The COVID-19 pandemic has had massive effects on the entire United States healthcare system. Over 570,000 Americans have died of the disease, surpassing any previous estimates of how many people may succumb to the virus.
While doctors and nurses have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, another group within the medical field has also experienced huge changes in their lives as a result. Medical students have been put to work in ways they would never have experienced before the pandemic.
Dr. Alexander Everest, a healthcare administrator who supports medical students, explains how they have been affected by the pandemic. He details some of the ways in which their regular studies and duties have changed, laying out the changing expectations for students and how their new normal has affected their ability to learn about their profession.
Typically, medical school involves learning how to treat patients based on established protocols. With COVID, medical school professors were trying to formulate new treatments for this dangerous disease while teaching their students how to do the same. Treatments were constantly tested and reviewed, leaving students with a wealth of information about how to care for their patients.
During the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, most colleges and professional schools went online. Students who were taking medical school classes were forced to learn from home. This was not an ideal situation for medical students, since they need to have hands-on learning situations in order to absorb the material.
Students became more isolated from their medical school communities, missing out on the in-person social interactions that are normally part of any professional education. Some students experienced more anxiety and depression symptoms as a result of isolation. Since medical students are already prone to stress, this was not an optimal situation.
Working on the Front Lines
Students were often pressed into service at clinics and hospitals when they were understaffed due to the pandemic. Dr. Alexander Everest and other healthcare professionals helped them adjust to their new circumstances. This on-the-job learning was immensely valuable for students who took part. It is thought that they will be better doctors in the future with such rigorous training.
Some students opted out of serving in the community, especially before vaccines were available. These students decided that the risk of taking home the virus to vulnerable family members was not worth it. These students missed out on valuable opportunities to learn, but their personal situations were understandable.
The stress and strain of overwhelming cases of the disease and the severe conditions experienced by patients and doctors alike wore on both groups. Many students may have decided that medical school was not the place for them based on their reaction to these extreme levels of stress.
Medical School Grading
During the pandemic, the grading model for many medical schools changed due to virtual learning. Many schools adopted pass/fail grading rather than giving letter grades. This had the effect of changing the competitiveness of medical school. Some exams, including the United States Medical Licensure Examination, suspended their testing in 2020 through 2021. Many schools also paused their clinical rotation programs until the end of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, it became difficult for medical students to distinguish themselves from their peers. Previously competitive assignments like research opportunities and volunteer opportunities were curtailed. Many young physicians take part in research in a normal year, and this activity is part of the resume-building process for medical residencies.
Less Interaction with Patients
Medical students received less interactive time with patients during the pandemic. Work completed in a virtual setting does not easily compare to that completed during a clinical rotation, and students have not had the ability to hone their bedside manner or their way of dealing with patients.
How Medical School Has Changed
As the vaccine rollout continues at its current pace, it is hoped that COVID-19 will have a lower impact on medical students and that they will be able to return to classroom-based, in-person learning with plenty of opportunities for interacting with patients. COVID-19 has had a damaging effect on medical students for the most part, but many students have strengthened their resolve and decided that they are even more committed to their careers as physicians.
One of the largest impacts of the pandemic on medical students is the disruption to rotations. It is hoped that medical schools will find a way to give their students a specialized online education that can make up for some of the shortfalls in their training.
Dr. Alexander Everest continues to support medical students who are having difficulties due to COVID impacting their education. By giving students more on-the-job opportunities for learning, they will become more confident members of the medical community and will be better able to become quality physicians.