Two years of intense studying should have culminated in a feeling of strength. I ended my second year of medical school thinking I was now prepared to do anything. I was excited to be a problem-solver, armed with the mental acuity to recognize diseases from A to Z, ready to proceed with the next step in my clinical training. Now, in my third year, it is finally time to act like a real doctor. But our superiors treat us like their personal assistants.
“Could you please hand Eric the needle driver?” As the scrub tech loaded up that blessed golden tool, I knew that I had just ascended within the realm of surgery.
In a typical year, medical students have to pass this one final patient actor bonanza before they can become doctors. Like all other USMLE exams, Step 2 CS is eight hours long. However, this is the only Step exam that isn’t administered on a computer; rather, it’s offered at just five centers in the country, located in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Los Angeles.
As medical students, we marvel at the endless combinations of letters often embroidered on white coats representing physicians’ degrees and association affiliations: MD, MBBS, DO, PhD, MSc, MBA, MPH, MPP, MS, MTR, JD, MSHP and so on. This “alphabet soup” represents the important diversity that exists in our profession.
Back in late March, I was a medical student in D.C. studying for exams. Today, I am a 23-year-old living with my parents again. Despite being in school 5+ hours away, my bedroom in upstate New York has become my new classroom. Being at home has its perks: I get food from my mom again, and I can wear pajamas all day if I wanted to (not that I actually do that). However, there are many things that don’t feel right about being a medical student who has no connection to the medical world right now.
I packed up my new backpack, laptop, notebooks and pens early in the morning. The anxiety was palpable as my housemates and I dressed up to make our best impressions on our first day of medical school. This was unfamiliar territory. I had become so accustomed to my hectic routine as a college student by day and a nurse in the emergency department (ED) by night, but what would life be like as a “professional” student?
This year, like those before us, we entered our study periods for Step 1 with some trepidation — both about the long hours of studying and the high stakes of the exam. Like those before us, we reassured ourselves that if we put our time in now, we’d be able to move beyond memorizing minutiae to caring for patients in the hospital. And then, unlike those before us, testing centers across the world closed.
At this very moment, our medical care providers are acting as the heroes we know them to be. They should be celebrated for their steadfast courage and dedication to the community’s safety and wellbeing. Our job as medical students is to support those brave practitioners in the way that most protects their safety and the safety of their patients, which very well could mean (and probably does mean) staying home.
On March 17, 2020, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) jointly issued a statement supporting “medical schools in placing, at minimum, a two-week suspension on their medical students’ participation in any activities that involve patient contact.” The joint recommendation leaves thousands of third-year medical students, who will soon enter into their final year of school, contemplating their role in the face of this evolving pandemic.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, shares a high degree of homology with SARS-CoV, including sharing the receptor protein ACE2. We hope our medical student readers will find this review helpful, informative and concise.
Working with other medical students at our university, and with others all across the country, we have developed an initiative designed to match students with health care workers in a longitudinal one-to-one relationship to adhere to social distancing guidelines and provide necessary services such as childcare, petsitting, and errands.
In recent days, some medical schools have begun canceling rotations in the face of a growing pandemic. The halls of my own school have been abuzz with conversations of deans and students alike about how a medical school must operate during an outbreak.