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Resident Physician Forum
May 10, 2000

Live Chat: Use of the Internet as a Resident Physician Recruitment Tool

JAMA. 2000;283(18):2456. doi:10.1001/jama.283.18.2456
Live Chat: Use of the Internet as a Resident Physician Recruitment Tool

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.

Menduno M. Net profits.  Hosp Health Netw.1999;73:2,44-48,50.
Hudson T. Marketing nets out.  Hosp Health Netw.1999;73:34, 36, 38.
Yamamoto LG. Creating a home page on the World Wide Web.  Am J Emerg Med.1997;15:393-399.
Hatcher M. Internet usage and potential impact for acute care hospitals: survey in the United States.  J Med Syst.1998;22:371-378.