means to continue classes and clinical rotations. These transitions led to technology challenges, learning barriers, and missed opportunities, causing added stress and anxiety. Some APPEs were canceled; others were replaced with a virtual course, and some continued as usual.
Often, students discover their passion and determine their career path during APPE rotations. A canceled or changed rotation may prevent students from experiencing an area of pharmacy they may be passionate about. Furthermore, cancellation of APPE rotations minimizes the number of student–preceptor relationships. In addition, current residents are facing similar challenges in planning their next steps.
With the combination of COVID–19, APPE rotations, missed opportunities during rotations and residency training, all affected will need to be strong, resilient, and able to think outside the box. The following commentary highlights the challenges facing the residency candidates of 2021 and provides suggestions to navigate and approach the residency application process.
Virtual residency showcase
While some major pharmacy conferences of 2020 have been canceled, others have offered virtual opportunities. With the rise in COVID–19 cases, this trend continues. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists revealed that the Midyear Clinical Meeting will be held virtually in December. Residency showcases and interviews are transitioning to an online format, and it is imperative to find ways to stand out in a positive way.
The residency showcase is one of the most important events for those interested in pursuing a residency. These showcases allow candidates to get a feel for programs through interaction with residency directors and current residents. They also provide candidates the opportunity to make an impression on program representatives, as a supplement to their PhORCAS application. On the flip side, residency showcases allow programs to “sell” themselves to future residents. With many unknowns, candidates will benefit from guidance on how to conduct themselves during these online showcases and interviews.
Preparation is just as vital for virtual showcases as it was for in-person residency showcases, if not more. Understanding the instructions on how to attend the different sessions before the first day of the virtual residency showcase and devise a plan, just as if it were a live showcase. Review the offered opportunities and narrow down the list of programs you would like to learn more about. Create a series of general as well as program-specific questions. Avoid asking a question that can easily be answered by researching the program on the Internet. This could reflect poorly on you and may be viewed as an oversight.
Remember to arrive early and to follow instructions on how to ask questions. Familiarize yourself with the meeting platform in advance so you know how to use various features such as the chat box. If the virtual residency showcase allows you to be on camera, dress professional; this is an opportunity to make a good impression.
Use the social media platforms right at your fingertips to highlight your skills, accomplishments, and goals. LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook are great tools, as long as you keep their content professional. Review previous posts on social media, and clean up any posts or images that could project a less than professional image. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, including relevant professional experiences.
Engaging with companies, institutions, and colleagues further demonstrates interest; try “liking” or commenting on posts, for example. You can use Instagram or Facebook to build a personal brand and create an online presence. Several pharmacists use Instagram to share relevant pharmacy and health information while also showcasing a little more about themselves. Likewise, social media is a way for programs and program directors to get to know future residents, especially considering the limitations with in-person meetings.
Take some time to polish your online meeting etiquette. First and foremost, double-check that you have muted your microphone immediately after joining. Make certain you are in a quiet setting and free of interruptions.1 Close all unnecessary computer programs and web browser tabs not in use, which will improve bandwidth and may prevent your computer from overheating.2 Disable notification sounds such as text messages and e-mails, or elect to wear headphones. Turn your phone off or place it in airplane mode.1 Last, dress for success just as you would if you were in person—business professional.2
Whether your camera is on or not, professional attire from head to toes can be the confidence boost you need. Several meeting platforms allow users to customize a virtual background, which can conceal any clutter or distractions from your true background. Regardless, it is important to ensure your background is uncluttered and professional to avoid distractions. During a residency or job interview, use caution and thought when selecting a virtual background. Virtual backgrounds may allow you to share a little more about yourself. Or, to further demonstrate your interest in a program, you could choose a background that caters to the specific hospital site you are interviewing with.
Most of the tips above can also be applied to virtual interviewing. Consider investing in a microphone to ensure you have the best audio quality. The better an interviewer can hear what you are saying, the better the notes they can take about you.3 Keep in mind that some sites may record interviews to be viewed at a later time.4 Think about your tone of voice, and practice how to make the interviewer “hear” the smile in your voice.3 To keep eye contact, drag the interview software window to just below the camera, and look into the camera while speaking.1
It is also important to consider potential interruptions and distractions during your interview. Notify others in your home to not disturb you.2 Determine a plan to keep your pets and/or children from interrupting you. Consider facing natural light so you can shine your brightest. Show off and display your best work by asking to screen share at an appropriate time during your interview. If you plan to do this, be prepared by opening the project files before the interview starts. Other creative ways to showcase your work is through video presentations, a Prezi, or a personal portfolio website. If you decide to share previous projects or presentations, be prepared to answer questions about the project—anything about it has now become fair game.
In addition to preparing in these unique ways specific to virtual interviews, do not forget to prepare yourself for the interview questions. Practice interviewing by answering behavioral- based questions using the START method with a trusted mentor.5 Answering questions out loud in advance will help you feel more relaxed and prepared during the interview.
Keep a journal detailing meaningful experiences—for example, when you made a mistake and how you handled it, or an impactful patient intervention. In addition, reflect on how COVID–19 has affected you, your learning, and your rotations. How has your adaptability through these challenges allowed you to accomplish your goals?
Be resilient, adaptable, and prepared
From our perspective, there are three main takeaways that will benefit residency candidates the most. First, be resilient. Second, be adaptable. Third, be prepared. Resiliency and adaptability through these turbulent times will prove to be a great skill for residency and our profession. Preparing yourself for this process is a direct reflection of how you will prepare yourself for the future. COVID–19 has impacted all our lives, but it is how we respond that will ultimately make the biggest difference.
1. McKinley SK, Fong ZV, Udelsman B, Rickert CG. Successful virtual interviews: Perspectives from recent surgical fellowship applicants and advice for both applicants and programs. Ann Surg. 2020;[Epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000004172
2. Jones RE, Abdelfattah KR. Virtual interviews in the era of COVID-19: A primer for applicants. J Surg Educ. 2020;77(4):733–34. doi:10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.03.020
3. Guerra T. Ep 318 - Phase II interview offer and response timeline. Pharmacy Residency Podcast. 2020. https://pharmacy.libsyn.com/ep-318-phase-ii-interview-offer-and-response-timeline. Accessed July 14, 2020.
4. Guerra T. Ep 317 - Remote interviews and Pearson VUE shuts down until April 16th No NAPLEX PCAT MPJE. Pharmacy Residency Podcast. 2020. https://pharmacy.libsyn.com/ep-317-remote-interviews-and-pearson-vue-shuts-down-until-april-16th-naplex-pcat. Accessed July 14, 2020.
5. Guerci, J, Apple J, Seligson N, Curtis SD. Adding the second ‘T’: Elevating STAR to START for behavioral interviewing. Am J Health-Syst Phar. 2020;[Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1093/ajhp/zxaa356
Stacey D. Curtis, PharmD, is the residency program director of the PGY1 community-based pharmacy residency program at the University of Florida (UF) College of Pharmacy (CoP) and a clinical assistant professor in the department of pharmacotherapy and translational research at UF; Jessica L. Conn is a final-year PharmD candidate at the UF CoP, Orlando; Tracy Tolf is a final-year PharmD candidate at the UF CoP, Orlando; Angelina Vascimini, PharmD, is a PGY2 resident in ambulatory care at the UF CoP; and Shannon A. Miller, PharmD, BCACP, is an assistant director of the UF CoP, Orlando, and a clinical associate professor in the department of pharmacotherapy and translational research at UF.