Where Do We Go From Here? Assessing Medical Students' Surgery Clerkship Preparedness During COVID-19

J Surg Educ. Sep-Oct 2021;78(5):1574-1582. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2021.01.010. Epub 2021 Jan 16.


Introduction: The impact of COVID-19 on surgical education has been profound, and clinical learning experiences transitioned to virtual formats. This study investigated the impact of virtual experiences created to facilitate learning during the pandemic for medical students.

Methods: We performed a cohort study to determine the perceived clinical preparedness for medical students enrolled in the preclinical surgery pilot course, surgical Extended Mastery Learning Rotation (EMLR), and longitudinal surgical clerkship (LC). The preclinical surgery pilot course took place before COVID-19 disruptions, and the EMLR and LC experiences took place virtually. Specialty choice was examined in the EMLR and LC cohorts. Performance on the NBME surgical assessments was analyzed among students enrolled in the traditional clerkship and pandemic-disrupted courses and compared to national data using a two-sample t-test.

Results: Compared to preclinical students, EMLR and LC students demonstrated improvements in their perceived surgical clerkship readiness. After the 3-week EMLR course, in the setting of completing only one-third of the clerkship year, students had an average NBME Surgical Self-Assessment Exam score of 72 (SD 12), comparable to the national average of 71 (SD 9) p = 0.33. The average shelf exam score for students (N = 24) enrolled in the traditional clerkship (block 1), prior to COVID-19, disruptions was 66 (SD 9) compared to an average score of 69 (SD 9) for the longitudinal clerkship students (N = 20) that took the shelf exam later in the year (p = 0.36). COVID-19 disruptions did not affect specialty choice. All LC students have decided on a specialty; 50% nonsurgical and 50% surgical. From the EMLR cohort, 36% and 38% plan to pursue surgical and nonsurgical specialties, respectively, with 26% still undecided.

Conclusions: Courses were well-liked and will be implemented in future clerkships. Surgical educators demonstrated flexibility and creativity in the development of the EMLR. Despite COVID-19 disruptions, medical students made progress in their clinical skills and foundational science knowledge. COVID-19 disruptions did not appear to impact specialty choice.

Keywords: COVID-19; curriculum design; medical knowledge; medical student education; preparedness; surgery clerkship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cohort Studies
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Educational Measurement
  • General Surgery* / education
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Students, Medical*