COVID-19 and Trainees: Frequently Asked Questions
(Version 1.1; last updated October 6, 2020)
Input from Drs. Jori May, Olga Guryanova, Ann LaCasce, Allistair Abraham, Rebecca Olin, Leslie Ellis, Urshila Durani, Lachelle Weeks, Alfred Lee, Daniel Richardson, Hetty Carraway
Note: Please review ASH's disclaimer regarding the use of the following information.
What are tips to be productive while working from home?
- Make a daily to-do list.
- If you find yourself juggling multiple responsibilities and dealing with constant distractions, such as working while caring for young kids – prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Every day, choose the most important 2-3 tasks, making sure they are feasible. If you manage to make progress on at least one of them, count it a success!
- One of the most difficult parts of working from home is the constant threat of distractions. Designate a space for work in your home, as separate as feasible, from temptations and interruptions, and designate certain times to work and certain times for breaks. Try to maintain your work routine as much as possible.
- You may consider getting dressed as though you are at work to switch into your “business mode” even if you stay at home.
- If you struggle switching into a work mindset, consider doing a mental “commute”, such as going for a short walk and using the time to plan out your workday. At the end of the workday, “commute” back into a home mode.
- If you have kids, you have to work around their schedule. Tag team with your partner/spouse to give each parent a few hours of uninterrupted productive time.
- Know yourself - identify times of day that you can be most productive. Schedule and plan accordingly.
- Aim for small, attainable goals each day. Consider closing your email or social media inboxes to focus on your task at hand, only answering messages during certain times (i.e. 7:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m.). You can even put your phone in a different room so that you are not tempted to look at it more frequently.
- Use the time away from the lab/clinic/hospital to focus on research and/or writing projects that can be done remotely.
- Make a longer-term schedule and timeline for deliverables/assignments that have hard deadlines.
- Try to schedule frequent virtual meetings with mentors to keep yourself on track.
- Recognize that despite your best efforts, you may not be as productive at home as you are at work and that is okay.
What are best practices for virtual interviews?
- Be on time (that means call in a few minutes early to be sure you can connect).
- Dress professionally for all virtual encounters and maintain an undisrupted focus, just as one would during an in-person meeting/patient visit.
- Ensure that your background is professional and free of distractions and that your face is evenly lit.
- Test your camera and microphone before the interview to ensure they work properly.
- Look directly at the camera when speaking, not at the image on the screen, particularly if you have an auxiliary monitor.
- Because your interviewer will see less of you, they will pay more attention to your facial expressions. Make sure you radiate enthusiasm, engagement and interest. Consider trying practice questions and answers with someone and review how you look on screen.
- Make sure you have prepared. Know about the institution you are interviewing for, and your interviewers. Prepare 2-3 questions to ask the interviewer. Be ready to answer questions about your CV.
- Remember, everyone is nervous during interviews. This is normal. To help calm your nerves, try to remember it is OK to briefly “pause” and think about any question that is directed at you before you reply. This can help you to stay focused and on point.
- Be authentic.
- Recognize that this is a challenging time for everyone and show how you are making the best of it.
What are the best practices for giving talks remotely?
- Make sure that your internet connection is appropriate for the streaming platform. Plug directly into your router with an ethernet cable if Wifi is at all unstable.
- Take the same steps described above to make sure you are ready to use the conference platform and you (and your background) look professional. A light background without any pattern or objects is preferable for when you are making a presentation. Zoom virtual backgrounds of a travel destination or any other potentially-distracting images are not appropriate when you are delivering a talk.
- All conferencing platforms vary. You might not be able to see anything other than your slides, and your audience may or may not see you. If you aren’t sure, then assume that they can see you and act accordingly.
- Know the keyboard shortcuts for whichever video platform you are using including mute/unmute, screen share, etc.
- Ideally, have another person monitoring the chat box so you can focus on your presentation while he/she interrupts as needed with questions. If not possible, consider keeping the chat box open so you can address questions as they appear.
- Understand that you will not have the advantage of seeing the reactions of your audience and that your talk may be an uninterrupted monologue. This can be challenging, as we often look to the audience for encouragement and feedback via body language or facial expressions, but try your best to maintain your energy and enthusiasm.
- To engage the audience, consider using online live polling websites such as Poll Everywhere.
- Find out beforehand if you will be able to advance your own slides or if someone will be advancing them for you. If it’s the latter, avoid adding frequent transitions that require multiple clicks on a single slide (because constantly saying “next” will interrupt the flow of your message). Instead, use other visual tools to draw the viewer’s attention.
What are best practices for maintaining mental health?
- Find ways to connect with fellow trainees and other colleagues to discuss how things are going.
- Take opportunities to celebrate achievements with others, even small ones!
- Make time for exercise, meditation, or other activities that help maintain your mental health. There are several free mindfulness apps available for healthcare providers (see Resources below).
- Schedule breaks and fun activities in your work week and make sure you define clear boundaries between when you are working and when you are not. The lack of delineation of work days and work hours from down time can often result in overworking.
- Let your clinical and research teams know your limitations to manage their expectations.
- Allow yourself the grace of acknowledging that it is okay, and perfectly normal, to feel overwhelmed during this time.
- Even if you’re doing well, not everyone may be doing the same. Checking on others is imperative. Text/call your colleagues; ask how they’re doing and how you can help.
What should I do if I am feeling overwhelmed and think I need help?
- Discuss your feelings with a program director, faculty member or mentor whom you trust. If you think you might need a break, they can help you figure out how to make that break happen. You cannot effectively care for others if you are not taking care of yourself.
- Many hospitals and institutions recognize the critical need for mental health services in the current situation and provide such expanded, confidential services at no or low charge/copay. Check your institution’s web pages for Wellness, Employee Benefits or Human Resources to see if virtual mental health screenings, group support sessions, individual talk therapy, or referrals to a psychiatrist are available.
- Seeking help when you need it demonstrates maturity and wisdom.
- Many individuals feel uncomfortable seeking out mental health help for different reasons, but those who reach out are often surprised to find how much quality of life can improve (and you will certainly not be alone).
For additional information, see:
- 9 Tips for Mastering Your Next Virtual Interview
- Headspace for Health Care Workers
- The Calm App
- AMA Managing Mental Health During COVID-19
- American Psychiatric Association, Coronavirus and Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves During Infectious Disease Outbreaks