Information for Students Applying to Dermatology

The Association of Professors of Dermatology (APD) Residency Program Directors Section is currently updating guidance about the upcoming application cycle. This information will be released via social media and email (through Dermatology Interest Group Association), and will be posted here when available. Please check back for more information later this spring.

Please see below for information regarding last application cycle (2020-2021), but note that given the uncertainty about pandemic-related travel and continued relaxation of restrictions, the information from last cycle may not be readily applicable to this upcoming year.

Consensus Information Regarding the Interview Process during the 2020-2021 Application Cycle

During the 2020-2021 application cycle for dermatology residency, nearly all programs will be conducting virtual-only interviews. Please refer to individual program websites for additional program-specific information. Given questions about the process for interview invite release and virtual interviews, we would like to provide additional information to help guide applicants through the unusual process this year.

Coordinated interview invite release

For the 2020-2021 residency application cycle, a number of dermatology residency programs will be participating in coordinated interview invite release. Participating programs will not release more interview invites than interview slots available. Programs not participating have also been asked to do the same, and have been asked to post date of interview invite release on their websites.

Timeline for participating programs only

  • November 24-November 25, 2020: first round of interview invites released
  • November 30: applicants begin scheduling interviews; must respond by December 1
  • December 2 or later: additional interview invites released

Please refer to the list of participating programs, which will be continuously updated. Importantly, most dermatology residency program directors are in favor of a coordinated interview invite release, however, each program has a different timeline for application review and interviews; therefore, programs not participating in the coordinated release this year should in no way be construed as unwilling to participate, but rather unable to given their specific timeline.

Interview formats and recruiting activities

There is no standardized virtual interview format for dermatology. Programs will use a variety of webconferencing platforms and formats that could include breakout rooms, personal meeting rooms, panel interviews (with more than 1 faculty or resident). Timing of interviews (schedule and interview length) will also vary by program, but in general dermatology programs hold multiple brief interviews for each candidate (10-20 minutes). Most programs have expressed that they will interview similar number of applicants this cycle compared to prior years. There is no coordination among programs with regards to types of interview questions (e.g. structured, behavioral, open-ended etc).

Additional activities, such as social activities, virtual tours, and/or meet-and-greets with residents will be scheduled by programs and may occur on the date of interview or at other times throughout the interview season. Information regarding logistics and formatting of interviews and other recruitment activities will be provided by each program at or near the time of interview invite.

Interview etiquette

Dress code: Dress professionally, but also comfortably, given that you may be sitting in front of your screen for several hours. Historically, the majority of applicants have worn suits, but other professional attire is acceptable. We encourage applicants to consider other elements of their visual appearance (hairstyle, make-up, etc) to be consistent with what they would typically wear in clinic or other similar professional settings.  Most importantly, you should feel like yourself on the day of the interview.

Virtual backgrounds: We recommend that applicants set up their computer/tablet and camera in an area that is well-lit with a fairly non-descript background (like a solid wall). Alternatively, a solid light-colored sheet can be draped behind your set-up. If you feel more comfortable using your school’s standard virtual background or a simple virtual background, please do so, but recognize that virtual backgrounds can occasionally be distracting with movement. If a program would like you to use a specific background, it will specified in the interview invite.

Equipment: We do not recommend that applicants purchase additional equipment for virtual interviews (such as lighting). There are simple inexpensive ways to set up your workstation to maximize light in the room, so do not feel obligated to purchase additional lighting. Please see included resources for tips on how to set up your computer or tablet and webcam for optimal lighting and placement. Using a phone is not recommended, but could be done if needed. Ensure that you have stable internet access during the virtual interviews, and inquire with your medical school or home dermatology program if you need a private space with reliable internet access to participate in interviews as many will be able to help.

Technical issues: We recommend that programs have interviewee phone numbers available so that if there is a connection issue on either end, the virtual interview can be conducted by phone either with or without the video component. Please ensure that you have provided an up-to-date phone number. Additionally, should you be concerned about aspects of the interview day with respect to technical or other anticipated issues, please reach out in advance to program coordinator(s); we all recognize this is a stressful process, particularly given all of the changes this year, and are here to ensure the process runs smoothly for everyone.

Additional tips (adapted from Dr. Ginette Okoye):

  • Ensure your computer or tablet is fully charged prior to your interviews.
  • Download the application to be used ahead of time and practice logging in (if possible) to avoid technical difficulties at the time of interview.
  • Camera should be at eye level; use books or other props as needed.
  • If possible, use an external microphone or headphones/earbuds, but this is not strictly necessary.
  • Find a quiet space indoors where you will not be interrupted. As mentioned above, reach out to your home program or medical school if you need a space to participate in interviews.
  • If you use a virtual background (your school’s, for example), make sure it is formatted well so the image is not distorted. Alternatively, use a blank neutral-colored wall or a solid neutral-colored sheet draped as a backdrop. Be mindful about what is showing on the screen behind or around you as it can be distracting and elicit additional questions.
  • If possible, position your set up so that the lighting is in front of you and not behind you (makes your image darker).
  • Get fully dressed for the interview as you would for an in-person interview, but ensure you are also comfortable.
  • Do not have food or drink visible, but make sure to sip water before and in between interviews.
  • Look at the camera as much as possible, rather than the screen, to simulate “eye contact” with the interviewer. Consider posting a photo of a family member or friend behind your camera at eye-level so that you can focus on that to simulate eye contact.
  • Practice being still during your interviews, while maintaining good posture.
  • Turn off your phone or put on “do not disturb.” Move your phone out of sight if you will be tempted to look at it.
  • If you take notes during the interview, let the interviewer know so they understand why you may look down during the interview. Use paper for notes instead of your phone. (It is also not necessary to take notes if you would prefer not to.)
  • Be patient with programs if there are technology glitches or if faculty have a difficult time with the platform. This is new for everyone!
  • Don’t schedule other activities too close to interviews, just in case there are issues with timing on either side, so that you are not anxious should this occur.
  • Practice with a friend, colleague, or family member to get feedback on your background environment, lighting, etc.
  • Be mindful about programs’ privacy as well – it is never appropriate to record a video of an interview, and this could disqualify you from a program. Do not post specific information about programs and their interviews on social media – remember, many program directors and residents are also on social media and will see everything you post.

Resources regarding virtual interviews:

APD Program Director Task Force Statement on Preference Signaling in Dermatology

Preference signaling refers to the use of token(s) by residency applicants to express interest in a residency program during application review and prior to interview invite release. This formalized process allows applicants to express interest in a small number of programs apart from traditional methods of email, phone calls, or virtual or in-person away rotations. The goal is to ease application overload and provide programs credible expression of interest by applicants.

While the APD PD Task Force and APD Board have discussed mechanisms for preference signaling and has engaged with other specialties in ongoing discussions, we have decided that this effort requires further consideration. We will not be implementing preference signaling for the 2020-2021 dermatology residency application cycle.

We hope that the pilot program that otolaryngology is pursuing this year, with support of AAMC and NRMP, will provide additional data upon which to decide if this tool would be feasible for future dermatology application cycles. We will also continue to participate in cross-specialty discussions of preference signaling and other application process reforms.

There is a separate entity, Signal (@SignalTokens, signaltokens.org) that is marketing the use of tokens to students and programs via email and social media. This involves a fee to students, and does not guarantee that programs have registered to receive tokens. Given potential issues with equity and added expenses, the APD and Washington University Division of Dermatology recommend against programs and dermatology residency applicants registering with the Signal service for this application cycle.

Updated Consensus Statement on Upcoming Dermatology Residency Application Cycle with Respect to COVID-19 Pandemic

This statement was released by the Program Director Task Force of the Association of Professors of Dermatology, and represents the views of the program leadership at Washington University as well as other program directors around the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to medical education across the country. We understand that students’ anxiety about the upcoming application cycle has been heightened given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 related changes to curriculum and scheduling and how this will affect the residency application process.

As dermatology residency program directors, we would like to address principal areas of the residency application process to hopefully lessen students’ concerns regarding the upcoming cycle and offer updated recommendations to dermatology programs and students. These recommendations are consistent with recent guidance provided by The Coalition for Physician Accountability’s Work Group on Medical Students in the Class of 2021 Moving Across Institutions for Post Graduate Training.

Our goals in providing these recommendations are the following:

  • Encourage a consistent approach to residency recruitment across dermatology programs.
  • Advocate for equity in the recruitment process, particularly given the unequal burden of COVID-19 on certain populations and in certain geographic areas.
  • Decrease the application burden on students and programs.
  • Minimize health risks for all parties during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Recommendations to Programs

  • Away rotations
    • We discourage programs from offering in-person away rotations this cycle, except in rare circumstances.
    • If in-person away rotations are offered, we recommend that they are limited to students without a home dermatology program, and that such opportunities be offered locoregionally to the extent possible.
    • Individual programs may consider offering virtual away rotations or experiences for interested students, but these are not required for application or for interviewing.
  • Application review
    • We understand the challenges in reviewing applications given this cycle’s compressed timeline, but maintain our support for holistic review of applications, particularly given the unique and unequal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on research, clinical, volunteer, and other extracurricular experiences.
    • We recommend against the use of Step 2 CK or CS as mandatory elements of the application process or for offers of interviews, particularly given the recent NBME announcement that Step 2 CS administration will be suspended for the next 12-18 months.
    • Programs may consider the use of a supplemental application to assist in holistic review of candidates.
  • Letters of recommendation
    • We recommend at least one letter of recommendation from a dermatology faculty member, but suggest that other letters from non-dermatology specialties be allowed and given equal weight, particularly for students without a home dermatology program.
    • We recognize that committing to provide letters may be challenging during this time for many reasons (eg lack of exposure to the applicant or increased demands on faculty members’ time). Faculty members may consider writing letters of recommendation reflecting resident input and/or departmental support, or collaborating with colleagues for a joint letter.
  • Interviews
    • We recommend that all programs conduct virtual-only interviews for this application cycle for both internal and external candidates to ensure equity.
    • We encourage full transparency in communicating interview dates as soon as feasible to prospective applicants via program websites or other methods of communication.

Recommendations to Students

  • Away rotations
    • We have discouraged dermatology programs from hosting visiting students for in-person electives. However, students without a home dermatology program are encouraged to contact programs in their geographic region to inquire about the possibility of an in-person educational opportunity as some programs will be able to make exceptions for such students.
    • Medical students may consider participation in virtual away rotations or experiences at programs in which they have specific interest, however, virtual away rotations should not be perceived as required or necessary for matching into dermatology residency.
  • Application process
    • We understand that many research projects and volunteer experiences have been halted, delayed, or changed secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts that students have put forth in these areas are valuable and will be taken into account by programs during application review regardless of outcome.
    • Given that testing centers have delayed or canceled administration dates for USMLE Step 2 CK, and that the NBME has suspended Step 2 CS administration, we have encouraged programs to forego these tests as required elements of the application process this year. USMLE scores are only a minor component of one’s application; students should not ​consider alternative application plans due to the absence of these scores alone. Please refer to individual program websites to determine whether Step 1 score cut-offs are used and/or whether Step 2 scores are recommended/required.
    • We recommend at least one letter of recommendation from a dermatology faculty member but recognize that this may be difficult for students without a home dermatology program. We urge programs to review applications holistically and give equal weight to letters of recommendation from faculty in other specialties. Students should consider faculty with whom they have worked closely, regardless of the specialty.
    • While programs strive to perform holistic review on all applications, this is more challenging when faced with increasing number of applications per available position.
      • For US allopathic first-time applicants, we recommend applying to at most 40-60 programs. Applicants are encouraged to seek individualized advice from dermatology and medical school advisors to guide their decision regarding number of applications to submit. This advice should account for USMLE Step scores, clerkship grades, research, and extracurricular activities.
      • Applicants can visit ApplySmart to review data available from the AAMC on dermatology residency applications and returns.
  • Interviews
    • We encourage all programs to conduct virtual interviews for all students.
    • Given the potential increased flexibility and reduced costs associated with virtual interviews, we recommend that students regulate the number of interviews they accept. Data from NRMP show that the probability of matching plateaus at >95% after 12 contiguous ranks. Limiting the number of interviews a student accepts to 12-15 will allow more students opportunities to interview with programs that might constitute a better fit. 

As dermatology residency program directors, we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased disparities in strength of applications due to lack of opportunity for students with smaller home programs or in areas more affected by this crisis, particularly as some students may additionally be struggling or have struggled with personal or family COVID-19 illness during this time.

In this time of great personal and professional stress, we hope that by addressing specific concerns, students will feel more comfortable approaching the process and maintaining their application plans, knowing that we will take into consideration the multitude of extrinsic factors affecting applications this year. Additionally, we hope that consistent practices among programs will allow for an improved application process for both students and programs this cycle and beyond.

Updated June 1, 2020