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This article is the author's final published version in Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, Volume 25, Issue 2, 2024, Pages 191 - 196.

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Copyright © 2024 Estes et al


Background: Academic emergency medicine (EM) communities have viewed anonymous online communities (AOC) such as Reddit or specialty-specific “applicant spreadsheets” as poor advising resources. Despite this, robust EM AOCs exist, with large user bases and heavy readership. Insights about applicants’ authentic experiences can be critical for applicants and program leadership decision-making. To date, there are no EM studies to qualitatively assess EM AOC narratives during the application cycle. Our goal was to perform a qualitative analysis of students’ EM program experiences through a publicly available AOC. Methods: This was a qualitative analysis of a publicly available, time-stamped, user-locked AOC dataset: “Official 2020–2021 Emergency Medicine Applicant Spreadsheet.” We extracted and then deidentified all data from selected sub-sheets entitled “Virtual Interview Impressions” and “Rotation Impressions.” Four investigators used constant comparative method to analyze the data inductively, and they subsequently met to generate common themes discussed by students. Preliminary thematic analysis was conducted on a random sample of 37/183 (20%) independent narratives to create the initial codebook. This was used and updated iteratively to analyze the entire narrative set consisting of 841 discrete statements. Finally, two unique codes were created to distinguish whether the identified subthemes, or program attributes, were likely “modifiable” or “non-modifiable.” Results: We identified six major themes: living and working conditions; interpersonal relationships; learning experiences, postgraduate readiness, and online/virtual supplements. Common sub-themes included patient population (13%); resident personality (7%); program leadership personality (7%); relationship with faculty/ leadership (6%); geography (4%); practice setting (4%); program reputation (4%), and postgraduate year-3 experiences (4%). Modifiable sub-themes outnumbered non-modifiable sub-themes, 60.7% to 39.3%. Conclusion: In this analysis of selected medical students’ narratives in an AOC, the majority of identified themes represented topics that may serve as external feedback for EM residency programs and their clerkships. Selective use of AOCs may set a precedent for future program assessments by applicants and inform program leadership of important programmatic elements in the eyes of applicants. It elucidates important themes in their interactions or learning experiences with programs and creates opportunities for learner-centric program improvement.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.