When Daniel Alban heads back to Florida State University (FSU) College of Medicine next week, the second-year student says he’ll be excited but also somewhat nervous. Since COVID-19 ended his in-person classes months ago, so many aspects of medical education have changed — from strict safety protocols to dramatically different modes of learning.
“The upcoming semester feels like a test run for all of us, maybe even a bit of a mess,” Alban says. “But we’re up to the challenge. Students are resilient.”
For months after COVID-19 hit, schools stopped many aspects of student involvement in patient care to free up faculty to focus on battling COVID-19 and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE).
Now, a new year is beginning. Though the virus is far from contained, experts note that medical education still needs to keep rolling forward.
Across the country, leaders in medical education are churning out creative ways to balance training future physicians with ensuring the safety of students, patients, staff, and communities.
Some schools have already launched the 2020-2021 academic year, and others will do so by September. An AAMC survey of 155 member medical schools showed that more than 80% of respondents plan to return third- and fourth-year students to required clinical clerkships by the end of August. The survey indicates that first- and second-year students, who generally receive less hands-on clinical training, will largely be studying online — at least initially.
Gearing up for this school year has meant reconfiguring rooms for social distancing, boosting student supports, adjusting calendars to make up for lost time, and much more.
“The upcoming semester feels like a test run for all of us, maybe even a bit of a mess. But we’re up to the challenge.”
FSU College of Medicine
“School leaders are dealing with a puzzle, putting together the pieces to make sure students receive all the experiences they need,” says Katherine McOwen, AAMC senior director of educational affairs. “They know that without sound educational and safety decisions, students could suffer greatly.”
Some decisions still lie ahead. Not all schools have figured out whether students will treat COVID-19-positive patients, for example. Others are watching local COVID-19 cases and PPE supplies to adjust educational plans accordingly.
Still, leaders say they’ve made great strides in understanding how to train medical students during a pandemic.
“It’s amazing how much teaching we can do via Zoom. We also know much better how to teach students safely in hospitals and clinics,” says Donna Elliott, MD, EdD, vice dean of medical education at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “There are still many challenges, but August looks completely different from March.”
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