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Residency programs shift gears to address families’ concerns about COVID-19 :

June 23, 2020

Editor's note:For the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic, visit

For years, pediatric residency program faculty have partnered with community organizations to teach residents how to address local child health needs and prepare them to be effective child health advocates. When communities began to feel the impact of COVID-19, faculty leaders drew on these partnerships to address families’ pressing concerns.

“Community partners are invaluable, and by working with allies such as food banks, schools and maternal and child health programs like WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), pediatricians are increasing families’ access to community resources and addressing child health priorities,” said Benjamin D. Hoffman, M.D., FAAP, director of the AAP Community Pediatrics Training Initiative.

Through the New Jersey Pediatric Residency Advocacy Collaborative (NJPRAC), all nine residency programs in the state began partnering with the state-run Family Success Centers (FSC) in 2019 to address early childhood needs with support from a grant from The Nicholson Foundation. When New Jersey was severely impacted by COVID-19, leaders realized that though their grant projects would have to be halted, they could address families’ worries and needs related to COVID-19.

“As a state that was hit particularly hard by the COVID pandemic, NJPRAC needed to address the needs of our fellow New Jerseyans quickly and safely,” said NJPRAC Co-director Shilpa Pai, M.D., FAAP. “Thanks to the support of our chapter and the existing partnership we had with the Family Success Centers, we redirected NJPRAC's efforts to providing community health outreach through educational webinars about COVID.”

NJPRAC offered an "Ask the Doc" webinar led by a hospitalist, a primary care pediatrician and an infectious disease specialist from three different institutions. This evolved into weekly "Virtual House Calls." Most sessions were attended by over 100 community members and addressed COVID-related issues such as managing parent and child anxieties, food insecurity and public charge/immigration issues. Another popular session was a "Hip Hop with a Doc" dance session led by NJPRAC faculty member Tyree M.S. Winters, D.O., FAAP.

“While our major goal has been to help families, this has also been an outlet for us as pediatricians, improving our own wellness while contributing to the community in a meaningful way,” said NJPRAC Co-director Christin Traba, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP. “The questions from our FSC families were so insightful, truly giving us a different perspective as pediatricians. For me, the most alarming and surprising was whether a person would receive care if they went to an emergency room for illness when they did not have legal status here.”

During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, many pediatric trainees were deployed to work in adult medicine. The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated existing disparities in access to care and community resources.

“We have been having many conversations in our program about COVID-related health disparities given the population we serve and how we can brainstorm to address these disparities,” said Leora N. Mogilner, M.D., FAAP, advocacy faculty at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Our residents were very interested in learning more about advocacy opportunities and wanted to share this information with their medicine colleagues. And we have been working closely with our community-based organizations — even starting an onsite food pantry to address increased needs.”

Residents in the Weill Cornell Pediatric Residency Program also worked on adult units with pediatric generalists, pediatric specialists and internists.

“Communicating with families through no-visitor policies and discharge planning while addressing limited community resources were two of the challenges that were addressed,” said Laurie J. Gordon, M.D., FAAP, site director for Weill Cornell Pediatric Residency Education.

At Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, advocacy faculty Sarah A. Denny, M.D., FAAP, and Sara M. Bode, M.D., FAAP, drew on partnerships to keep residents engaged when much of their advocacy training became remote. They partnered with their government relations team to shift their advocacy day to a virtual experience. Residents led seven meetings with legislators and their staff. They shared how COVID-19 impacted children and families in their communities and asked for support for additional relief.

“Our elected officials were highly engaged,” Dr. Bode said. “This was a tremendous success and a rich learning experience for all of us — residents, faculty and members of Congress, who all provided positive feedback. With travel restrictions and social distancing anticipated for months to come, we are encouraged by the positive results of this first experience and hope to continue this approach to pediatric resident policy advocacy training.”

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