AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020

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Reflections of a Medical Student Amidst COVID-19

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Four days after the President declared a national state of emergency in response to the growing threat of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)1 , the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommended medical student clinical participation be suspended for at least two weeks.2  Shortly thereafter, I received an email form the dean of my medical school: third and fourth year students were not allowed to begin or resume clinical education until further notice.  

As a healthy adult in his early 20s, I am isolating myself for the protection of others that are more vulnerable. As a fellow medical student described in a recent editorial, we are nonessential members of the healthcare team due to our need for supervision and lack of experience necessary to provide adequate patient care.3  It is our duty to stay out of hospitals both to let healthcare workers do their jobs effectively and to avoid being a vector of transmission among patients.

In February, I completed my USMLE Step 1 exam and was itching to start on the wards. I had spent my first two years grinding away in the library daydreaming of how I might finally get to apply my knowledge of fine details, like the intricacies of the Kreb’s cycle.  I will instead be starting my third year researching impacts of prior pandemics on the COVID-19-stricken society of today. Although an online research project is the safest method to continue education, I long for the clinical experience I have been eagerly awaiting.

In addition to clinical immersion, the clerkship year brings with it the pressures of developing a research portfolio, especially in pursuit of a neurosurgery residency. Fortunately, at the beginning of my first year, I was brought onto a medical student research team whose goal was  to create a sustainable model for preclinical shadowing that can be adopted by other institutions. This research project is led by neurosurgeons, so I have had the opportunity to work directly with them since my second month of medical school. Through these relationships, I have been able to “find my people,” working alongside individuals that share my passion and grit, no matter the challenge.

The influence of my neurosurgical mentors has helped shape my own passion for research, specifically in medical education. As medical students, participation in this field of research helps us to better understand our education system  empowering us to make meaningful changes to improve the curriculum. With the use of modern technology in this time of social distancing, , my research team and I can collaborate and be productive. Now, as a third-year student with no definitive start date for clerkship responsibilities, I realize how fortunate I am to have had early and sustained exposure to the field of neurosurgery.

Cartoon and concept illustration by Hanna Tang, MD Candidate, Class of 2022, University of Ottawa. Concept by Eve C. Tsai, MD, PhD, FAANS.

As social distancing becomes the new normal, I will remain ready to support our ever-changing future, whether that involves waiting for the pandemic to run its course or working on the front lines of vaccine or treatment development. After all, I swore an oath during my white coat ceremony to prevent disease wherever I can4, and that “wherever” is right here, right now. In the meantime, I will prepare myself to make the most of my entire clerkship year. I will cherish every patient encounter, faculty encounter, and long shift, knowing now that at any point it can all be put on hold.

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