COVID 19: A Cause for Pause in Undergraduate Medical Education and Catalyst for Innovation

HEC Forum. 2021 Jan 22;1-18. doi: 10.1007/s10730-020-09433-5. Online ahead of print.


As the world held its breath for news surrounding COVID-19 and hunkered down amidst stay-at-home orders, medical students across the U.S. wondered if they would be called to serve on the front lines of the pandemic. Medical school administrators faced the challenge of protecting learners while also minimizing harm to their medical education. This balancing act raised critical questions in medical education as institutions reacted to changing guidelines. COVID-19 has punctuated already contentious areas of medical education and has forced institutions and organizations to take quick action. From the perspectives of a recent medical school graduate and current resident (ES) and a practicing clinician-educator (SHG), we examine the pandemic's impact on undergraduate medical education through an ethical lens. First, we explore the value of medical education, what drives this value, and how COVID-19 may alter it. We next consider student choice and how shifts toward utilitarianism in healthcare during a pandemic may affect learning and career exploration. Then, we inquire how access to technology may impact the experience of medical students from diverse backgrounds and varied institutions during a rapid shift to socially distanced learning. We identify vulnerabilities for students at several phases of the journey: premedical, preclinical, clinical, and preparation for residency. Finally, we address the hidden curriculum of COVID-19, its potential erosion of empathy among current medical students, and possible long-term consequences for future physicians and patients.

Keywords: COVID-19; Health education; Licensing; Undergraduate medical education.