Medical education as we know it has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of our MD-PhD candidates offers valuable insight into what this looks like for students learning medicine during this time, and what lessons we can take from history.
"As in many of life’s domains, COVID has had a transformational effect on medical education. The vast majority of medical schools across the country have suspended clinical clerkships, meaning that the required rotations that medical students work their way through—psychiatry, surgery, OBGYN, internal medicine, pediatrics, etc.—have been paused. The AAMC has sent guidance regarding appropriate roles for medical students in the era of COVID. It is 'strongly suggest[ed] that medical students not be involved in any direct patient care activities' in COVID hotspot areas, due to limited amounts of PPE and unnecessary exposure for students, people in their social circle, and patients themselves. Students should be invited to volunteer only if there is an unmet need that they can safely fill. The date for resumption of clerkships remains unclear, to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Students will need to complete these clerkships at some point—the AAMC requires medical students to have a certain minimum number of weeks of active patient care.
Until that time, schools have adapted by offering a virtualized curriculum. We have Zoom lectures regarding the virology, the epidemiology, the ethics of COVID. These are wonderful lectures from distinguished thinkers and clinicians. Medical students have volunteered their time sewing PPE, transporting food items to shelters, and doing phone triage for COVID+ patients. Between lectures and volunteer experience, we are learning important things about organizational management in the time of crisis, about clinical trials and drug development, and about telemedicine and triage.
But it really doesn’t fulfill me in the way it does to take care of patients face-to-face.
Still, though it may seem inevitable that medical students have come to expect patient-centric education on the wards, this mode of medical education has not always been the norm. That today it seems common-sense speaks to just how thoroughly the concept of bedside teaching has come to form the intellectual and spiritual core of American medical education in the twentieth century."
Steve Server is currently a third year medical school student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine as well as a doctoral student in the Committee on the Conceptual and Historial Studies of Science at the University of Chicago.