The 2020-2021 residency application cycle was profoundly altered as a result of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United States which led to a completely virtual season for nearly all specialties. At the time of this publication, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and ophthalmology have announced virtual interviews for the upcoming 2021-2022 cycle. Using lessons from the inaugural “virtual” cycle, many residency applicants are already preparing themselves for the virtual season ahead.
Many stakeholders turned to social media (SoMe) last year as a tool to help overcome communication deficiencies created by canceled clinical electives, away rotations, and in-person interviews. This year, utilization of SoMe is likely to be just as prevalent due to continued variability of away rotations and models of interviewing. While there are several leading SoMe platforms used by applicants, the role of Twitter in the 2021-2022 national residency match in pediatrics (#PedsMatch22) is the focus of this paper. In a scoping review, Twitter was the most frequently cited SoMe platform with regard to knowledge translation and medical education. Twitter has the potential to impact the professional careers of medical students and educators alike.
The pediatric Twitter community, commonly referred to as #PedsTwitter, is a group of SoMe users representing all levels of training in pediatric health care. It uses Twitter as its global gathering place to discuss current issues in children’s medicine, leveraging the platform for the benefits of medical education, professional networking, and academic collaboration. Active professional engagement on Twitter can provide residency applicants with easily accessible information on a variety of programs. Indeed, an active Twitter presence during the #PedsMatch22 interview season will offer unique insights to pediatric residency applicants, and while this paper focuses on pediatrics, the principles outlined are also applicable to non-pediatric specialties.
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic created significant challenges for medical students, particularly rising fourth-year students participating in the 2020-2021 residency match. Residency programs and applicants were forced to re-conceptualize how the residency application and interview season were conducted last year. For applicants, canceling away rotations and in-person interviews meant eliminating their in-person interaction with outside institutions. These interactions are conventionally thought of as critically important sources of information to guide final ranking decisions for both applicants and programs. With few in-person opportunities, applicants sought alternate ways to learn about programs.
For many pediatric residency programs, these changes catalyzed rapid adaptation in recruitment strategies; some programs increased their presence on social media platforms to communicate and advertise. To better convey vital, yet intangible, information such as program culture or resident collegiality, many programs utilized both SoMe and webinar-based tools to allow #PedsMatch21 applicants to virtually interact with residents and faculty this past year.
Figure 1. a) Three potential benefits available to members of the #PedsTwitter community, b) Three potential benefits available to #PedsMatch applicants on Twitter.
Potential Benefits of #PedsTwitter
Twitter is an increasingly important resource for pediatric education (Figure 1a). The succinct style of pediatric education on Twitter, often referred to as #FOAMpeds (Free Open-Access Medical education in pediatrics), allows a higher-yield experience for the Millennial learner. Another distinct advantage of #PedsTwitter is the ability for users to network with one another. Interactions that previously occurred most often during in-person conferences can now happen virtually every day on Twitter. Users also benefit from increased opportunities for academic collaboration as they develop their personal brands and enlarge their professional networks. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, trainees and faculty alike have turned to Twitter to help offset cancellations of in-person electives and away rotations.
Potential benefits to the #PedsMatch22 applicant
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a notable increase in the presence of pediatric faculty, residents, residency programs, and applicants on Twitter. One concerted effort was the student-led account @FuturePedsRes (founded by authors Heitkamp and Neelakantan) with the goal of connecting these stakeholders ahead of the unique virtual interview season. Broadening one’s connection to the #PedsTwitter community can easily be achieved by engaging with organizational accounts such as @NextGenPeds as well as searching for hashtags that identify community members, like #Tweetiatrician, #Pediatrician, and #PedsMatch22.
There are three unique insights that the #PedsMatch22 applicant can gain from an active Twitter presence this interview season (Figure 1b). The first insight is obtaining real-time, up-to-date application and interview season information. The goal of the @FuturePedsRes account has been to provide key tools for students, including the innovative #PedsMatch Webinar Series, co-sponsored by the APPD and COMSEP. Additionally, #PedsTwitter enables peer-to-peer support, allowing applicants to share ideas and perspectives ahead of virtual interviews. Pediatric resident tweet threads – collections of connected tweets linked together in a single post – have allowed for dispersion of vital, often under-emphasized issues such as challenges faced by under-represented in medicine (URiM) applicants.
The second insight is that many pediatric residency programs are accessible to applicants on Twitter. Many pediatric residency programs shifted at least part of their recruitment efforts to the Twitter environment during last year’s cycle. There are a wide variety of tools and strategies used by residency program accounts to better inform and support applicants, such as distribution of professional “program overview” videos, the creation and promotion of program-specific virtual events, and the sharing of pictures and videos from an inside-perspective of the program.
Finally, the third insight is that program directors (PDs) and other members of program leadership on Twitter serve as a direct line of information for applicants. Following PDs on Twitter allows applicants to understand what is important enough to them to publicly promote, thereby providing a digital history that applicants can use to evaluate the potential fit of a program. Twitter also provides an easy way for PDs to answer applicant questions publicly in a thread or privately via direct message.
The unique benefits of virtual recruitment experienced last year have led to conversations of its permanent use in future seasons. Many applicants and residency programs used Twitter to compensate for opportunities that were lost by canceled away rotations, altered clinical electives, and a lack of in-person interviews this past year. As more specialties announce their plans for an all-virtual recruitment cycle this year, #PedsMatch22 applicants (as well as applicants from all fields) stand to gain unique insights by actively engaging on Twitter.
We would like to thank the following individuals for their significant contributions to this manuscript: John G. Frohna, MD, MPH (@frohnaj), Heather A. McPhillips, MD, MPH (@hmcphillips), Patricia Poitevien, MD (@DocPatTeachOne), Shannon E. Scott-Vernaglia, MD (@ScottVernaglia), and Darel E. Heitkamp, MD (@DarelHeitkamp).
Nicholas M. Heitkamp is a pediatrics resident and co-founder, FuturePedsRes. He can be reached on Twitter @nmheitkamp. Lucas E. Morgan is a child neurology intern and can be reached on Twitter @lucasemorgan. Mekala K. Neelakantan is a pediatrics resident and co-founder, FuturePedsRes. She can be reached on Twitter @mekalaneelakan1.
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