April 24, 2020: UBC DoM Update: Education, Research and Academic Affairs

A message to all Faculty & Staff in the UBC Department of Medicine

We first want to acknowledge the tragic and senseless loss of life in Nova Scotia due to the mass shooting. Having grown up and attended university at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia (AP), this was particularly upsetting. It is hard to imagine the pain experienced by family and friends in this time of physical distancing when our inclination is to be close and physically present with one another to offer solace.


These are certainly challenging times filled with uncertainty as to how to move forward and you have been inundated with information from multiple sources.  We are proud of how well the UBC Department of Medicine members have risen to this unprecedented challenge and the level of collaboration and generosity we have witnessed is incredible. Faculty are thinking outside the box, breaking down silos and stepping up to help each other wherever they can. We wish to update you on the work that is happening in the following Departmental domains: Education; Research and Academic Affairs. We offer a Reflection section at the end for you to consider and share as you see appropriate, if you find helpful.


Thank you again to all of our faculty and trainees who have been so pro-active and flexible over the past several weeks. Moving forward, we will be asking for your ongoing understanding and flexibility as we try to balance clinical demands with educational requirements for our residents and medical students.

Undergraduate medical education
We do not know when medical students will be returning to the clinical setting. Dr. Cheryl Holmes is leading the Faculty’s UGME COVID-19 task force, which is looking at all aspects of undergraduate medical education. Nationally, they are working on developing a set of principles for determining when students will return to the clinical setting, delaying the CaRMS match to be later in the year, and advocating for a unified opening of the AFMC Electives Portal for out- of-province electives.​ All CaRMS interviews (both home province and out-of-province) will be conducted virtually in 2021. The CaRMS COVID-19 information page has the most updated information.

If the start date for medical students is delayed and/or if physical distancing continues to be the standard, there is a good chance that we will be reaching out to all of our department members to look for additional undergraduate ambulatory experiences in Internal Medicine.

For the latest updates regarding the Faculty of Medicine’s UGME response, please click here

Postgraduate medical education
At the postgraduate level, our next priority is coordinating subspecialty clinical experiences for our PGY-2 core residents as they prepare for the subspecialty match.  At this time, we have not heard any final decision regarding any changes to the timeline for the CaRMS subspecialty match. Since many of our residents were called back to core rotations earlier this month, they have missed out on electives and out-of-province electives. Dr. Mark Roberts is working closely with all of our subspecialty program directors to identify appropriate two-week subspecialty clinical experiences over the next two blocks in order to give as many of the PGY-2 residents as possible the opportunity to spend time in the subspecialties that they are considering.

Looking forward, as far as we know, the PGY-1 start date remains July 1, 2020. All Royal College spring written exams have been moved to the fall which means that PGY-3 residents will be doing the final preparation for their exams in the late summer or early fall. If all of the scheduled subspecialty exams also go ahead as planned in the fall, there may be overlap for the exam preparation periods for both PGY-3s and subspecialty fellows.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada has decided that all the 2020 spring certifying exams have been moved to the fall and these will be written exams only. The 2020 spring cohort of candidates will not be required to sit an oral examination to be certified in their specialty. For more information see Royal College Examinations.

For the latest updates regarding the UBC PGME response, please click here


We want to thank all of you for your rapid response to our request for data on the fiscal and career impacts of COVID-19 on your research program. We received an overwhelming response from members of our community. We are grateful for your help in making our case to multiple stakeholders and levels of government. Our research enterprise will need targeted support if we are to emerge unscathed from this unexpected shut-down.

We recognize this is a time of stress and anxiety for our department members. Many of you have reached out to us directly to find out what steps are being taken to address issues of employment continuity and bridge research programs in financial distress, particularly as we approach April 30. UBC is awaiting direction from the province as to whether this will be extended further in terms of salary continuance of research staff.

We continue to engage with leadership at UBC, Faculty of Medicine, and our affiliated research institutes. UBC leadership has been working tirelessly with governments at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. Their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and impact mitigation strategies will be shared at UBC Townhalls that will be held in the near future. HealthCareCAN had “encouraging discussions” with the Federal Government this past weekend, and we eagerly await their decision, and we are standing by for any further instructions from HealthCare CAN regarding other data needed for this initiative.

CIHR has just confirmed funding from the Federal government of $291.6 million to support student researchers and graduate students by extending scholarships, fellowships and grants. The government also expects to enhance work opportunities for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows through the NRC. We do not have further details on this yet, but will share when we do. There will also be funding released to support students who are on operating grants, which will be extended for one year.

COVID-19 Research: In partnership with health authorities, BCCDC, and Provincial Ministry of Health, the Faculty of Medicine is currently working on a strategy for prioritization towards clinical operations and translational research, which aims to reduce the burden to frontline providers and the patients affected by COVID-19. The FOM strategy includes the creation of a special task force to ensure that there is a structure and governance so that research efforts are aligned with clinical services, that there is a mechanism to adjudicate priority, and that we are able to optimize collaborations across research groups.

Upcoming Townhalls: VPRI is organizing a series of townhalls for faculties to discuss planning for the return of on-campus research and in other settings. For FOM, it will be on April 29 from 10:30-11:30 am (Link). It is anticipated that there will likely be some relaxation of research curtailment in May. It will be important to plan for the safeguards that will need to put in place to gradually resume activities safely and remain compliant with physical distancing. Details are still being finalized.

COVID-19 Strategic Investment Fund (SIF): There will be an additional call in June 2020 and SIF applications from the last round will be adjudicated in the upcoming weeks.


The following committees continue to meet via Zoom and teleconference: The Department of Medicine Executive, the AARPT (appointments and promotions), Award Nomination, and the Recruitment and Resources Committee. Meetings with junior faculty on the tenure and partner track are still occurring and annual meetings with senior faculty have been put on hold.  We have also postponed Divisional reviews and Divisional Head search postings.


“What’s needed in a time like this are ways to steady the heart, which is the essence of your question. The first step is acknowledgment and the willingness to be present. You could almost whisper to yourself, “Sadness, fear, anxiety, grief, longing,” as if to bow to that feeling and hold it with respect. That allows the feeling to open — maybe even intensify for a bit — but eventually to soften. The next step is to bring in a sense of compassion for all the fears and confusion and helplessness. These feelings are all part of the fight-flight-or-freeze instinct in the body and the mind. If I make space for the feelings and they have time to be felt, it’s as if my awareness gets bigger and I can hold all of this with greater ease and compassion and presence and steadiness.”   – Jack Kornfield. Interview excerpted from the New York Times Magazine

I found this podcast episode from NPR’s Hidden Brain to be salient and thought-provoking:

A Social Prescription: Why Human Connection Is Crucial To Our Health

Confined to our homes, many of us are experiencing a newfound appreciation for our social relationships. What we may not realize — and what physicians and researchers have only recently started emphasizing — is the importance of these connections to our physical health. This week, we talk with former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about why he considers loneliness a matter of public health, and how we can all deepen our social ties.



While we don’t have concrete contingency plans in place, we can assure you that you remain front of mind as we navigate this crisis. We hope to be able to share more updates in the very near future. We are 100% committed to transparency in all our efforts to support our Department members. If you have concerns, questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Anita Palepu, MD, MPH, FRCPC, MACP
Professor and Eric W. Hamber Chair
Head, Department of Medicine
University of British Columbia

Andrea Townson, MD, FRCPC
Medical Co-Chair, Regional Rehab Program, VCHA
Clinical Professor, UBC Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Associate Head Education, UBC Department of Medicine

Teresa S.M. Tsang, MD, FRCPC, FACC, FASE
Director of Echo Lab, VGH and UBC
Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology
Associate Head Research, Department of Medicine

Diane Lacaille, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Associate Scientific Director, Arthritis Research Canada
Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology
Associate Head Academic Affairs, Department of Medicine