For the past few months, the world has been in lockdown. With the intention of mitigating as much exposure to Covid-19 as possible, nearly every business, educational institution, and public venue has faced strict restrictions. One important aspect of these restrictions is that education at all levels and in every industry has been affected for millions of people worldwide, with certain professions such as medical training being especially hard hit, given its proximity to the virus.
One of the most important aspects of medical education is hands-on experience in the hospital setting once students have completed the classroom and didactic portions of their studies. Generally, this is done in the latter years of medical school, and eventually leads to medical students choosing one specific field of medicine to train and specialize in during residency, which is a completely clinical experience. Healthcare professionals will conclusively admit that a significant portion of medicine is learned “by doing, not reading.” That is, medical knowledge is not only acquired from books and lectures, but also by interacting with patients and working through diagnoses. In the United States, most students begin a bulk of this clinical immersion in the 3rd and 4th year of medical school, before starting residency training. However, for the past few months, students have had modified clinical experiences, with many institutions and schools switching to hybrid learning models entailing online modules, remote learning opportunities, and limited clinical experiences. Though these new ways of learning are a stark contrast to full-on clinical immersion, these measures have been instituted nationwide in order to keep students safe.
New Delhi, India. June 20, 2020. Medical workers in PPE prepare to receive the body of a COVID-19 … [+]
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Students and healthcare professionals are equally grateful for the many governing bodies that oversee and provide guidance for healthcare training and education, such as The American Medical Association (AMA), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), etc. These organizations have made praiseworthy efforts in making student wellness a priority, and continue to provide recommendations on how best to protect students and trainees and minimize their exposure during the pandemic. The AMA has provided guidance on a variety of issues, ranging from how medical students should navigate required board examinations during the pandemic, to how medical residents should make the best of their training experience given a variety of issues such as limited patient volumes at training sites to severely restricted patient encounters. Additionally, the AAMC has a coronavirus resource hub solely dedicated to addressing concerns around medical training. These organizations have attempted to provide as much guidance as possible amidst the constantly changing healthcare landscape in the last few months.
Yangon, Myanmar. April 3, 2020. Medical students assemble handmade face shields to donate to doctors … [+]
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Covid-19 has unfortunately created multiple layers of complexities. While students and trainees could once easily schedule and take licensing exams as their already busy schedules permitted, this has now become a challenge, as testing centers and exam proctoring must now obey the rules put-forth by local jurisdictions and municipalities. Indeed, the governing bodies of medical education have been working tirelessly to navigate this situation, both in terms of flexibility and accommodations with the typical requirements. Similarly, regarding medical students applying to residency programs to pursue the specialty of their choice this Fall, the AAMC has recommended “that all programs commit to online interviews and virtual visits for all applicants, including local students, rather than in-person interviews.” The push for online interviews and virtual visits has been equally propagated in other levels of medical training as well. Though many questions remain on how this will play out exactly, these moves have largely been celebrated by the medical community as a viable means to push forth medical education while still prioritizing the safety of students and trainees.
It’s important to recognize that navigating the challenges unique to the healthcare landscape is widespread across all healthcare industries and training programs, including but not limited to dental school, physical therapy training, optometry, pharmacy school, and many more areas. The reality is that the unforeseen yet dire consequences of the pandemic have required governing bodies to be agile and nimble with their decision-making processes, as they work to make the best of a relatively precarious educational situation. What’s yet to be determined is how long these changes will last. Many of these recommendations and changes may indeed become permanent fixtures in graduate medical education, especially if this year acts as a trial-run that provides promising results in terms of safety and viability. Hindsight will indeed be 20/20, as only time will tell what will be effective, and how this pandemic will impact medical education for years to come.