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Failure to Launch: Lack of Information on Dermatology Fellowship Program Websites May Impede Future Applicants

Failure to Launch: Lack of Information on Dermatology Fellowship Program Websites May Impede Future Applicants

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 14:33

Dr Wei

Chapman Wei, BS, dermatology research fellow in the department of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine.

Websites and information accessibility play an important role when selecting a residency or fellowship program, especially now when prospective candidates are unable to visit campuses. Findings from a recent study showed many dermatology fellowship program websites lack information that would help dermatology residents decide to which program to apply, including application deadlines and whether the program offers a journal club.1

In the study, the researchers searched for accredited dermatopathology, micrographic surgery and dermatologic oncology (MSDO), and pediatric dermatology fellowships using the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) directory and American Board of Dermatology (ABD) Approved Pediatric Dermatology Fellowship directory. Information on the website was assessed based on three major domains: program overview, the application process and recruitment, and education.

Dr Friedman

Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, Interim Chair and director of the dermatology residency program at George Washington School of Medicine.

In addition, the researchers cross-referenced contact information on the websites with the ACGME and ABD directories. Websites were defined as superior if they contained 70% or more of the desired information. A total of 54 dermatopathology, 64 MSDO, and 29 pediatric dermatology fellowships were included.

On average, dermatopathology, MSDO, and pediatric dermatology websites provided 51%, 32%, and 42% of the evaluated information, respectively, the researchers observed.

Overall, MSDO fellowship websites were found to have the least amount of information. MSDO websites had the fewest consistencies in contact information with the fellowship directories, had less program overview content, and the least amount of education content compared with dermatopathology and pediatric dermatology fellowship websites. Dermatopathology websites provided the most information related to the application process and recruitment content compared with pediatric dermatology and MSDO fellowship websites. The researchers did not observe any significant differences between fellowship types regarding websites containing superior amounts of information.

Despite the accessibility of dermatology fellowship websites, most programs offer incomplete or very little information for applicants, the researchers concluded. Ultimately, the researchers recommended dermatology fellowship programs update their websites in order to provide prospective residents and fellows with appropriate information to make informed decisions about which programs they would to apply.

In an interview with The Dermatologist, lead study author Chapman Wei, BS, dermatology research fellow in the department of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine, and corresponding author Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, Interim Chair and director of the dermatology residency program at George Washington School of Medicine, discussed these findings and why these issues need to be addressed, particularly within the context of the current pandemic in the US.

The Dermatologist: Why did you conduct this study, and, why is it important for dermatology programs to consider the impact of their websites on recruitment?

Mr Wei and Dr Friedman: This study was conducted in order to assess and compare website accessibility and content among dermatology fellowship programs. Online resources are frequently used by applicants to acquire important knowledge about fellowship programs. Recent literature has also shown that they may influence an applicant’s decision on applying and ranking programs. Knowing that websites can impact applicants’ decision making, it is important that dermatology programs invest and update their websites for recruiting candidates.

One may argue that an applicant could simply use the Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database (FREIDA) for information, but this database has its weaknesses. The database is not updated as frequently as individual program websites are on their own, and as a result, it contains limited information. Additionally, FREIDA does not include information about pediatric dermatology fellowships, which creates an unnecessary barrier for prospective applicants.

The Dermatologist: When assessing fellowship websites, what specific information did you examine?       

Mr Wei and Dr Friedman: Our project had two goals:

  1. assess ease of finding a dermatology fellowship program (dermatopathology, MSDO, pediatric dermatology) website through an internet search; and
  2. assess for the presence of specific website information in three broad domains: program overview, application/recruitment, and education.

The program overview domain was comprised of the program description, phone number, email address, physical address, program director’s name, names of current fellows, names of past fellows, and past fellows’ current employers. The application/recruitment domain included application ID/form, salary, additional requirements/documents (besides applying), and application deadline. The education domain contained didactics, journal club, rotation schedule, clinic/office responsibilities, research requirements/opportunities, previous research performed in the program, conference/meetings, and international opportunities. These categories were based on studies that assessed what program applicants are looking for in websites.

Overall, it was very easy to find a program’s website. However, there were frequently gaps in the information we sought to assess, as mentioned above.

The Dermatologist: What was the most commonly unavailable or hard to find information on the program websites? And, was there any missing information that surprised you?

Mr Wei and Dr Friedman: At a minimum, most websites provided a description of their program and the program director’s name. However, if one wanted to know more information about who the current and past fellows were or where fellows went after training, this information was not available on most websites.

Information for the application process, including letters of recommendation, personal statements, or the application deadline, was surprisingly lacking on most websites. At a minimum, an explicit statement stating that there is no deadline or providing a deadline for applications should be highly visible, but it was not in many cases.

When assessing the educational information listed on program websites, most programs did not state whether they held a journal club, nor did they include a rotation schedule. When considering research initiatives, most fellowship programs did not showcase their fellows’ publications, even though research opportunities were reviewed. Sharing productivity from research projects rather than broadly describing the opportunities may have a profound impact on applicants’ decisions if they see the fruitfulness of prior efforts.

The Dermatologist: What can dermatology programs do to better ensure the information is available and accessible for future candidates, especially in the context of the current pandemic?

Mr Wei and Dr Friedman: There is a two-part solution to resolving this issue. The first part is that dermatology fellowship programs need to create their own websites, if they have not done so already. This does not mean having a program description as an add-on to a dermatology residency program’s webpage. An entire, functional website would be ideal. Due to the current pandemic, it is no longer feasible or even desirable to bring applicants in-person to showcase a program during an interview day. Having a program website will ensure that applicants have a free and easy gateway that allows the program to showcase exactly what type of candidate fits in their program and explain how their program can advance an applicant’s career.

The second part of this solution is to have dermatology fellowship programs update their websites more frequently. Applicants will frequently access programs’ websites throughout not only the application cycle, but likely even before considering applying for a fellowship. Any new information should be added as soon as possible to allow applicants to make informed decisions. Our manuscript provides an easy road map to guide program directors on what information can be included to make their website more attractive to future applicants.

The Dermatologist: Are there any other areas that need to be addressed to improve accessibility of program information?

Mr Wei and Dr Friedman: There is a vast potential for the improvement of accessibility to application/recruitment and educational content. With the current pandemic making the application cycle a virtual experience, websites should be updated on how programs will proceed during our “new normal.” This will ensure a smooth, hospitable environment between the applicants and the program.

Regarding education, websites can provide a virtual window into educational activities, such as grand rounds. This has been successfully implemented in the setting of COVID-19 grand rounds in many institutions. We look forward to seeing virtual activities like this added into dermatology fellowship websites in the future.

We also look forward to seeing how dermatology fellowship programs will utilize their websites to highlight their investment in and dedication to improving diversity and access for underrepresented minorities in medicine. Dermatology is the second least diverse specialty in medicine, just a hair above orthopedics, and this issue is even further exaggerated in more advanced training programs, such as fellowships. By providing a virtual window on how improving diversity will be addressed, it may encourage a more diverse applicant pool–one that is sorely needed.


1. Wei C, Quan T, Wu T, et al. Assessment of the accessibility and content of dermatology fellowship websites. J Am Acad Dermatol. Published online ahead of print June 9, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2020.06.017.

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