Tips to Reduce Digital Eye Strain in the 2021 Virtual Residency Interview Season

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the traditional residency interview style across several specialties, with a virtual interview continuing in the 2021-2022 cycle.  There has been a significant increase in digital eye strain reported in the general population and students transitioning to virtual platforms. Symptoms of digital eye strain include dry eyes, sensitivity to bright lights, eye burning and irritation, headache, blurred vision, and difficulty in refocusing from one distance to another. Here are some tips to navigate this upcoming interview season to minimize digital eye strain:

  1. Select your lighting

In creating your virtual interview set up, be mindful about choosing a well-lit space while avoiding high luminance lights in direct gaze to prevent further eye strain. Most go for the brightest lighting with ring lights, but this may further contribute to eyestrain due to the sheer volume and time spent with virtual interviews.  Also, avoid lighting behind you that may reflect off the screen. This makes our eyes work harder, as it causes glare.

  1. Adjust your monitor

While you may spend time finding a good camera angle, be sure to take time to adjust your monitor. Allow for a 2 feet distance from eye level and if possible, position your screen at or below eye level. The exposed area of your eye surface increases in up gaze, drying out the eye surface faster, and can further discomfort. In setting monitor brightness, aim to match your screen brightness to your surroundings. Also, keep the monitor clean from smudges as a clean screen will be easier on the eyes.

  1. Check the air

Creating an environment that supports healthy eyes will help prevent eye strain. Minimize high flow heat and air conditioning. Using a humidifier will also help your tear film stability. Another habit to practice is to check out your surroundings with the 20/20/20 rule. Take a break from the screen every 20 minutes, look at a space 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This technique is widely recommended to combat eye strain and will allow your eyes to relax.  

  1. Remember your eyes

Get an eye exam to correct any underlying eye issues you may have. Uncorrected refractive errors and squinting are factors that increase eye strain. During long interviews, consider wearing glasses instead of contact lenses. To further support a healthy tear film, use lubricating eye drops and omega-3 supplements. Most of us blink less and have incomplete blinks when focusing on demanding tasks, so remember to blink intentionally and blink completely!

Experiencing eye strain can definitely put a damper on the exciting interview season but practicing evidence-based interventions will hopefully minimize this problem. There are numerous strategies to reduce eye strain, including those listed above. By planning ahead, students can create an eye-healthy interview environment for the virtual interview season.

Eye strain graphic