wHAT IS A Shomer Shabbos or Shabbos "Friendly" Residency?
Jewish law proscribes certain forms of creative labor from sundown on Friday until the stars appear on Saturday night (the Jewish Sabbath). The same restrictions are in force for certain major Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Passover, and Shavuos). There is no similar prohibition of creative work on other minor Jewish holidays (such as Chanuka and Purim).
While the prohibition of melacha (creative work) is set aside to save a human life, routine medical work may not be performed on the Sabbath by an observant Jewish healthcare provider,even in a hospital setting. In cases of true emergency, the observant Jew is required to set aside Sabbath prohibitions necessary to safeguard life as part of normative Jewish law.
Practically, the requirements of Sabbath observance would usually preclude a medical student, resident, or attending physician from working in a hospital on the Sabbath or major Jewish holiday if they would be expected to do routine medical work (which would include utilizing electricity and writing, for instance). Except for a gravely ill patient or potentially gravely ill patient, the healthcare provider could not use the telephone, turn on lights, write notes, or fulfill many of their routine hospital functions.
Medical students, not being full-fledged physicians yet, are usually able to avoid Sabbath desecration as the primary responsibility for patient-care does not fall to them. Once medical training is completed, a physician may choose to take a position that fits his/her needs. But residents are in a very vulnerable position, having the responsibility of primary patient care, but lacking the autonomy to control their work environment. As a result, the resident finds him/herself being asked to perform duties as part of training that may conflict with his/her religious beliefs.
Jewish law does not allow the resident to compromise Sabbath observance for the sake of medical training. As a result, the potential resident must seek employment in a training program that will accommodate his religious needs.
Such accommodations have been made for decades. Many programs are proud to be able to accommodate the needs of all residents (see articles from the Jewish Advocate and Baltimore Jewish Times on the side). Some programs have pre-arranged schedules that are conducive to Sabbath observance. These programs are known as "Shomer Shabbos" residency programs and some even advertise in newspapers (see sample advertisement on side of page- these are just samples and may no longer be active). Other programs have no such pre-existing system, but are willing to assure a prospective candidate for a residency position that if the candidate matches in their program, they will arrange a schedule that is compatible with the candidate's religious requirements. Such programs may best be called "Shabbos friendly" programs. Both types of programs are completely suitable for Sabbath observant residents.
The Sabbath-observant resident who enters one of these programs understands that while he cannot do the same call as the other residents, he will do an equivalent amount of call to his co-workers. Whether the residency is "Shomer Shabbos" or "Shabbos friendly," it is understood that the resident will work at least as hard as the other residents. Equivalent call responsibilities are usually arranged by having the Sabbath-observant resident do additional call on Sundays and national holidays to make up for Friday nights and Saturdays.
Due to the complexity of Jewish law, what qualifies as a "Shomer Shabbos" or "Shabbos friendly" residency depends on a multitude of factors. Therefore, it is crucial for residency candidates to clarify with prospective programs exactly what their responsibilities will be to determine if the program offers sufficient accommodation of their religious needs.