Virtual success

Learning about residency programs through virtual open houses

Learn how networking with residency programs at virtual open houses can help you make your match.


This time of year, prior to the ERAS application deadline, many residency programs are hosting virtual open houses. These virtual events are typically from late July to September and serve as an opportunity for interested applicants to learn more about the program.

The structure of these virtual open houses varies from a presentation to an open Q&A session or breakout rooms. Some events have program leadership and residents present, while others are hosted only by the residents as an open forum for questions. Meeting with programs is a fun and interactive way to learn more about them and potentially find programs that are a good fit for you.

In this article, my colleague Christin Shafer, DO, an anesthesiology resident, and I share some of our experiences from participating in virtual open houses, as well as advice for those applying this year.

Here are some tips for successful networking before, during and after a virtual open house:

1. Connect with residency programs through social media and professional associations

It is common for residency programs to have social media accounts. There you can see resident spotlights, highlights from wellness days and even stories of “A Day in the Life” of a resident on rotation. Programs also use their social media to share events such as virtual open houses.

Dr. Shafer referred to his specialty’s professional association website for a list of dates of virtual open houses. He then planned out which events he could attend while still on elective and audition rotations.

2. Preparing for open houses

Read through the program’s website and prepare questions. Program websites provide a lot of information. Open houses are excellent opportunities to ask clarifying questions about the surrounding area and cost of living.

When I was preparing for virtual open houses, I made a list of questions I wanted to ask residents and program leadership. I was interested in the residents’ point of view regarding their rotation experiences, the patient population, the work culture and what fun things they do during their time off. 

On the other hand, with program leadership, I was interested in what changes they anticipated the next three to four years, the structure of didactics, how they support resident wellness and what mentorship they offer for residents. I asked or listened for these questions during all the virtual open houses I attended. The responses helped me better determine if a program was a good fit for me.

3. Open house etiquette

Most of the time a dress code is not stated, but wearing business casual is a safe bet when attending events hosted by residency programs. Find a quiet, well-lit space. If you’re able to, keep your video camera on as it helps the hosts connect with their audience. Ensure that you are muted during the presentation and unmuted when participating in the dialogue.

While virtual open houses are not a formal interview, this is a good opportunity to start practicing virtual interview etiquette as some or most of your residency interviews may be virtual.

4. Apply what you learned to your application process

By attending virtual events hosted by residency programs, you get an opportunity to learn more about the structure and culture of the program than what is presented on their website.

“After some of the virtual open houses I attended, I would send an email to the program coordinator thanking them and expressing my interest in the program. I believe this helped me secure two to three interviews during interview season. Then during my interviews, I was able to bring up points mentioned from their open house,” shares Dr. Shafer.

Personal reflections

Reflecting on my own application process, I truly enjoyed getting to learn more about the various programs I was interested in. For my top three programs, I tailored my personal statement to include points that were brought up during the open house that resonated with me.

Like Dr. Shafer, during my interviews with the programs, I was able to circle back to the points mentioned and elaborate on them further. For example, working in an underserved patient population is very important to me. Upon learning how my top programs foster connections with community resources for their patients, I was able to discuss how I can further help facilitate access for patients to these resources.

Although attending virtual events will not guarantee an interview offer, these events provide great insight into how each program is unique. Furthermore, you can better assess how the program’s mission, vision and educational opportunities align with your career goals.

Related reading:

The complexity of transitioning from medical school to residency

Finding fit and flow: How to choose a residency path

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