Do Applicant Photographs Belong On The NRMP Residency Application?
Do you believe in the common cliché, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” And, are you interested in how to apply it to the interview process? Then, take a look at the recent paper in Academic Medicine entitled The Ethical and Legal Conundrum Posed by Requesting Residency Applicants to Submit Photographs of Themselves, and the Medscape article of an interview with the same author of this study in an article called Are Residency Application Photos Used for Discrimination? Both pieces made lots of interesting points about the use of photographs for interviewing residents. However, I found the discussion in both of these articles to be a bit unsettling. And, let me show you why.
Well, take a look at the following quote as one of the final statements in the interview as a summary for the articles, “The photograph does not provide useful information that is necessary for selecting qualified candidates. Unless there’s a compelling argument for why you need a photograph, which so far no one has brought to me, I think it is unnecessary. Everyone I’ve shown the article to has agreed with our point of view. I am concerned that this is a possibly illegal practice, that it can cause people to be discriminated against, and that it is unfair.”
What The Articles Got Right
Let’s step back for a moment and think about this statement. At first glance, I initially agreed with the concept behind the article. Programs should never use a photograph to prescreen candidates. For instance, let’s say that one of the screeners in a program happened to hate nose rings. And, the image of an applicant showed her wearing a nose ring. Then, we might have excluded this applicant from the interview pool not based on credentials, but rather a nose ring on a photograph. It could theoretically work that same way for race or ethnicity. That should never happen. I get it.
Where The Articles Went Too Far
But, let’s take it to the next level. Once applicants have made it through the prescreening process and have arrived at our site for an interview, pictures can be beneficial to the applicant and the process. We’ve already seen the candidate. And, every time I look at a picture of the applicant, it jogs my memory about the person, the conversation, and the time. Often, the picture saves the day since so many interviews on a busy day can blur the lines between the candidates. Why would you want to get rid of such a tool?
Furthermore, we all have eyes and faces. You can’t ask all applicants to wear masks to an interview. Likewise, you cannot blindfold all the interviewers. And, if the picture is not biased enough, what about our voices? I mean everyone has a distinct accent. Uh oh, now applicants must wear sound mufflers to make sure that we cannot determine their identities. And, what about our clothes? Our clothes can give away our culture and attitudes. Why don’t we have all applicants arrive at our interviews wearing the same required outfit? I think you get the point, but you can take anti-bias precautions to an extreme that no longer makes sense. And, that’s where both of these articles went.
My Final Opinion About Applicant Photographs
Applicant photographs do not belong in the prescreening process. We should choose who we interview based on merit alone. Perhaps, we should look at these pictures only after we have selected the candidate for an interview.
However, I believe these papers over-sanitize the interviewing process and residency program use of photographs. We are not perfect in making decisions about our candidates. And, we all have our innate biases. But, we should not erase the interview pictures from the applicant’s record just because it may affect our judgment. We need our judgment to decide who we should choose for our programs. Let’s not take this anti-bias point too far!