Guidance Steers 2021 Match Around COVID-19 Obstacles

AAFP, Peer Organizations Issue Advice for Residency Programs, Students, Schools

June 04, 2020 10:32 am News Staff

The AAFP and other family medicine organizations recently created detailed recommendations to help medical students, residency programs and medical schools have a successful 2021 family medicine residency match process that overcomes hurdles thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The advice, released May 29 as a letter to the family medicine community,(2 page PDF) suggests approaches to away rotations, interviews and other details to ensure medical students match with the right programs in an equitable process that protects everyone's health.

Key recommendations for the 2020-21 match cycle are to

  • discourage away rotations in most circumstances;
  • conduct only virtual interviews and virtual visits with all applicants, including those who live nearby and those who would be able to travel;
  • consider candidates whose licensing exams have been delayed by the pandemic or who have fewer letters of recommendation due to rotation restrictions;
  • ensure that medical students can easily find information about program qualities and the interview process for programs they may be interested in; and
  • find ways to give students virtual family medicine career exploration experiences.

"Family medicine has the opportunity to embrace these significant changes and show our adaptability and resilience," the organizations wrote. "We hope that this guidance will help future family physicians and family medicine residency programs have the best possible match outcome in this unprecedented time."

Story Highlights
  • The AAFP and several other family medicine organizations are offering recommendations to achieve a successful 2021 family medicine residency match process despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Suggestions include discouraging away rotations in most circumstances, and conducting only virtual interviews and virtual visits with all candidates.
  • The AAFP offers several resources to help match candidates to the right programs.

The letter was signed by AAFP Board Chair John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska, and the presidents or chairs of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, the Council of Academic Family Medicine, the North American Primary Care Research Group and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

It was written to add family medicine-specific guidance to broader recommendations(www.aamc.org) issued on May 11 by the Coalition for Physician Accountability.

The recommendations -- the coalition's, as well as those that the AAFP helped develop -- are meant to guide the decisions that medical schools, sponsoring institutions and residency programs will have to make as the pandemic disrupts travel and restricts in-person gatherings. But they acknowledge that adaptations may be necessary to ensure fairness and flexibility.

For example, while away rotations are discouraged in most cases, they might be appropriate for students who don't have access to family medicine clinical experiences in their school's system, as well as those who require an away rotation for graduation or accreditation. Family medicine programs also are advised to consider accommodating students who live nearby and wouldn't otherwise get an adequate family medicine experience.

Flexibility will be especially important for candidates who don't have licensing exam results or the usual number of letters of recommendations because of the pandemic.

"Programs should avoid rigid screening of applicants on these criteria and should provide opportunities for candidates to express the impact of the pandemic on their application components," the letter said. "Medical schools are encouraged to include explanations of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic upon the clinical academic schedules in students' Medical Student Performance Evaluation."

Once programs have developed a process to overcome difficulties created by the pandemic, it's essential that their IT systems are accessible and stable enough to support it and that their websites clearly tell prospective candidates what to expect.

"Websites and residency directories should be designed to assist candidates in choosing to apply only to programs that are the 'right fit' for them," the letter said.

Following up on this guidance, the AAFP created a 2021 Match FAQs resource that will be updated throughout the season as changes occur and further guidance and resources become available. The Academy also launched a medical student member community where students can connect with each other and get quick access to emerging information. In addition, the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students will take place virtually in July with a large, virtual residency fair to connect students with programs. And the AAFP residency directory and student applet also give residency programs an opportunity to disseminate information about their program and allow students to search the more than 700 family medicine residencies across the United States and U.S. territories.

Related AAFP News Coverage
More U.S. Students Match to Family Medicine in Record Year
Specialty's New Class Increases for 11th Straight Year; More Growth Needed

(3/20/2020)

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