How the COVID-19 pandemic will forever change medical education ”in-Training, the peer-reviewed online publication for medical students


Students across the country at all levels, from preschool to graduate school, have seen their educational routines disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown. As students moved on to online courses, it became more difficult for them to access their educators. The stressors associated with the pandemic, as well as distractions at home, have created a more difficult learning environment for students.

Stuck in front of a screen with no real interaction, students and their educators saw the experience of attending class become less valuable and pleasant. Studies in the we and worldwide identified large-scale negative effects on student learning, in addition to widening the achievement gaps for underserved communities, as a result of these sweeping changes. A report found that unfinished learning during the pandemic can reduce the lifetime incomes of current students from $ 49,000 to $ 61,000.

In medicine, there were particular challenges associated with tailoring security protocols to an area that inherently requires human interaction. Medical education itself was greatly affected, as medical schools sought to protect both students and patients by asking students to stay at home. Classes were put online and rotations canceled.

Nonetheless, COVID-19 also led to the “Fauci Effect”, with countless students across the country taking more interest in medicine and public health. Applications to medical schools have reached a absolute record in 2020. Medicine is quickly becoming an increasingly popular career choice as more and more people become interested in the health of the general public.

The push for positive change in medical education has been brewing for many years, but the sudden paradigm shift forced by the pandemic could finally catalyze this transformation in the way we educate our future physicians. We will likely see many recent changes persist in the future.

Of course, there are noticeable superficial changes such as the increased frequency of online and remote conferences as well as rough anatomy labs in virtual reality. However, there will likely also be changes in the content taught in medical school, the structure of medical education, and the relationship between medical students and their training programs.

In terms of content, medical schools are likely to focus more on public health, as the pandemic has strengthened the relationship between health care delivery systems and public health professionals. For many years, it has been criticized that while medical schools do an excellent job of teaching students the pathophysiology of diseases, differential diagnoses, and treatment plans, they do not sufficiently focus on the social determinants of disease. health, health policies and patient well-being.

This year, we became more aware of the biopsychosocial issues that affect the health of patients. We better understand the importance of factors such as geography, environment, race and socioeconomic status. COVID-19 has highlighted some of these disparities, such as marginalized communities have contracted the virus significantly higher rates. These communities had difficulty getting tested, receiving vaccines or obtaining medical care if they were infected.

The endless media attention surrounding the pandemic has added importance to this issue, finally forcing positive change. As the country increasingly recognizes the need for advocacy, students are speaking out and administrators are now committed to recognizing and responding to student concerns.

The faculties of medicine began to supplement their years of formal teaching with concrete experiences, in particular by increasing programming in underserved parts of their communities. By interacting with a more diverse range of patients, students gain a better understanding of how health care varies across communities. In recent years, medical schools have also improved health policy and education on inequalities. With a political debate raging around Medicare over the past decade, medical schools have recognized the importance for physicians to understand insurance and reimbursement. This knowledge helps physicians better educate their patients and make decisions that will take into account both the physical and financial well-being of the patient.

Another major change in medicine resulting from COVID restrictions is the focus on telehealth – in fact, the use of telehealth peaked in April 2020 and has now stabilized at 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Physicians in various specialties began to see more of their patients from a distance, which allowed them to reduce face-to-face interactions and prevent patient-to-patient transmission. Many experts agree that this change is here to stay. Overall, reducing costs and improving access will help our most marginalized communities.

Due to the lasting nature of this change, medical schools integrate more technological training in their educational projects. Classes that cover considerations such as telehealth etiquette, security, privacy, and the remote patient experience will better prepare medical students for the change that has already begun. In addition, in the unfortunate event of another future pandemic, our doctors will be better equipped to seamlessly switch to remote care.

There are also several lasting changes in terms of the structure of four-year medical education. One of the notable victims of the pandemic is the cancellation of stage 2 CS, defined by the elimination of a significant financial burden and the leveling of the rules of the game for medical students. The temporary suspension of “outside rotations”, another deeply costly aspect of medical school, can also continue. Even if outdoor rotations return, they will likely be much less common than the pre-pandemic norm. Finally, a really important change made during the pandemic was early graduation ceremony, which allowed fourth-year students to voluntarily leave school to help on the front lines. While it won’t necessarily last, it has shown that it’s possible to shorten medical school and certainly signaled a major paradigm shift. This would further reduce the burden of tuition fees and allow students to enter their profession earlier.

Finally, medical schools have increasingly expressed concern for their students’ mental health and the risk of burnout, a growing problem that has been accelerated by the recognition of the stress that healthcare workers face during the pandemic. For example, many medical schools set up new programs to help students meet remotely, whether for fun activities to minimize isolation, or to openly discuss the obstacles they faced throughout rigorous education during a pandemic.

Often the most effective change is catalyzed by a major event that disrupts the inertia of society. Just like every other aspect of our world, COVID-19 has precipitated great changes in medical education. Many of these changes have amplified ongoing trends and, therefore, are likely to stay there as we slowly move towards the post-pandemic future.

Image credit: “Medical consultation“(CC BY 2.0) through Nursing schools nearby

Yash Shah (2 posts)

Contributing writer

Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Yash is a freshman medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He pursued a Bachelor of Science in Premedicine at Penn State University. Prior to attending medical school, Yash worked in clinical and translational research in hematology / oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He enjoys playing tennis, supporting the Eagles, reading and traveling in his spare time. Yash is undecided on a specialty, but has long been interested in advancing medical education and working with cancer patients.

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