Beleaguered directors of obstetrics/gynecology residency programs may be relieved to know that a new application platform for all ob.gyn. residency applications is poised to come into effect for the 2024-25 cycle.
In a recent joint announcement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics said the new system, ResidencyCAS, offered by Liaison Centralized Application Service, will replace the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). ERAS was implemented some 25 years ago by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Efficiencies and lower costs
Dr Bryan Carmody
Potential startup glitches aside, the transition will allegedly lower skyrocketing application fees and provide enhanced efficiencies and a better user experience than ERAS. So far, ob.gyn. is first and the only specialty to jump ship from the established platform. But if other specialties follow suit, making the new software the norm, that will have a serious impact on ERAS’s revenues, said J. Bryan Carmody, MD, MPH, a pediatric nephrologist at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Norfolk, Va., who closely monitors and writes about residency selection and discussed the coming transition in a recent blog posting.
“My feeling is that the average program director thinks that ERAS is functional but there are not many, if any, who are in love with ERAS,” Dr. Carmody said in an interview. “I think ERAS will benefit from having a competitor.”
A major drawback for applicants with the removal of ob.gyn. from ERAS, which handles almost all medical specialties, is that those seeking acceptance in more than one specialty will now need to apply twice and incur two sets of costs. “A substantial fraction of applicants do that and now they’ll have to navigate two different systems and collect and format all their documents for both, which will be burdensome,” he said.
According to the ACOG announcement, the new technology promises to manage the deluge of applications more efficiently and, most important, to allow program directors to evaluate candidates holistically in order to better meet the specific needs of different communities.
Dr Maya Hammoud
“The platform makes it much easier to review applicants for important characteristics other than academic, and It will cost applicants about 20% less,” said Maya M. Hammoud, MD, MBA, professor and association chair for education, obstetrics, and gynecology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and past president of APGO.
So far the announced switch has been positively received. “People are very excited about the change, especially when they see the video,” Dr. Hammoud said.
For Adi Katz, MD, director of gynecology and director of the obstetrics and gynecology residency program at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, the change signals a step in the right direction, especially when it comes to application reviewing. “The number of applications has been increasing tremendously in the past few years. We have four residency spots and we get almost 900 applications for them, ” she said. “Under the present system it’s hard to give a fair review to all the applicants, and we hope that with change we’ll be able to give each one the attention they deserve.”
An important feature, added Dr. Katz, is that the new software will allow directors to do intuitive, “gut-level” screenings with the help of AI. In this approach, large numbers of candidates can be screened based on intuition in relation to their formal criteria.
Residency program administrators have long sought more holistic ways of screening applicants, and AI has the potential to provide insights into who’s a good fit by finding patterns in very complex data.
“Of course, we won’t know for sure if it’s the right move until we start using the platform,” Dr. Katz said.
Dr AnnaMarie Connolly
“There are many factors beyond academic standing that can help determine which individual applicants would be the best fit for each unique program,” AnnaMarie Connolly, MD, chief of education and academic affairs at ACOG, said in an interview. “In particular, improved holistic review will allow programs and applicants to better ensure alignment that, for example, considers factors such as applicants’ clinical interests, academic interests, and past life experiences.”
Updated data science is expected better align ob.gyn. programs and applicants, and improve staff efficiency at no cost to programs, Dr. Connolly added. Good alignment of residents with programs is especially important in a patient-interactive specialty such as ob.gyn. Webinars will prepare users to apply the new system.
According to the promotional video, ResidencyCAS integrates all components of application from candidates’ letters and credentials to lists of program directors, applicant reviews, and specialty data analytics. Collecting recommendations and credentials is expected to be streamlined. The software is currently used by 31 U.S. health care professions and across 31,000 programs.
“It’s clear that ob.gyn. residency applicants and ob.gyn. programs have been frustrated by certain aspects of the former application system, one of which being high costs,” Dr. Connolly added. “The feedback we’ve received indicates that programs are excited about a more streamlined process.”
AAMC strikes back
Not all groups are so enthusiastic, however, including, understandably, the AAMC, which expressed “surprise and dismay” at the switch.
Dr Alison Whelan
“While it is too early to fully understand the consequences of this development — intended and unintended — the AAMC remains committed to creating a fair and equitable process for learners, medical schools, and programs,” wrote AAMC spokespersons David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC’s CEO, and Alison J. Whelan, MD, chief academic officer in a statement. “We are concerned that ob.gyn. program data will no longer be part of the numerous and longstanding AAMC data and research efforts.”
Those efforts include the Residency Readiness Survey, multidecade institution-level data and analytics, and future cross-specialty innovations. Lost with the changeover, the AAMC warned, may be the cross-specialty data it has collected, analyzed, and shared since ERAS’s inception, in particular its advocacy, research, and data support for the ob.gyn. community following the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.
Evolution of specialty application
In a blog posting, Dr. Carmody outlined the evolution of the specialty residency application process. Pre-ERAS application was slow, cumbersome, and done by mail. With the introduction of ERAS, applicants were able to put their information on floppy discs and submit them to the dean’s office, hopefully triggering interview offers via email. The new approach was originally piloted in partnership with ob.gyn. program directors and now ERAS finds itself in a first-in, first-out situation.
Over the years, program directors suffocating under the weight of applications have periodically asked the AAMC to share data or make changes to ERAS protocols or policies, including those on the sharing of collected information. “It’s my perception that frustration about the AAMC’s data sharing was one of the things that led to the change,” Dr. Carmody said. While acknowledging that data sharing must be carefully done, he noted that, when program directors asked to see ERAS data to answer important questions, they were often refused.
While it appears that AAMC’s improvement efforts have not gone far or fast enough, the association pointed to significant efforts to streamline applications. It stressed its ongoing commitment to cooperation “with learners, medical schools, and the ERAS program community to further consider the implications of ACOG’s announcement.” It recently announced a collaboration with Thalamus-connecting the docs, a new interview-management software system the AAMC expects will accelerate innovation across the transition-to-residency process.
“We have many questions and few answers at this time,” Dr. Skorton and Dr. Whelan wrote, “and we will work diligently to fully understand the consequences and keep open communication with all of our constituents.”
Ob.gyn., an important but relatively small specialty, represented only 2.8% of the 2022 residency applications on ERAS and $3,362,760 of its $120 million in revenue that year, Dr. Carmody noted. That’s with 2,613 ob.gyn. applicants submitting an average of 63-83 applications depending on their background.
But if the defection of ob.gyn. starts a stampede among program directors in other branches of medicine to ResidencyCAS or some other new platform, that would cost ERAS substantially more.
“The next few years are going to be very telling,” said Dr. Carmody. Although competition may act as a catalyst for needed improvements to ERAS, if momentum grows, the comfortable inertia of staying with a known system may soon be overcome. “And the more specialties that switch, the more that will deprive the AAMC of the revenue it needs to improve the product.”
Dr. Carmody and Dr. Katz disclosed no relevant conflicts of interest with regard to their comments.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.