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Good as Gold or Sending Mixed Signals? Lessons Learned from the Signaling Program Rollout

Objective: While the Signaling Program is new to Ob Gyn residency applicants, other residency programs have been utilizing this concept for several years. Our colleagues in Otolaryngology, Dermatology, Internal Medicine and Urology all report positive feedback with the recent rollout of their signaling programs. Designed to promote a holistic review of the applicants, signaling is a transparent form of communication between students and programs. This groundbreaking concept promotes equity among candidates and encourages programs to maximize use of alternatives to academic and test score filters. This is a key step towards the promotion of diversity within our training programs.


Methods: The experience of students from six community campuses and program directors at university-affiliated community programs based in four different health systems was collected by two seasoned specialty advisers through informal focus group and individual interviews. The workshop will highlight themes elicited from the perspective of students, advisors and program directors, as well as strategies on how best to advise future students. The experience of other specialties with previous use of with signaling was gathered through literature review.


Results: For advisors, signaling led to a greater understanding of the application review process and the impact of varying qualifications leading to earlier elicitation of tough conversations with students. Optimizing the outcome of signaling decisions involved significant strategy and time for both students and advisors. Despite a 2-tier system with a generous number of signals, students accepted all interviews offered even well beyond the threshold for diminishing returns.


 Program directors at small community-based university-affiliated reported no significant change in the number or competitiveness of applications or in the total time required for application reviews. As of mid-interview season, there were fewer interview cancellations than during previous virtual interview seasons. Informal contact between applicants and programs persisted, but was somewhat decreased from recent years. Many signals were received from students who would not ultimately be invited for an interview based on their application characteristics, regardless of signal.


Conclusion/ Discussion: The timeline and number of signals for Ob/Gyn incentivized extensive research by students into their potential for alignment with programs well in advance of submitting applications.  Confusion was created by inconsistent messages from programs regarding the use signaling for home programs, away rotations, and as a requirement for interviews by some programs. Students are at a disadvantage if they lack access to experienced specialty-specific faculty mentorship.


 Program directors at small community-based university-affiliated programs associated with a multi campus school reported that signals helped them discern genuine interest from applicants outside of their geographic region and among a high number of home school applicants. Infrequently, signaling highlighted students who may otherwise not have received holistic review. The gold signals in the 2-tier system of signaling unique to Ob/Gyn were perceived as higher yield by programs, while the silver signals were perceived as higher yield by students.


 Ongoing faculty development for advisors and efforts to improve transparency by programs about characteristics sought in candidates may help strengthen the percentage of interview invitations yielded by signals. Long term, initiatives to limit contact through networking  and to introduce interview caps are possible opportunities for further standardization of the application process that may  increase the correlation between signaling and interview invitations.

Related APGO Publications/Modules: https://apgo.org/page/rrrlandingpage, Cultivate new opportunities in student career advising for a successful match and SOAP


Topics: Faculty Development Seminar, 2023, Faculty, Clerkship Director, Residency Director, Systems-Based Practice & Improvement, GME, UME,

General Information

Faculty,Clerkship Director,Residency Director,
Systems-Based Practice & Improvement,
Clinical Focus

Author Information

Lindsay Snyder, MD; Anita Avery, MD

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