Neurology Residency Training During a Pandemic

September 16, 2020

In part 2 of this interview, Leah Croll, MD, a neurology resident on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, describes how her resident program experience was impacted by the pandemic.

This is the second of a 2-part interview, for part 1, click here.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many doctors and physicians around the country changed gears and took on responsibilities that they did not envision. The same goes for residents within their program, who were forced onto the front lines while still learning to become full-time neurologists.

Leah Croll, MD, a resident in the neurology department at NYU Langone in New York City, witnessed the complete transition in care live from the US epicenter of the pandemic. In an attempt to further understand the psychosocial impact the pandemic had on residents and staff members, she designed a survey that inquired about emotions such as fear, anxiety, and depression.

In part 2 of this interview with NeurologyLive, Croll shares how the pandemic altered her residency experience and the lessons she learned while she was still in training.

NeurologyLive: How did the pandemic impact your residency training?

Leah Croll, MD: From an education perspective, my resident experience was completely disrupted. I was not a neurology resident for several months and was unable to treat patients as a neurologist, think about neurologic problems, have time to study neurology, and attend our didactics. I’m not the only 1. Everyone’s experiences as a resident were disrupted in their own way. That was another source of anxiety for a lot of us. Obviously someday this pandemic is going to end but will I have lost a substantial portion of my training and will I be able to be the neurologist I wanted to be? One aspect my department did a great job of was coming together as a team and realizing that we have unprecedented challenges, but we’re going to meet them with unprecedented solutions the best way we can. There was a lot of comfort in the leadership recognizing that yes, you’re feeling this way, but were going to try to help you and rise to those challenges.

How can residents like yourself and others learn from this experience for the future?

For me, both as physician and a person, the most valuable thing was to understand the power of sending a sincere message to the people in the world, whether its professionally, whether they’re your patients, your friends, that we’re in this together, and that your concerns and well-being matt, so the best we can do is support each other. Understanding the power in that message was huge for me. The other part is how important it is to be agile in the way that we deal with challenges like this. You have to be flexible in medicine and neurology in all sorts of ways. But I never had to be so fluid as I was in the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean that in every sense, whether it was the way in which we were dealing with COVID patients, the way in which we were dealing with each other’s providers, the way in which we were dealing with education, all of that. We just had to adapt more quickly and make bigger changes than I think we ever had before because we never had a pandemic on our hands as a department. Understanding the importance of flexibility and having patients with that was another huge lesson for me.

Do you have anything else that you'd like to share about your study or any results or anything like that, that that maybe people should just know about or anything that's noteworthy?

It may be interesting for other people to know some of the ways in which the department responded. Obviously not every response is going to work for them, but other departments are at different phases of the pandemic than we were when I wrote this article. Some of the main themes of the way that our neurology department had responded to this type of psychosocial impact from this pandemic were to insert these virtual support groups. There was a certain accessibility in reaching each other, faculty, psychiatry and neuropsychiatry colleagues, so that we could reach out for support and talk through what we were going through all while knowing that our department was there for us. I also think that there was a huge amount of power in feeding the front line. The department made this huge effort to gather donations to cater meals for those of us in the hospital during the pandemic. It sounds like a really little thing to do, but it has such a huge impact and you never underestimate the power of free food. Nothing is more important to residents, nurses or attendees in the hospital. The third and final point was that there was a real evaluation in the resources that NYU at large and our neurology department specifically, was officering in response to those challenges. Making sure that we’re consistently communicating what’s out there for help and support is really important.

Transcript edited for clarity.