Making better matches: virtual portal brings equity to the connection between learners and residency programs

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by The CMA Foundation staff

When the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) announced visiting electives were cancelled for 2020 because COVID-19, medical learners were anxious.

“When students were allowed to travel (to complete an elective) they were better able to see what the program and city were like because they had lived there for several weeks and had interacted with many different physicians in the program. That experience has been lost,” explained Dr. Bernard Ho, an emergency medicine resident in Vancouver.

Residency programs were also worried.

Dr. Michelle Morros, the associate program director for the family medicine residency at the University of Alberta, said missing out on the face-to-face interaction with potential residents was a huge loss for her program; in the past, many residents have admitted they were never considering U of A until they visited in person.

“The fear was ‘How do you do that virtually? How do you get the message out about our culture and what’s strong about our program?’”

The solution

To help medical learners and residency programs adapt to this shift, the CMA Foundation committed  $1.94 million to the AFMC for the development of a virtual portal — Canada’s Portal for Residency Program Promotion.

The new portal allows medical learners to explore residency programs in one central location, collating information that was previously often difficult to find across various program and school websites.

It also includes a searchable events calendar, where the 1,000+ residency programs can post virtual events they’re hosting for medical learners, such as information sessions, Q&As and social events.

Developed through a design “sprint” facilitated by the Canadian Medical Association, a team of learners, residency program directors, medical school deans and other stakeholders worked virtually over a six-week stretch to design, build and test a prototype portal.

As part of the sprint team, both Dr. Morros and Dr. Ho said the process helped them develop a better end product.

“It didn’t let you just plug in a preconceived idea of what you want the solution to be,” said Dr. Morros.

Although the portal was designed to tackle challenges posed by the pandemic, sprint team members said the portal will also help address a longer standing issue in the residency-match process.

Addressing equity

Dr. Victor Do, a sprint team member and a first-year pediatric resident, explained that medical learners have always struggled to get information about residency programs; there was no centralized database and information was presented very differently from program to program. Some programs have well developed websites, and others don’t. Some don’t offer any information until a learner is offered an interview.

“Medical students relied heavily on being able to visit a program, and to do some type of in-person elective, in order to learn about it,” said Dr. Do. Yet many learners couldn’t visit all the programs they wanted — because of cost and capacity.

The sprint team predicts that the portal will have a lasting impact on medical students, especially once they can travel again.

“If nothing else, the portal allows the opportunity for equal access from candidate to program, and from program to applicant. Every program can say equally ‘I am here, come and see what we have to offer,’ and every applicant can say ‘Here are all the pathology programs in the country, and I can see them all in one place,’” said Dr. Morros.

“That’s the biggest advantage with this new portal — there was little equity before. In my mind, it should stay whether we are virtual or not.”

“It’s really a way to make sure everyone - students and medical school programs - start off on equal footing.” – Dr. Michelle Morros