COVID-19 and Fellows: Frequently Asked Questions
(Version 1.1; Last updated October 6, 2020)
Input from Drs. Alfred Lee, Marquita Nelson, Jori May, Lachelle Weeks, Hetty Carraway, Rebecca Olin, Urshila Durani, Bryan Hambley, Ann LaCasce, Amit Soni, Daniel Richardson
See General Tips for Trainees for FAQs on virtual interviews, virtual talks, staying productive and wellness.
Note: Please review ASH's disclaimer regarding the use of the following information.
Will COVID-19 impact my clinical fellowship timeline?
A resident/fellow may not complete all planned rotations/experiences in the curriculum. The ACGME is allowing each program to make determinations about clinical competency during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to graduate a resident/fellow is made by the program director, with input from the Clinical Competency Committee (CCC), based on that individual’s ability to perform the medical, diagnostic, and/or surgical procedures considered essential for the area of practice.
The determination of whether a resident/fellow can graduate as previously scheduled can be made even if the curriculum as originally planned is not completed. Virtual educational experiences including rounds, teleconsultations, educational seminars and other approaches can be utilized to ensure breadth of clinical knowledge and experience. However, an extension of the educational program/training or completion of specific clinical rotations during planned research time may be necessary if the program director determines that an individual is not fully ready for independent practice.
Will COVID-19 impact my research fellowship timeline?
Fellows whose research is predominantly clinical or computational may be less impacted by the pandemic. Unless a fellow is involved in research projects that are primarily computational or based on previously obtained clinical or laboratory data, there will likely be a protracted timeline for resumption of normal research activities. The reality is that being shut down for months and then having a slow ramp up is likely to decrease productivity, and some fellows may have to or want to take longer to finish projects. It is important to discuss your research timeline with your mentor. If funding linked to the fellowship program will expire prior to any hope of completing research projects, fellows should consider applying for outside funding to cover their salary, such as professional societies and philanthropic disease foundations.
Will COVID-19 impact boards certification?
Online resources such as the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Board Review and the ASH Hematology Review Series (free online hematology board review series) course can be helpful. Many fellows also use the ASH Self-Assessment Program (ASH-SAP). Banks of questions such as https://hemeoncquestions.com and https://www.boardvitals.com/ are available for a modest fee. Schedule time for reading and for taking practice test questions for board prep so that you feel prepared when the test date comes. ABIM has announced additional dates within the 2020-2021 academic year.
How should graduating fellows prepare for the next phase of their career in the COVID-19 era?
The uncertainty produced by the pandemic affects all healthcare institutions. Many are facing unprecedented financial pressures and have put in place temporary hiring freezes. Despite general hiring freezes, some institutions are hiring in specific areas, so fellows should consider reaching out to institutions even if a job is not posted. It will be helpful for fellows to have clear and open communication with potential employers and discuss contingencies. If you do not have a position confirmed after you graduate, ask about the possibility of staying on at your home institution, at least temporarily.
If you are moving to another institution, try to familiarize yourself with their efforts to care for patients during COVID-19. Are they using telemedicine or phone visits? See if you can find out what platforms are being used and if you can try them out. Investigate if scheduling and billing practices are the same or different, especially during COVID-19. See if the institution can provide resources that are being shared with currently faculty. Familiarizing yourself with the logistical challenges of your future job now will hopefully allow you to focus more on the clinical care of your patients once you get started.
Graduates starting new jobs may find a requirement for more rapid generation of salary from clinical activity and grants/other sources of funding than before COVID. As hospitals across the country face budget shortfalls, fellows should recognize the nature of job offers will change.
What should fellows do if their offers of employment have been rescinded due to COVID-19?
Review the actual language in the contract, specifically the section that states conditions that would nullify the contract. Many institutions have new hiring freezes, but rescinding a contract is a legal matter, so speaking to an employment lawyer may be worthwhile.
You should also talk with your program director and let them know about your job situation as there may be opportunities at your home institution or at other institutions that your program director may be aware of. Your program director can be your best advocate (and sponsor!). You can also revisit conversations with prior institutions where you previously interviewed and let them know that your plans have changed and that you are interested in a possible job opportunity if still available.
What language should fellow look for in a contract to protect them from job loss due to the pandemic or other unforeseen circumstances?
Most contracts have required language that allows employers to lay off employees in situations of substantial financial losses or insolvency. Given the uncertainty in the job market, it may be beneficial to discuss your contract with an attorney to understand the nature of these stipulations. Although employers may not be able to change this language, they may be able to discuss how likely this scenario would be and/or to discuss your rights if this were to happen.
Are there special considerations for relocating during COVID restrictions?
- For housing, consider a month-to-month lease initially before making a long-term commitment. Lots of leasing managers are doing virtual tours and posting their tours on YouTube, Instagram, etc.
- Ask the chief fellow at the fellowship you are headed to for advice and guidance. He/she can connect you with co-fellows and residents who can be informants of best places to consider for housing, schools and other key details to your new location.
- Check with graduating fellows. They may be vacating desirable housing.
- Try joining any local online groups prior to the move to information on neighborhoods, traffic/transportation, etc.
Any advice for fellows about visa concerns?
- Talk to your embassy and institutional officials, such as departmental administrators and the international student/scholar office. Let them know your situation and seek their advice and help.
- Identify colleagues who may have similar concerns as you. Team up to develop strategies and solutions. You are not alone.
- You may need to consider speaking to an immigration attorney.
For additional information, see:
- 2020 Initial Board Certification for the American Board of Internal Medicine
- 2020 Initial Board Certification for the American Board of Pediatrics