Variations in Medical Students' Educational Preferences, Attitudes and Volunteerism during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic

J Community Health. 2021 Dec;46(6):1204-1212. doi: 10.1007/s10900-021-01009-9. Epub 2021 Jun 9.


Public health crises require individuals, often volunteers, to help minimize disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic required such activation of individuals, but little is known about medical students' preferences of such engagement. We investigated potential variations in medical students' educational preferences, attitudes, and volunteerism during the COVID-19 pandemic based on socio-demographics to better prepare for future activation scenarios. A web-based, anonymous survey of U.S. medical students at a single institution was conducted in May 2020. Across four training year, 518 (68% response rate) students completed the survey. During the pandemic, 42.3% (n = 215) wanted to discontinue in-person clinical experiences, 32.3% (n = 164) wanted to continue, and 25.4% (n = 129) were neutral. There was no gender effect for engagement in volunteer activities or preference to engage in clinical activities during the pandemic. However, second-year (n = 59, 11.6%) and third-year students (n = 58, 11.4%) wanted to continue in-person clinical experiences at a greater proportion than expected, while a small proportion of fourth-year students (n = 17, 3.3%) wanted to continue, χ2(6) = 43.48, p < .001, φ = 0.29. Majority of respondents (n = 287, 55.5%) volunteered in clinical and non-clinical settings. A lower proportion of fourth-year (n = 12, 2.3%) and first-year students (n = 50, 9.7%) volunteered than expected. Likelihood to volunteer during a pandemic varied by gender, training year, and/or prior experience with disaster event depending on the type of volunteer-site setting. Our findings suggest socio-demographic factors may impact medical student engagement and volunteerism during a public health crisis. Educational leadership should be sensitive to such variations and can facilitate volunteer activities that allow student engagement during future pandemics.

Keywords: COVID-19; Medical student experience; Medical student responsibilities; Medical student role; Pandemic.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Students, Medical*
  • Volunteers