Our fellowship programs have been the test subjects for a new way of recruiting in the COVID-19 era. It is hard to predict whether this year will have been just a one-off driven by the pandemic or whether these virtual interviews will become the norm even after travel restrictions are no longer necessary. It is important, not just for recruiting this year’s class of trainees but potentially future years’ classes, that we adapt quickly, while analyzing lessons learned during this fellowship recruiting period before we begin recruiting for our residency program starting later this month. We plan to interview nearly 300 candidates, which will be a heavy lift! We must therefore be sure as we navigate this new world that we showcase the many positive attributes and unique strengths of our programs while evaluating what we expect will be another pool of high-caliber candidates. Our fellowship program directors and coordinators report that their careful planning and preparation made their virtual interviews successful regardless of the software platform they used. They also report that building in time for candidates to “meet” informally in small groups with our current trainees received positive feedback. After ERAS opens later this month, we will need faculty help in interviews as we will seek to align candidate interest with faculty who can shed unique insight into the strengths of our program. Therefore, please make yourselves available to participate in one of the most important exercises that our department undertakes each year to recruit the next class of exceptional house officers.
We also learned from the fellowship programs that candidates have appreciated the chance to explore our programs by watching the videos we prepared ahead of their interviews. Similar video production work is ongoing for our residency program and I was heartened by the initiatives of our residency Humanities and Wellness Committee and how that group has brought a focus on resident wellness front and center. Make no mistake, the work our residents do is hard, especially in our “new normal.” Our clinical volume is up more than 12 percent from last year and our residents have contributed significantly to maintaining safety and quality as they care for increasingly complex patients. Finding that fulcrum to balance educational demands in addition to clinical rotations, especially in your intern year, is a critical task. I am proud to see the more-senior residents and our Education Leadership team identifying opportunities to check in with all our trainees. Although we recognize events like pizzas in City Park do not make everything easier, they do demonstrate our commitment to looking out for each other and to building the connections that we can lean on when things get especially difficult on the wards.
Our fellows and residents are not the only trainees having to adapt to our current circumstances. A special thanks to all our educators who in both formal and informal ways are providing medical students with the same high-quality education that our institution is nationally recognized for, but against much stiffer headwinds than we are used to. One thing I noticed recently on Chair’s Rounds is that despite our volumes and despite the layers of PPE that we now must practice through, our patients still require the basics from us, including a thorough physical assessment. Moreover, our commitment to training the next generation of physicians will continue to require that we conduct robust training at the bedside. I have noticed a hesitancy on the parts of some medical students to use the opportunity during their internal medicine rotations to sharpen their physical diagnostic skills. As such, I have charged our education leaders to increase our focus on strengthening physical diagnostic skills of our trainees, which we can do safely on the wards, where the overwhelming majority of our patients do not have COVID-19. Our Vice Chair for Education Dr. Manish Suneja and I have discussed this as well and we agree that besides being absolutely critical in pointing to the correct diagnosis, physical exam is an irreplaceable element of establishing an effective clinical relationship. Multiple studies have suggested a steady decline in physical examination skill across all level of learners over the last decade. The current pandemic has further amplified the worries about this decline. Thus, it becomes imperative that all of us as teaching faculty not only teach and promote, but role model, these essential skills to all our residents and students. Diligence in teaching and performing the physical examination and continuing efforts to improve bedside skills is currently one of the highest priorities for the Department of Internal Medicine. To advance this priority, we are implementing various initiatives including a focus on teaching and providing specific feedback on physical examination skills to all our residents and clerkship students. Ensuring our students achieve core competencies is a central pillar in our charge in academic medicine. We can practice safely and we can train our students safely.
Finally, I would remind you of a couple upcoming events later this month. For decades, the interdisciplinary CME conference Progress has moved our discovery and insight into the broader community of providers around the state. This year we will offer that same expertise alongside our colleagues in the College of Pharmacy, though virtually. See the schedule and the presenters and sign up today. That same week, another decades-long tradition will continue with the Internal Medicine Research Day, also now a virtual event. Risking the misnomer, organizers Drs. Ryan Boudreau and Saket Girotra, have extended it across two days. This should reduce some of the “Zoom fatigue” and allow us to properly celebrate all of the wonderful research happening within our department. More news on that work, including some large and impactful recent publications, coming soon.