Buterakos J, Taylor DK. Live Chat: Use of the Internet as a Resident Physician Recruitment Tool. JAMA. 2000;283(18):2456. doi:10.1001/jama.283.18.2456
In the new millennium, Internet technology is changing the operations
of health care and medical education. Sixth in Internet content, health sites
draw two thirds of all online users at least once.1
Health systems have responded by increasing their use of the Internet to foster
growth.2 The first article to suggest promoting
residency programs and recruiting residents by creating a home page on the
World Wide Web was published in 1997.3
A national survey, conducted the following year, of acute care hospitals showed
an increase in Internet and home page use.4
At many hospitals in the Midwest, it can be a challenge to identify
and recruit highly qualified resident physicians. To enhance the recruitment
efforts of our hospital, which is located in a mid-sized city in Michigan,
the director of graduate medical education set up a Web page and, since 1998,
hits on the site have increased 6-fold (560 to 3500). In November 1999, we
launched our first live Internet chat session, during which the hospital's
residency program directors answered candidates' questions via the computer.
We invited candidates who applied to our residency programs and 4000 medical
students to participate in the exchange. Two hundred people logged into the
session and this cyber strategy allowed the hospital to appeal to candidates
who might not have previously considered its programs. Students could communicate
with program directors, and the nature of an Internet chat session—specifically
the anonymity—minimized the risk of questions that might be censored
during a formal interview.
This encouraging response prompted a second medical education chat session
in January 2000 for those chosen to interview in our resident training programs.
Ninety participants communicated with program directors and current residents,
focusing on curriculum particulars and community attractions. For our third
live chat session in April 2000, we invited 2500 candidates who applied to
our programs and 7000 medical students to participate.
Technical requirements included a room with sufficient computers (15)
to accommodate hospital staff. The advantage of gathering in a single room
was being able to solve technical problems more easily, in our case only 1
occurred. Equipment included a Compaq network server (Compaq Computer Corp,
Houston, Tex) with 256-MB RAM, a T1 line for high-speed Internet access, and
chat session software (ConferenceRoom Professional Edition and Scribe [Webmaster Inc, Santa Clara, Calif]),
which recorded all activity during the chat session.
Although we will need to repeat this type of Internet interaction more
often before fully evaluating it as a resource, the feedback from students,
residents, and hospital teaching faculty has been largely favorable. For residency
program directors, the chat sessions surpass the appeal of numerous resident
recruitment days that require fees, travel expenses, and long days that often
produce dubious results. Live chat sessions are not only more cost-effective
than in-person interviews, they also facilitate a better level of exchange
between potential residents and staff. The high number of participants has
encouraged us to continue to use these techniques in future recruitment efforts.