Residency Roundup

Disaster Preparedness in Dermatology Residency Programs

In Partnership With The Association Of Professors Of Dermatology Residency Program Directors Section

Author and Disclosure Information

Dermatology residency programs must be prepared to address the unpredictable but seemingly inevitable impacts of natural (eg, hurricanes) and manmade (eg, threats of violence) disasters as well as widespread infectious disease (eg, the COVID-19 pandemic). However, there is a paucity of literature regarding how residency programs should prepare for and respond to these types of disasters. From the equipment trainees utilize in clinic to the didactic education dermatology residents receive, preserving the means of clinical care delivery and mastery of core competencies in the face of unique and disastrous circumstances poses a great challenge to dermatology residency programs. Addressing disaster preparedness early may help to mitigate the short- and long-term impacts of such events, allowing for a more sustainable residency program.

Practice Points

  • Dermatology residency programs should prioritize the development of disaster preparedness plans prior to the onset of disasters.
  • Comprehensive disaster preparedness addresses many possible disruptions to dermatology resident training and clinic operations, including natural and manmade disasters and threats of widespread infectious disease.
  • Safety being paramount, dermatology residency programs may be tasked with maintaining resident wellness, continuing resident education—potentially in unconventional ways—and adapting clinical operations to continue patient care.



In an age of changing climate and emerging global pandemics, the ability of residency programs to prepare for and adapt to potential disasters may be paramount in preserving the training of physicians. The current literature regarding residency program disaster preparedness, which focuses predominantly on hurricanes and COVID-19,1-8 is lacking in recommendations specific to dermatology residency programs. Likewise, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) guidelines9 do not address dermatology-specific concerns in disaster preparedness or response. Herein, we propose recommendations to mitigate the impact of various types of disasters on dermatology residency programs and their trainees with regard to resident safety and wellness, resident education, and patient care (Table).

Checklist of Recommendations for Disaster Preparedness in Dermatology Residency Programs

Resident Safety and Wellness

Role of the Program Director—The role of the program director is critical, serving as a figure of structure and reassurance.4,7,10 Once concern of disaster arises, the program director should contact the Designated Institutional Official (DIO) to express concerns about possible disruptions to resident training. The DIO should then contact the ACGME within 10 days to report the disaster and submit a request for emergency (eg, pandemic) or extraordinary circumstances (eg, natural disaster) categorization.4,9 Program directors should promptly prepare plans for program reconfiguration and resident transfers in alignment with ACGME requirements to maintain evaluation and completion of core competencies of training during disasters.9 Program directors should prioritize the safety of trainees during the immediate threat with clear guidelines on sheltering, evacuations, or quarantines; a timeline of program recovery based on communication with residents, faculty, and administration should then be established.10,11

Communication—Establishing a strong line of communication between program directors and residents is paramount. Collection of emergency noninstitutional contact information, establishment of a centralized website for information dissemination, use of noninstitutional email and proxy servers outside of the location of impact, social media updates, on-site use of 2-way radios, and program-wide conference calls when possible should be strongly considered as part of the disaster response.2-4,12,13

Resident Accommodations and Mental Health—If training is disrupted, residents should be reassured of continued access to salary, housing, food, or other resources as necessary.3,4,11 There should be clear contingency plans if residents need to leave the program for extended periods of time due to injury, illness, or personal circumstances. Although relevant in all types of disasters, resident mental health and response to trauma also must be addressed. Access to counseling, morale-building opportunities (eg, resident social events), and screening for depression or posttraumatic stress disorder may help promote well-being among residents following traumatic events.14

Resident Education

Participation in Disaster Relief—Residents may seek to aid in the disaster response, which may prove challenging in the setting of programs with high patient volume.4 In coordination with the ACGME and graduate medical education governing bodies, program directors should consider how residents may fulfill dermatology training requirements in conjunction with disaster relief efforts, such as working in an inpatient setting or providing wound care.10

Continued Didactic Education—The use of online learning and conference calls for continuing the dermatology curriculum is an efficient means to maintaining resident education when meeting in person poses risks to residents.15 Projections of microscopy images, clinical photographs, or other instructional materials allow for continued instruction on resident examination, histopathology, and diagnostic skills.

Continued Clinical Training—If the home institution cannot support the operation of dermatology clinics, residents should be guaranteed continued training at other institutions. Agreements with other dermatology programs, community hospitals, or private dermatology practices should be established in advance, with consideration given to the number of residents a program can support, funding transfers, and credentialing requirements.2,4,5


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