MCH Practice Fellowships: Transition to Remote Fellowships in the Era of COVID-19

By Abbi Monssen

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our students continue their Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Practice Fellowships remotely at their respective placements. The MCH Fellowship is one of the cornerstone programs at the Boston University Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health – offering a field-based experience to MCH trainees. We interviewed two current MCH Fellows and Master of Public Health candidates – Elizabeth Wolff (SPH ‘21) and Kate Conquest (SPH ‘20) – about their fellowship experiences during COVID-19 and the impact of the epidemic on people and communities they work with.

The Fellowship Experience: While some Fellows have not seen their scope of work drastically change, others have experienced a complete shift in their focus areas. For MCH Fellows Elizabeth and Kate – both of their fellowships swiftly pivoted in order to support the Massachusetts state-wide COVID-19 response. Elizabeth Wolff is an MCH Fellow at the Massachusetts Department of Health (MDPH) working with a pilot racial equity initiative – the Racial Equity Strategic Pathway Implementation Team (RESPIT). “MDPH is now at the forefront of addressing the impacts of COVID-19, which has put my initial project on hold until the pandemic gets under control,” Elizabeth explained. Her fellowship has transitioned to working remotely on new projects to identify how COVID-19 has impacted maternal and child health. 

MCH Fellow Kate Conquest is conducting her fellowship through the Mental Health Advocacy Project (MHAP) for Kids. At the time of our interview, Kate shared that she was already conducting her fellowship remotely. However, she has also experienced changes to her scope of work to support and evaluate the state-wide COVID-19 response.

One of the biggest changes for MCH Fellows was the abrupt transition to a completely remote workflow with their placement team and preceptors. For some Fellows it has been a challenge maintaining efficient communication with their placement sites, as both Fellows and the preceptor sites grapple with the shared environmental stress caused by the pandemic. For other students and professionals, remote work has led to increased communication and productivity. Kate said, “[Virtual meetings] actually allow me to meet with my supervisor more consistently than I was before the transition.” Elizabeth shared a similar experience and said, “My preceptor has been more than supportive. My preceptor has taken extra time to assist me with identifying and transitioning new projects that can be worked on remotely.”

Impact on people and communities:  While it is unclear what the long-term impacts are that COVID-19 will have on various vulnerable populations, Fellows have already gained first-hand experience on the short-term effects of the virus on maternal and child health. Elizabeth commented, “Racial disparities have been evident among the populations affected by COVID-19 and MDPH is dedicated to ensuring that these disparities are addressed. A new project at MDPH has brought together local health boards and Massachusetts public health schools and programs to build capacity and support the COVID-19 response within the community.” 

Kate’s  fellowship work focused on young children and parents in Massachusetts,  She  explained, “COVID is having an undeniably negative effect for the families that MHAP for Kids works with. Many of our youths are on Individual Education Plans (IEPs), which are difficult to execute in an online format. Many of them also have services like mentorships, after school groups, and therapy…It has also been hard financially for our families…One mom rented out a room on Airbnb for supplemental income but that has [ended] since people have stopped traveling…other parents have lost their jobs altogether.” It is clear that COVID has highlighted and exacerbated deep-rooted infrastructural problems in our society impacting mothers, children, and families especially. 

Despite uncertainties and rapid adjustments experienced by the MCH Fellows, one benefit is apparent: fellows have gained invaluable experiences grappling with the unique set of ever-evolving challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Students and Fellows: for more information about navigating the workforce during COVID-19, please visit the BUSPH Career & Practicum Office