Developing and using a "Shomer Shabbos" and "Shabbos friendly" database
In 1991, a friend and I, both medical students at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, were preparing to apply for residency programs, he in anesthesia and I in radiology. We prevailed upon Helen C. Davies, Ph.D., Acting Associate Dean for Student and House-staff Affairs, to help us survey residency programs to determine which programs would accommodate our Sabbath observance.
We prepared a letter and survey (see side) spelling out our religious needs and explained that we were trying to compile a list of programs that could fulfill the needs of Shomer Shabbos residents. The letter was deliberately simplistic, only explaining the general concept of shomer Shabbos residency and explaining that our survey was only for information and did not bind the program in any way. We asked two basic questions as part of the survey:
1. Has your program ever accommodated Sabbath-observant house officers?
2. Would your program be willing to offer such an option for the coming match or future matches?
If they had accommodated Sabbath-observant residents in the past, we also asked them to provide the name of a Sabbath observant house officer who has been in their program.
The results (see side) served as a guide for us in applying to residency programs. Armed in advance with knowledge, in writing, of which programs showed interest in accommodating the needs of Sabbath-observant residents, I was able to apply to only those programs that would potentially allow me to pursue a shomer Shabbos residency- both a preliminary year in internal medicine and a radiology residency. For the sake of increasing shomer Shabbos residencies, I also interviewed at some places that had not responded to the survey to try to convince them to offer a Shabbos accommodation.
The interview process was also made easier by obviating the need to start from scratch in explaining Shabbos to the program directors. I merely reminded them of the survey, told them that I was one of the students who had prompted the survey and appreciated their interest in accommodating shomer Shabbos residents. Instead spending a great deal of time explaining Shabbos observance, we could discuss the residency program. I only needed to ask enough questions to insure that they truly understood what accommodating Shabbos observance meant (some did and some did not).
My friend and I both matched at (different) programs for our preliminary years of internal medicine. My program was a pre-arranged "shomer Shabbos" residency and my friend's was a program that did not have a formal "shomer Shabbos" residency, but agreed to arrange his schedule in a manner that would not conflict with Shabbos or Yomim Tovim.
It is crucial to understand that a shomer Shabbos residency need not be "official." What is crucial is that a medical student receive a promise that the program will accommodate his/her religious needs. This may be as simple as a promise that if the student matches, a shomer Shabbos schedule will be provided for the resident. This promise is best received in writing, either from the program itself or in the form of a confirmatory letter sent by the resident before or after the match (see correspondence with department chairman and residency director on the side).
In all situations, it is not only in the best interests of the candidate to discuss Sabbath obsevance during the interview process, but is also an ethical imperative. To expect a residency program to adapt its schedule without prior agreement is unreasonable and may create a chillul Hashem. Mutual respect between the program and the candidate are imperative to a successful "Shomer Shabbos" or "Shabbos friendly" residency.
Of interest, the same survey procedure was performed by University of Pennsylvania medical students in 1994 (for pediatrics residencies) and again in 2000 with great success
THE ONLY WAY TO COMPILE AN ACCURATE LIST OF RESIDENCY PROGRAMS THAT CAN ACCOMODATE SABBATH OBSERVANT RESIDENTS IS TO PERFORM A COURTEOUS AND COMPLETE SURVEY RESIDENCY PROGRAMS. SUCH AN ENDEAVOR WILL REQUIRE THE HELP OF MANY PEOPLE. ANYONE INTERESTED IN HELPING WITH THE ORGANIZATION AND EXECUTION OF SUCH A PROJECT, PLEASE contact me.