It’s an interesting time to be a medical student.
Explore This IssueMay 2020
From the perspective of a fourth-year medical student who recently matched in otolaryngology, the COVID-19 crisis is both frustrating and terrifying. The lack of central organization of the United States’ response means that each medical school is making decisions somewhat independently while governing bodies race to amend their guidelines. The situation is evolving so rapidly that I expect whatever I write now in early April to be drastically out of date by the time this is published.
As I write this, most students can’t do anything to help … yet. In New York state, fourth-year medical students months away from graduation are being called to work in hospitals where too many healthcare providers have been forced into self-isolation. In my own state of Illinois, some eligible fourth-year students now have the option to graduate a month early, allowing them to assist the workforce in a limited role if it becomes necessary. It may be only a matter of time before other places follow suit.
At the current moment, my presence in the hospital would use up already-scarce personal protective equipment on someone without a medical degree. After graduation, though, I will become an essential member of a healthcare team at a time when the learning curve is perhaps steeper than it has ever been. It’s an interesting dichotomy: a dreaded inevitability looming on the horizon that can’t come soon enough.
Of course, COVID-19 is affecting all of us differently. There are three younger classes of medical students whose lives have also been impacted by this crisis.
Pre-clinical students were already spending much of their time studying alone or in small groups. While the pandemic is likely to change the way they spend free time and unwind from hours of memorization, it’s less likely to drastically alter their education. COVID-19 may, however, impact the timeline of Step 1 administration for second-year students as many testing centers around the country shut their doors for the foreseeable future.
Third-year students, in my opinion, have it the worst. Core clerkships are being converted into home lectures that simply cannot replicate the wide breadth of medical knowledge and experiences gained in the hospital. Step 2 CS is being temporarily suspended. Worse still are the canceling of away rotations and sub-internships, which are critical to many students applying to competitive specialties like otolaryngology, and the likely reduced quality of letters of recommendation due to less time for faculty. Even home-based sub-internships may be canceled. How are students supposed to form meaningful relationships with faculty when they aren’t even allowed near the hospital?