Online open house may be a first in recruiting residents

California's Kaiser Permanente hopes the new venue highlighting its hospitals will deepen its applicant pool.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted Oct. 8, 2007

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Fourth-year medical student Teresa Sandoval-Phillips wanted to attend a residency open house at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif., but the three-hour drive each way and a busy schedule made it difficult. Fortunately for her, she was able to log onto a live webcast of the September event, joining 59 other Internet visitors and 80 students who came in person to see what Kaiser's residencies had to offer.

The online and on-campus open houses were a first for Kaiser's northern division, introducing medical and podiatry students to its residencies in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara. The live webcast may have been a first within the graduate medical education community.

"What they're doing at Kaiser seems to be an innovative approach to recruiting," said Charles Clayton, who is vice president for policy at the Assn. of Program Directors in Internal Medicine.

Traditionally, representatives from training programs attend medical student fairs as a way to reach potential applicants, Clayton said. If a hospital or residency has an open house, it is for applicants who were invited to interview, not for the general medical student population.

Bruce Blumberg, MD, Kaiser's graduate medical education director, said Kaiser Permanente Northern California wanted to reach beyond student fairs. He said Kaiser Permanente Southern California successfully has attracted students with an annual on-site open house for years. By copying this idea and adding the webcast, he hoped to attract a national audience.

"Clearly, an in-person open house is limited to people in a geographic area," Dr. Blumberg said. "Medical students are part of the 'Millennium Generation,' and it's second nature to them to watch streaming videos and get their information online. This was a way to appeal to this technologically [savvy] audience."

Kaiser sent 14,000 postcards advertising the open house and webcast to fourth-year students, along with letters to student affairs deans. The entire effort cost $25,000, with $19,000 of that used to produce the webcast.

The goal

Officials at Kaiser's Northern California facilities hope the open house and webcast will educate students about what community hospitals have to offer residents, and they hope to attract more primary care physicians.

Kaiser funds 350 resident slots a year in Northern California, including 150 slots from affiliated programs that do rotations within Kaiser, Dr. Blumberg said.

"Many medical school advisers believe community programs are in some way inferior," Dr. Blumberg said. "We wanted to get out the message we're not just another community hospital."

One reason Dr. Blumberg says Kaiser is no ordinary community hospital is its research. The HMO has electronic medical records on all of its patients, with some data dating back 50 years. Research driven by this information has resulted in Kaiser receiving more National Institutes of Health money than any other community hospital, Joe Selby, MD, MPH, Kaiser research director for Northern California, said during the webcast.

The open house also hopes to attract more applicants, especially primary care applicants, Dr. Blumberg said. Primary care physicians are core to Kaiser's mission. However, like internal medicine residents across the nation, Kaiser's residents are becoming cardiologists, gastroenterologists and other subspecialists. This has made it harder for Kaiser to recruit primary care physicians, a situation it would like to remedy.

Sandoval-Phillips wants a general medicine career. Not only was the open house convenient because of the Internet access, but it also put Kaiser high on her application list.

"Being able to see their faces and hear their voices made it much more personal," Sandoval-Phillips said.

She will have to rely on word of mouth, residency brochures and her adviser's recommendations to help her decide where else she will apply for residency. But she said nothing beats talking to a resident, a sentiment Kaiser's webcast appears to share, because it gave plenty of air time to residents representing all its programs.

She found the topics covered -- from the hospital's patient population to resident work/life balance -- informative. She also appreciated the effort to answer questions on how the HMO impacts how residents practice medicine.

Claudine Aguilera, MD, helped host the webcast. She laughed about her opportunity to be an on-air personality introducing speakers and interviewing Kaiser's program directors and residents.

A second-year internal medicine resident, Dr. Aguilera said she wished there had been a webcast open house on the programs where she applied as a student: "It would have saved me a lot of driving."

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