The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on medical students, transitioning classes to an online format for some and putting education on hold for others.
I was in a unique position as a second-year medical student at Wright State University. Medical students take a very important exam called STEP1 right after their second year, and while this falls between April and June at most medical schools, students at Wright State take it in March. This turned out to be a blessing, since all testing centers across the country closed by mid-March. However, some of my peers who had signed up for later dates or who were at other medical schools were in the unfortunate position of studying indefinitely until the testing centers reopened, in most cases over two months later. The reason this was so tough was that we are expected to dedicate our whole time studying—around 15 hours daily—for about a month before this exam. It is a draining experience and I felt extremely fortunate to have taken the exam when I did.
Upon completion of our STEP exam, my class was set to begin clerkships in April. However, medical students across the country were not allowed to rotate in hospitals and our clerkships were pushed back to late June. Additionally, there will be many changes for us when we do go back — more telemedicine, fewer elective surgeries, and shorter rotations to ensure we start our fourth year on time.
With rotations pushed back and my exam behind me, I essentially had a three-month vacation. We were given online electives to complete and I tried to periodically review information from my first two years, but it was still by far an easier workload. In many ways, I enjoyed this unexpected break.
Medical school is demanding and there is a constant feeling that we can always be studying more and a temptation not to take breaks. For these past three months, I have taken a step back and spent some much-needed time with family and loved ones. I have revisited old hobbies including art and chess and devoted more time to exercise, cooking, and reading Scripture. All things considered, I cannot say that I am thankful for the changes from this year because my heart aches for everyone who has suffered in health, loneliness, and making a living as a result of the pandemic. I do, however, feel grateful for the timing that it had during my medical school education and believe it has benefited my overall wellbeing.
The pandemic has also impacted students of other years. Fourth year students could not celebrate with classmates and family when they matched into residencies and graduated medical school. Third year students were unable to do away-rotations and had their STEP2 Clinical Skills exams completely cancelled. There is also speculation that residency interviews will be conducted online.
In some ways, I see the benefit of these changes in bringing down the enormous cost of medical school. However, I am interested to see how my generation of medical students will fare as doctors and hope that our passion to serve our communities will overcome the obstacles we faced during our education.
Sharlo Bayless is a third-year medical student at Wright State University. She is the communications director for the Catholic Medical Association’s Student Section and has greatly enjoyed being a part of both her local guild and the national CMA since the start of medical school.
The Health Care Renewal in a Virtual Environment
We live in a time in society where the culture of life and the culture of death are meeting at a crossroads in medicine. Our Rising Physicians (pre-medical students, medical students, residents, and fellows) are learning in and graduating on the front lines of these crossroads. They have the incredible responsibility to stand as a beacon of hope and morality in that extremely delicate territory. This project –Operation THRIVE (The Healthcare Renewal in a Virtual Environment) – endeavors to equip them to do so.
As students in the 21st century education system, the way we filter and receive information is drastically different from previous generations. We have the ends of the internet at our fingertips and can double-speed (and sometimes even triple-speed) the videos we watch. This modality has allowed us to search for, find, and digest vast amounts of information for our school exams, board exams, licensing exams, etc. There are resources like OnlineMedEd, Sketchy Medical, Pathoma, and Physeo to simply name a few of the many websites that aid medical students all over the world.
The 21stcentury has likewise prompted ministries to utilize online platforms for the dissemination of the Gospel. Among some of the most popular are Ascension Press and Word on Fire. Undoubtably, the vast majority of young Catholics know exactly to whom we are referring when we say,“Father Mike Schmitz”.
At the winter board meeting in San Diego, the Catholic Medical Association’s executive board discussed several goals. Supporting local guilds, educating members, and media outreach were a few among them. The student on the board brought these goals back to the student committee and brainstorming began. They thought, “How can the executive board’s goals be actualized in the 21stcentury?”. Operation THRIVE was the response.
This project was born out of the minds of the team of students of the CMA. They envisioned a platform of short videos answering pointed, ethics questions with corresponding outlines – essentially, the exact way we learn medicine through online platforms, but specifically geared towards raising authentically Catholic physicians. The videos could be used individually or as short studies for local guilds to discuss at their meetings. The student team began planning over weeks and months to discuss the steps necessary to make this idea a
reality. Who would they need to contact? How would they build the platform? When would it be released? Then, COVID-19 shut down everything.
God’s timing, as always, was perfect. It was the exact timing necessary to make the importance of this project even more apparent. Everyone and everything shifted to an online platform. Simultaneously, media, medicine, and society began to meet unprecedented ethical issues that continue to arise. The need for a sentinel of hope and morality has become even more palpable than before. That is what Operation THRIVE endeavors to be for the world.
This project is very much still in progress, but the future of its development is bright. If you desire to be among the leaders that foster its growth, please email [email protected].
Be the hope. Shine the light. Help medicine THRIVE.
Francesca Ursua has served as the president for the Catholic Medical Association’s Student Section for the past year and half. She is a graduate of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and is in residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The opinions and assertions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.