Just as so many of our lives have been affected by COVID-19 in every way possible, the pandemic is also forcing colleges to restructure how they teach. While some institutions are shifting from in-person training of the next generation of medical physicians to going solely digital, others have found it to not be so black and white. Some schools have already set out on their new paths, and others have been forced to pivot last minute. After only seven days of in-person learning at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the college nixed all in-person learning for the remainder of the semester, following a massive outbreak on campus.
Shortly after, Ithaca College (New York), Michigan State, and North Carolina State followed suit (and that's just the tip of the iceberg). It would be easy, of course, if there were a one-size-fits all solution, but each institution offers different infrastructure and capacities to maneuver major transitions. If medical students are the essential, emerging physician workforce, how can they train safely? Or is there such a thing as being too safe?
Offering medical students the most significant exposure to patients, clinical clerkships typically take place during the third year of medical school and last for four to eight weeks across six disciplines. In March 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) called for a suspension of all activities involving students interacting with patients, which halted clinical rotations. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) advised faculty members that it's okay to interrupt or postpone clerkships or other required clinical experiences because of "the real and important pressures and stresses of the clinical environment."
Away rotations offer exposure to various specialties and facilities. Currently, the AAMC suggests medical school to find local alternatives for students with away rotations in the near future. They also encourage schools to postpone rotations for incoming students from distant schools.
While putting student safety at the top of the line, educational facilities have wondered whether that's conveying the right message. David Henderson, MD, associate dean for multicultural and community affairs, at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Dentistry, one of the 37 member schools of AMA's Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, says, "While it is important to try to protect students, we also should help them understand that providing care to patients does sometimes require placing oneself at risk.”
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Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection