Exams May Be Cancelled but Humanity Is Not June 22, 2020
A Medical Student Perspective on the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Elizabeth Avakoff (DO ‘21) and Omneya Ayoub (DO ‘21)
“Stay at home!” Public health pleas to help “flatten the curve” amidst the COVID-19
pandemic have led to a wave of societal disruptions. Social distancing, defined as
keeping yourself at least six feet away from others and avoiding gatherings of ten
or more people, has become the new norm for Americans over the past three weeks. These
(among other) dramatic societal changes and growing pressure on our nation’s hospital
systems have had a distinct impact on medical education, particularly when it comes
to clinical training.
As third year medical students, our professional development has heavily relied on in-person clinical experiences,
directly interacting with patients and healthcare providers. However, with the national
push for a 14-day quarantine, students across the country were pulled from their clinical
settings until further notice.1,2 In a vast departure from our normally structured path to residency, licensing examinations
were also temporarily suspended and our professional lives were placed on hold.3 Medical education institutions across the country have faced the challenge of inventing
new ways of supporting student learning in these critical years of clinical training.
In many medical schools, this has led to the roll-out of new virtual clinical experiences
and greater utilization of dynamic, online training modalities. Students at the University
of Illinois, for example, are observing procedures through video conferencing and
utilizing mock scenarios to prepare for future patient encounters.4 Likewise, on the East Coast at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, students log-in to live virtual journal clubs, lectures and morning reports. These
“online clerkships” support students’ continued professional development and progression
through educational requirements.
In an informal survey of medical students across the country, there was a resounding
concern for what the sweeping societal changes would mean for our residency preparations
and our clinical training overall. Simultaneous with online learning, medical students
have taken ownership over their residency preparedness, utilizing their additional
time to work on personal statements, curriculum vitaes, and study for licensing examinations.
Students also expressed concern for their mental health in these uncertain times,
finding relief in connecting with family and friends and catching up on much needed
self-care. Whether revisiting lost culinary skills, reading a new book, or even going
for a run, many have found this time at home to be grounding and introspective. As
medical students, we are constantly engrossed in our education and learning the details
needed for each progressive step in our training. This new time out of the hospital
has allowed us to take a step back and in light of our nation’s COVID-19 response,
see the system as a whole from a new perspective. At the same time, we have not lost
sight of our colleagues and mentors on the frontlines in this pandemic. In fact, students
across all healthcare professions have voiced an earnest desire to do our part in
the COVID-19 pandemic.5
Through the power of social media, communities across the Mid-Atlantic have seen an
outpouring of volunteerism, donations and camaraderie amongst students across the
healthcare spectrum. Through Facebook groups such as the “Philadelphia Organization
of Health Professions Students - COVID Response,”6 nearly 2,000 students in nursing, medicine, dental medicine, podiatry, veterinary
medicine and physician assistant programs have come together for a united goal of
stepping off the sidelines. This group has allowed students to collaborate, allocate
resources, spread awareness and collect much needed personal protective equipment
from the community. From blood drives, to child and pet care for healthcare workers,
to meals for our region’s most vulnerable populations, this group continues to develop
innovative ways of supporting our mentors, colleagues and patients from our new positions
at home. Through this enthusiasm for public service, our Mid-Atlantic medical and
allied health professions students have found a way to continue making a difference,
while forging new inter-professional cross-collaborations.
As our nation learns some hard and invaluable lessons in the spread and management
of infectious diseases, emergency preparedness, and population health, we too have
found this period to be transformative. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on
our individual roles as future physicians in the greater community at large. Students
have expressed a greater appreciation for the physician’s role in population health,
citing the importance of elevating public awareness, preventing the spread of infectious
diseases and having resources on hand to effectively treat large numbers of critically
ill patients. As future physicians, we are witnessing humanity at one of its most
vulnerable times, not only for our nation, but across the world. In this transformative
period, “stay at home” has thus become more than a blanket directive to self-isolate.
To us, it represents a civic responsibility to protect one another from unnecessary
exposures and a movement to individually and collectively do our part in this COVID-19
1 Madhani, A. (2020, March 15). Top US infectious disease expert open to a 14-day ‘national
shutdown’ to combat virus spread. Chicago Tribune.
2 Ostrov, B. F. (2020, March 17). In Face Of Coronavirus, Many Hospitals Cancel On-Site
Training For Nursing And Med Students. Kaiser Health News.
3 American Medical Association. (2020, March 19). Resident and medical student COVID-19
resource guide. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
4 Cheung, A. (2020, March 25). Just as the need soars for health care workers to fight
coronavirus, Chicago-area medical students are sidelined from seeing patients. Chicago
5 Lee, Y. J. (2020, March 24). The coronavirus is preventing medical students from
getting hands-on training in hospitals. Frustrated future doctors are looking for
new ways to help. Business Insider.
6 Philadelphia Organization of Health Professions Students - COVID Response. (2020,
March 20). Facebook.
About Digest Magazine
Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine,
is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on
osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.