As we watched the global pandemic hit the United States, we were not prepared for how this would impact our lives. The Coronavirus now plagues the U.S. as cases continue to exponentially rise, and life is beginning to look very different. With the critical need to practice social distancing, schools have closed down, stores have closed down, and now most work is done online from home. As we continue to battle this virus as a nation, all levels of medical education are being affected.
Colleges have moved to online education and most have shut down campuses. Students are now doing virtual classes from home with their families. Although it is nice to be surrounded by a support system, especially during the unpredictable times of COVID-19, students are struggling to stay focused with their siblings and parents right down the hall.
Social distancing is the best way to slow the spread of this virus and ultimately regain normalcy, but college seniors certainly have mixed feelings due to the loss of their final college months. Most colleges have also decided to cancel commencement ceremonies in order to protect their students and guests. For pre-med students who worked so hard to prepare for the MCAT exam, the AAMC has decided to cancel all MCAT testing dates through April 4th, stating that they will then monitor the virus and reassess the situation. Students will be informed of MCAT exam cancellations via email from Pearson VUE and test registration fees will be refunded immediately. AAMC also implemented a flexible rescheduling policy for all test dates through the end of May 2020 for those students who are concerned with or restricted by the virus. The AAMC is also extending MCAT prep resource subscriptions due to the circumstances.
The situation is unpredictable and quickly changing, so we must all be flexible and patient. There is no news on how the current medical school application cycle is being affected, but the AAMC states that they will continue to be in touch with medical school admissions and will update students as quickly as possible.
Medical Students: Pre-Clinical Years
Likewise, medical students are in a world of uncertainty. For those in their preclinical years, classes in all medical schools across the U.S. have gone online. This poses challenges as parts of medical education are lab-based and hands-on. Medical schools are being flexible in doing their best to give students the resources and experience that they need to succeed. Additionally, like the MCAT cancellations, board exams are being postponed. All Prometric testing centers have closed until April 20th, 2020. As the situation evolves, students will be contacted to reschedule their USMLE and COMLEX exams and registration fees will be waived. Though this poses a schedule concern for dedicated study time, many board prep companies are showing their support by extending resource subscriptions for free.
Medical Students: Clinical Years
For medical students on clinical rotations, medical schools have decided that the safest decision is to pull students from clinical rotation sites until further notice. With hospitals being short on beds, PPE, and packed with chaos, it is not the best time for physicians to be taking time from patients to teach students. Many schools have implemented online resources for students to be exposed to specialties that they were unable to rotate in. This will affect students as they try to decide which field of medicine to enter into as they have been unable to experience all specialties.
Another factor affecting medical students in their clinical years is the decision to postpone USMLE Step 2 CS. Students will be able to reschedule when the testing centers are reopened. Additionally, COMLEX-USA Level 2-PE is being postponed until April 20th, 2020 and the NBOME will then reassess the current status of COVID-19. Students can take comfort in knowing that this is a situation affecting students across the world and that decisions made by the U.S. medical education governing bodies are consistent throughout all medical schools.
Soon-to-be doctors were heartbroken after Match 2020 was forced to be transformed into a virtual celebration. After years of hard work, dreaming of opening residency match envelopes during Matchday celebrations, students followed social distancing protocol and received their exciting news at home. Despite Match 2020 being unconventional, students seemed to make the most out of their experience with video chat celebrations, phone calls, and social media announcements.
All phases of medical education are being heavily affected by the pandemic plaguing the world, you are not alone. Despite all of the fear and uncertainty, stay positive. Wherever you are on your medical career journey, continue to work hard and be flexible as new information comes out on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue to support your fellow colleagues who are on the front lines working hard in hospitals, and be sure to thank other medical professionals and essential businesses keeping our country afloat.