The COVID-19 Pandemic as an Imperative to Advance Medical Student Assessment: Three Areas for Change

Acad Med. 2020 Sep 29;10.1097/ACM.0000000000003764. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003764. Online ahead of print.


Conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted clinical practice and all aspects of medical education. Yet the need to continue to train physicians to care for patients and communities is greater than ever. Medical educators are responding by adapting curricula in response to requirements for social distancing, changing availability of clinical learning opportunities, and limitations on testing center availability for examinations. These disruptions require a systems approach to ensure that learners achieve competence in preparation for advancement in training toward unsupervised practice. In this article, the authors assert that medical educators, obligated by current conditions to adapt educational experiences, should seize the opportunity presented by the pandemic to make needed changes in 3 areas aligned with competency-based medical education: focusing on outcomes, broadening the assessment toolbox, and improving the undergraduate medical education (UME) to graduate medical education (GME) transition. Defined outcomes, as exemplified by entrustable professional activities, will enable curricular designers to shorten and adapt learning experiences by focusing on students' achievement of prespecified learning outcomes. Broadening the assessment toolbox entails capturing more and different assessment information about learners to provide a well-rounded view of their strengths and areas for growth in both traditional and novel settings, such as telehealth. Limitations on available data, such as licensing examination scores and clerkship grades, heighten the urgency to revise the system for the UME to GME transition by enhancing the quality and usability of information available to residency program directors. Educators should capitalize on the opportunity presented by altered conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic to make these needed changes to the educational system, in order to prepare physicians to provide health care and lead the health care system into the future.