Improving the usability and efficiency of a medical school application website


The Visiting Student Learning Opportunities® (VSLO®) is a program that enables medical and public health students to pursue short-term learning opportunities in locations away from their home institutions. Program participants include medical and public health students and institutions in the U.S. and around the globe.

The web application created for this program connects the students and institutions offering short-term elective opportunities that can enhance their medical education. These elective opportunities include observerships, summer research programs, clinical opportunities, away rotations, away electives, clinical rotations and visiting opportunities.

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Highlights of the web application

Enables students to browse and apply to electives offered by host institutions.

Students can upload and update their relevant academic documents as application requirements.

Enables the institutions to review these applications and update status.

Institutions can create elective catalogs for the students to apply.

Objectives and Goals


  • Employ user research methods to achieve a deep understanding of what VSLO users need, want, and prefer
  • Identify areas in which users' expectations for the VSLO application service are misaligned
  • Develop and prioritize design recommendations to optimize improvement and maximize user satisfaction


  • Discover from a diverse sample of VSLO users with a range of experiences
  • Better understand the ways in which needs vary across VSLO user groups
  • Learn more about known issues; document unknown issues
  • Collect and analyze data in order to aid in the prioritization of VSLO issues
  • Gather feedback from VSLO users on the changes introduced to the application
  • Make any necessary updates to the prototype


  • A modular research approach, with à la carte activities
  • Knowledge gained during each stage was used to inform subsequent activities
  • Application prototype constantly evolved with iterations over design decisions



  • Familiarization with the VSLO Application Service website
  • Review of previous user research led by the application client
  • Review of VSLO feedback records (e.g. help desk logs, meeting notes, etc.)
  • Heuristic evaluation of VSLO application service
  • Stakeholder interviews - Client staff

User Interviews

  • Moderated, semi-structured interviews with actual VSLO users
  • Conducted via telephone & web conference
  • Moderators followed standardized interview guide tailed for each user group

User Surveys

  • Unmoderated, web-based surveys completed by actual VSLO users
  • Qualitative and quantitative questions and scales
  • Survey content developed during, and immediately after Round 1 interviews


User Groups

During the Discovery phase, major user groups were identified based upon feedback from stakeholders

For user interviews and randomized qualitative survey analysis, participant selection focused on three upper-level user groups. A representative sample of relevant sub-groups and characteristics was sought

Initial Findings

Attitudes towards VSLO

All participants were asked to rate their overall VSLO experience on a scale from 0 - 10

  • Likert-type rating scale
  • 0 = Extremely Dissatisfied; 10 = Extremely Satisfied

Issue Prioritization - Most important issue per user

Documents & Requirements

  • Standardize the assignment of common requirements across all electives
  • Documents & requirements should be added one by one - no bulk upload
  • Documents & requirements cannot be updated or replaced after an application has been submitted
  • Documents & requirements cannot be uploaded prior to an application being initiated by the student
  • Documents & requirements are tied to individual applications, rather than following students across applications
  • Users cannot upload Supplemental Documents
  • Users cannot preview documents before Download

User Flows

Home/Student users can upload documents to a central repository
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Home/Student users can update documents
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Host user can view student information and verify
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Host user can view student applications and attached requirement documents and download
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User Proposed User Flows

When Home/Student users updates/uploads standard document - should update all applications
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When Home/Student users update requirement documents - an email notification should be sent
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Host users should be able to change status of application - Approved or Rejected
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Final Proposed Prototype

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Application Walkthrough

Congratulations to have made it so far! Lets connect offline for a detailed application walkthrough...

Project Learnings

  • Always place the user at the center of every design decision
  • Do not introduce bias by leading questions in user research
  • Every data point is important
  • Learn the limitations of prototyping tools and choose the best