COVID 19: Impact on Medical Education
December 1, 2021
With COVID-19 disrupting the health and medical world as we know it, how are the newcomers to the industry dealing with the effects? Medical education programs, along with many other health-related arrangements, have been forced to adapt their instructional methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nursing and medical students were subject to new policies designed to accommodate student and professor quarantines, were dealt with restrictions and need for clinical experience, and were under mandates limiting the number of students permitted in a given classroom.
One of the most pertinent issues plaguing medical and nursing students throughout COVID-19 has been financial inequity and lack of access to proper educational materials. Many student computers lack sufficient access to full course materials because of lack of hard drive space (Agu et al., 2021). A number of students who reside in remote areas struggle to have reliable Internet, which means that they have to rely on on-campus libraries and expensive textbooks to supplement assigned course materials (Agu et al., 2021). A medical education is already a stressful and expensive undertaking, and COVID-19 only added additional barriers to students seeking to enroll in a medical or nursing school program.
Even if reliably online, feeling a sense of community and connection to peers in medical and nursing school is critical to ensuring the emotional well-being of students. But COVID-19 limited the ways in which students can socialize and collaborate with peers and colleagues (Agu et al., 2021). Students have been limited to online learning and collaborative platforms such as Zoom and Google Meets and during the pandemic, were unable to safely meet to study and learn with others, perpetuating feelings of isolation (Agu et al., 2021).
The mental health and wellbeing of medical and nursing students have been overlooked throughout COVID-19 because students are not yet considered to be healthcare professionals. They have been excluded from initiatives designed to improve the mental health of healthcare workers and often lack access to support services typically provided through universities, due to online classes. Medical and nursing students are at an increased risk of psychological disorders such as depression and suicidal ideation, and educational disruptions due to COVID-19 only exacerbated existing mental health issues (Sharma and Bhaksar, 2020). Medical and nursing students cite concerns regarding inadequate preparation and skill level to enter the workforce due to a lack of access to clinical experience. Such anxieties lead to students exhibiting poor health behaviors such as not eating or sleeping properly (Sharma and Bhaksar, 2020).
In assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the educational programs themselves, its impact on clinical rotations is a significant part. Clinical rotations are a vital part of the medical and nursing curriculum as they equip students with experience in providing direct patient care. One study examined medical students’ perceptions of clinical experiences during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers found that 74.4% of medical students believed that COVID-19 has drastically impacted their experience with clinical rotations, and that they should have continued normally throughout the pandemic (Harries et al., 2021). Despite being highly concerned about contracting COVID-19, 83.4% of medical students surveyed stated they felt an obligation to patients to continue participating (Harries et al., 2021). Their desire to continue clinical rotations, coupled with their perceived responsibility to care for patients, indicates the emotional burden students were forced to take on during the pandemic.
Healthcare professionals have been essential to take over the treatment of those infected with COVID-19, and have made immeasurable sacrifices in order to care for others. But future generations of doctors and nurses are affected by educational challenges that inhibit them from feeling that they can adequately care for patients after graduation. Financial barriers posed to medical and nursing students throughout the pandemic have restricted access to valuable services and resources. Furthermore, the social isolation that accompanied their medical education has had a negative affect on students’ mental wellbeing. It is critical that medical and nursing students are supported by their administrators and clinical sites to ensure they feel prepared to enter the healthcare field, in addition to being safe from the pandemic.
Agu, C. F., Stewart, J., McFarlane‐Stewart, N., & Rae, T. (2021). Covid‐19 pandemic effects on nursing education: Looking through the lens of a developing country. International Nursing Review, 68(2), 153–158. https://doi.org/10.1111/inr.12663
Harries, A. J., Lee, C., Jones, L., Rodriguez, R. M., Davis, J. A., Boysen-Osborn, M., Kashima, K. J., Krane, N. K., Rae, G., Kman, N., Langsfeld, J. M., & Juarez, M. (2021). Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical students: A multicenter quantitative study. BMC Medical Education, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02462-1
Sharma, D., & Bhaskar, S. (2020). Addressing the COVID-19 burden on medical education and training: The role of telemedicine and tele-education during and beyond the pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.589669