Lessons Learned: Conducting Pharmacy School Interviews Online

By: Kathryn Litten, PharmD, BCACP, Claire Latiolais, PharmD, MS, and Student Pharmacists: Elena Dang, Hailey Held, Yasmeen Alqaisi, Sarah Patrick, Stephanie Adler, and Sadika Eslaminejad

Remember the anticipation you had before pharmacy school interviews? Now imagine interviewing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many onsite interviews have transitioned online, creating new logistics and anxieties. The stress posed by online interviews may impact the performance of pharmacy school candidates or alter their view of the prospective institution.

This created a challenge for the Prospective Student Interview (PSI) Chairs at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin College of Pharmacy.  With little training, a full day of interviews needed to be adapted to an online platform that was relatively stress-free for participants and provided the same experience as if held onsite. While there is a report of medical school online interview implementation, there is no information specific to colleges of pharmacy1.

Our planning process helped address important aspects to execute a comprehensive interview session. Below we share our primary “lessons learned”. 

  1. Get everyone on the same (online) page

An online environment for all to navigate seamlessly was necessary for a positive experience. Zoom, a video conferencing platform, was new to many, therefore, “Pre-Interview Day” was created.2 This one-hour Zoom meeting was hosted two days before each interview session. It invited candidates to learn logistics of the online interview process and have a Q&A session with current PharmD students. Interviewers were offered live training and written materials to prepare for their roles. Live sessions allowed all participants to follow along and ask questions, decreasing logistical stress for interview day. For those unable to attend, a video demonstration was sent for the best visualization of the navigation.  

  1. Involve students

Current students have always been heavily involved in Interview Day to provide candidates with firsthand experiences. Many have commented this positively impacted their decision to attend. This year, students were more critical. Even with a Pre-Interview day, having a guide to reassure candidates they were in the right “place” was key to decreasing stress. A PharmD student was matched with a candidate and stayed in the Zoom “room” with them for the full interview. Students shared their screens with written instructions and interview questions, allowing interviewers to focus on engaging with and evaluating candidates. 

  1. Modify Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) and Group Activities 

MMIs are a structured model where candidates meet individually with an interviewer for 5 minutes to answer 1 question and then change stations. In-person, this requires use of multiple offices and a bell system so all stations move simultaneously.3 This model was modified by using Zoom breakout rooms. To decrease the number of people moving, interviewers rotated rooms rather than the candidates, which allowed multiple interviewers to evaluate each candidate. Meeting hosts utilized the broadcast message feature to alert all rooms when the candidate should be reading the prompt or begin answering. Using Zoom features to their full potential and providing detailed instructions allowed for minimal changes to the main structure of the usual onsite day. 

One area that required major adjustments was the group activity. When brainstorming, PSI chairs reviewed what the onsite activity assessed – teamwork, communication, and critical thinking. They created an alternative activity that assessed the same attributes – a scenario-based question requiring a “collaborative solution. Figure 1 describes the activity. When first piloted, it was formatted as open discussion. The time structure was devised to allow individual responses prior to collaboration to prevent talking over each other. Follow-up questions also allowed for individual evaluation of each candidate. 

Figure 1: Group Activity Breakdown

  1. Engage Mission Control

Planning ahead and trial runs prevented many issues before the first day. However, technological issues were bound to happen. Troubleshooting was much easier with all  PSI chairs socially-distanced in the same physical room, increasing communication when something went wrong and keeping everything flowing smoothly.

  1. Debrief

All interviewers were given time to provide verbal feedback about their experience after each interview day. Early advice was incorporated into later sessions. Documenting all feedback and workflows allows for consistency and sustainability so future groups can create the same experience and continually improve upon it. Candidate feedback is being collected through surveys.

Executing this large event required dedication, planning, and flexibility. Despite the challenges, online interviews have many benefits. They overcome barriers to attendance, including cost, time of travel, lodging, and loss of work, allowing a more diverse population of candidates to interview. Due to this success, we believe online interviews will be an appropriate option to continue post-COVID.

What has your institution learned from conducting online admission interviews?

Acknowledgements: 

The authors would like to acknowledge Gregory Caldera for his leadership and guidance throughout this project.

References: 

  1. Cleland J, Chu J, Lim S, Low J, Low-Beer N, Kiat Kwek T. COVID 19: Designing and conducting an online mini-multiple interview (MMI) in a dynamic landscape. Medical Teacher. 2020; 42(7):
  2. Zoom website.
  3. Prep for the MMI.

Kathryn Litten is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. She is a Board-Certified ambulatory care pharmacist with a practice site at a federally qualified health center in Austin, TX. She teaches in the Diabetes, Ambulatory Care, and Herbals electives and facilitates pharmacotherapy labs. She also coordinates the Ambulatory Care IPPE program. As a member of the Admissions Committee, she worked with the students to transition to virtual interviews. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and hiking with her dog, Perry.   

Claire Latiolais is a Clinical Assistant Professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. She teaches Drug Information and coordinates Pharmacy Practice Labs. She also serves as the coordinator for the Institutional IPPE program and teaches electives in Hospital Pharmacy and Applied Pharmacy Management. As Chair of the Admissions Committee, she worked with the students to transition to virtual interviews. In her free time she enjoys exploring Austin, TX with her husband, dog, and new baby.

The Prospective Student Interview Chairs are second-year and third-year pharmacy students who developed and led the virtual interview sessions. Top left to right: Stephanie Adler, Elena Dang, Yasmeen Alqaisi. Bottom left to right: Sadika Eslaminejad, Sarah Patrick, and Hailey Held.


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning


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