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How Prevalent Are Potentially Illegal Questions During Residency Interviews?

Hern, H. Gene Jr. MD, MS; Alter, Harrison J. MD, MS; Wills, Charlotte P. MD; Snoey, Eric R. MD; Simon, Barry C. MD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318299eecc
Research Reports
Abstract

Purpose: To study the prevalence of potentially illegal questions in residency interviews and to identify the impact of such questions on applicants’ decisions to rank programs.

Method: Using an Electronic Residency Application Service–supported survey, the authors surveyed all applicants from U.S. medical schools to residency programs in five specialties (internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics–gynecology [OB/GYN], and emergency medicine) in 2006–2007. The survey included questions about the frequency with which respondents were asked about gender, age, marital status, couples matching, current children, intent to have children, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, and the effect that such questions had on their decision to rank programs.

Results: Of 11,983 eligible applicants, 7,028 (58.6%) completed a survey. Of respondents, 4,557 (64.8%) reported that they were asked at least one potentially illegal question. Questions related to marital status (3,816; 54.3%) and whether the applicant currently had children (1,923; 27.4%) were most common. Regardless of specialty, women were more likely than men to receive questions about their gender, marital status, and family planning (P < .001). Among those respondents who indicated their specialty, those in OB/GYN (162/756; 21.4%) and general surgery (214/876; 24.4%) reported the highest prevalence of potentially illegal questions about gender. Being asked a potentially illegal question negatively affected how respondents ranked that program.

Conclusions: Many residency applicants were asked potentially illegal questions. Developing a formal interview code of conduct targeting both applicants and programs may be necessary to address the potential flaws in the resident selection process.

Author Information

Dr. Hern is residency director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California, and associate clinical professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Alter is research director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California, and associate clinical professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Wills is associate residency director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California, and associate clinical professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Snoey is vice chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California, and clinical professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Simon is department chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland, California, and associate clinical professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Funding/Support: None.

Other disclosures: None.

Ethical approval: The Alameda County Medical Center institutional review board approved this survey instrument and protocol prior to distribution.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at http://links.lww.com/ACADMED/A134.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Hern, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alameda County Medical Center, 1411 E. 31st St., Oakland, CA 94602; telephone: (510) 437-4896; e-mail: emergentt@gmail.com.

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges