The Impact of COVID-19 on Med Students

Written by The Rounds

As a med student during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiara Clory knows all too well what it’s like to adapt to uncertain situations. Like many of her fellow students, the pandemic was nothing short of making an already challenging time in med school, that much harder. 

Kiara has successfully completed her fourth year of Medicine School at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. For her, a typical day consisted of attending the hospital for clinical rotations where she was a part of a team that cared for patients. For many med students, their time is spent in classroom and bedside tutorial teaching but the majority of their final years in medical school involve a clinical placement of core rotations in Medicine and Surgery.   

Just as Kiara was finishing her Psychiatry clinical placement and was set to begin her General Practice placement, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Dublin. She and her fellow classmates were pulled out of the hospital. For North American students studying in Dublin, this time was especially stressful. On one hand, their college was telling them that they could not leave Ireland until they had completed their exams, but on the other, the Canadian government was telling them to fly home because all international travel was suspended.  

Photographer: Donal Murphy Photo
Copyright: Donal Murphy Photography

After careful consideration, the school of medicine made the decision to offer exams online to ensure international students could travel home before the borders closed. However, this also meant that her final 4 weeks in her General Practice placement and 3 months of clinical electives scheduled to take place in Canada over the summer were cancelled. Her learning environment changed in the blink of an eye and she was going to miss out on the most important part of medical learning, working with patients.

Her board exams and final Trinity exams were postponed and her classroom-based material and proctored exams were performed through online platforms such as Panapto and Zoom. There were also many extensions they were dealing with. The Canadian and American board exam eligibility dates were extended and residency match deadlines to Canada were also extended until February in the hopes that students may be able to secure a home elective for one month. 

Kiara Clory

Kiara Clory, Fourth Year Med Student of Medicine School at Trinity College Dublin

Core rotations that they were unable to finish and clinical exams were rescheduled for August 24, 2020, which is a month sooner than they would normally return to Ireland. Med students will also makeup missed material over the holiday break and extend their school year in the spring by a month in order to graduate on time. Although some electives have been offered online, they are not ideal when trying to gain the clinical experience that regular electives offer.

You might think that being a med student during a pandemic would be a dream come true to gain hands-on experience. However, Kiara describes the situation as less than ideal considering they were pulled out of the hospital and had their electives cancelled. She had many thoughts running through her head during this time such as: how will I gain clinical experience? Will I graduate on time? How will I get reference letters for residency and when will my board exams take place?  

Kiara explains that although med students were excited to be able to use their training to assist during the pandemic, they were not able to help out nearly as much as they wanted. North American students like herself had to self-isolate after returning home but luckily, some students were called on to assist with contact tracing, looking after health care workers children and pets, and working in COVID-19 centers in Europe. Kiara personally volunteered at a walk-in medical clinic completing simple procedures following her 14-day isolation. 

With many changes to course delivery, Kiara believes the material was taught with the same standards as it would have been in the classroom. The only thing that was a bit different was the amount of interaction an online lecture provided compared to the great conversations they would have in person. Unfortunately, since Kiara was in her final years of medical school, her time was primarily clinical focused with little classroom work so she felt her clinical time was compromised and hopes to make up for the time lost in the coming months. 

Although there have been many changes that Kiara and her fellow classmates have faced, she sees online learning to be something that continues post-pandemic because of the convenience it offers for both doctors and students that are constantly on the go. She also is aware that clinical teaching cannot be something that is taught virtually since students need patient contact and hands-on experience to become good physicians.  

Kiara encourages future training and planning to take place prior to another situation like COVID-19 arising. This way, medical students will not need to be pulled out of the hospital but instead be used as assets in a safe way that matches their current skill level. Doing so would lessen the burden on staff and help the medical students learn from the situation in a hands-on environment.

Looking back, Kiara highlights the value that The Rounds could have had in these unprecedented times. Canadian students would have been able to use the platform to discuss how their respective medical schools were handling the situation, how they were going to be completing their rotations/electives and what their plans were regarding board exams. 

She explains that a free platform like The Rounds would help connect all Canadian medical school students in one spot where they could talk about the issues they were facing in a secure environment. Although she is in many group chats with med students at her school, they were left in the dark about the steps other schools were taking during this time. With things changing every day, having a place to discuss it all with a greater audience would have been reassuring. 

Kiara expects to see platforms like The Rounds become more reliant on following COVID-19. With the pandemic spanning across the country, Kiara sees the benefit in comparing successes and failures as well as still being able to attend conferences and events virtually to ensure physicians and students could still network and educate each other.

Although this was a trying time for many, Kiara and her fellow students were humbled by it. Going through a pandemic together as medical students really showed them how essential their future positions in the medical field are in general and especially during a health crisis like COVID-19.