Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Medical Student

  • We are all in this together! COVID-19 has disrupted the medical curriculum, but the system is adapting to work to support our successful medical education.
  • There is no one right way to cope during COVID-19 - except the one that is right for you.
  • As learners, medical students are uniquely being impacted as they return to a changed medical system

Content created by Claire Collins, Jessica Santos-Parker, Keli Santos-Parker - University of Michigan Medical School, Class of 2021

Impact on Medical Student Life

COVID-19 has disrupted the medical school way of life, just as it has the rest of the community and world. Medical students were pulled from the classroom, hospital, and clinics to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, conserve scarce resources, and protect students and others. First year medical students were in the middle of their neurology sequence, second year medical students were on their core clerkship rotations, third years were completing elective or sub-internships, and fourth years were in their final months before graduating. This change created abrupt social isolation for most students and uncertainty over the next months, not only about what was to come next in our education, but also what our role should be during this unprecedented pandemic. With many students now scattered across the U.S., having gone home to their families, disparities masked at school have been unveiled, accentuated by the continued expectations of a rigorous school curriculum and the impact of COVID-19 on many throughout the country.

Coping with the Crisis

As with any difficult situation, each person relies on different coping mechanisms. Some students coped with the shared trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing their energy inward and using this time for self-care, or caring for their family and friends. Others put their effort into community projects - reminding us of why we came to medical school. Many medical students came together to combine efforts into M-Response Corps, which has been pivotal in providing volunteer opportunities to support the hospital and community, providing care such as babysitting, PPE training for hospital staff, collecting community donations, or sitting bed side of patients who are at end of life.

First year medical students have adapted to completing the rest of their first year curriculum virtually - a transition made logistically possible and practical by an existing U-M Medical School capacity for students to stream lectures remotely. Combined with the adaptation for taking quizzes and exams remotely and the adjustment of in-person curricular activities to remote options or postponement until later in the medical curriculum, the first year medical curriculum has continued without significant disruption to the usual timeline of instruction. However, the additional stressors brought about by COVID-19, as well as the loss of in-person cohort experiences that would normally see M1s solidifying friendships, has made this time particularly challenging for first year students. M-Home, driven by students, has rallied to create community during this socially isolated time. Other programs, like pairing first year medical students with older medical students, have helped foster a constant support system in place during this time.

While first year students will finish their curriculum virtually this year, clinical students will be returning to clinic in June, after nearly three months since being pulled from rotations. As the healthcare system learns to navigate the extreme challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients, as well as returning to caring for non-COVID-19 patients, the core education of clinical students also comes into question. Prior to the pandemic, clinical students were an established, integral part of Michigan Medicine, both learning from and contributing to the various inpatient and outpatient services provided. With many changes underway, students are looking to adapt to new forms of medical care, including virtual patient visits, and the changes in restrictions on away rotations, conferences, and virtual interviews for residency.

Tips for Medical Students

  1. Stay connected with your community

Continue open lines of communication and regular check-ins with peers, mentors, friends and family; we are all going through this disrupted time together. Try to push forward making social connections with those in your life - you don’t have to only talk about academics or research with your mentor as it can relieve stress to have conversations about what brings you joy during this time.

  1. Don’t over-commit

Now is not the time you have to do everything. Although it may seem like others are pouring themselves into extra activities with the sudden amount of spare time they have, it is important to carve out self-care time. Give yourself the room to say no to extra commitments that come your way.

  1. Go at your own pace

Take the time you need and protect your well-being. Don’t compare yourself to others and what they are doing. You know yourself best and know when to step forward and to step back.

  1. Create a self care routine that incorporates time each day to unplug

Some people choose to exercise, play with a pet, journal, read, or simply meditate. Whatever it is, make sure to schedule it in your calendar so you don’t wedge important self-care out of your day.

  1. Maintain a routine

It is challenging to go from a highly structured environment (i.e. required classes and clinical rotations) to a completely unstructured environment. Having a routine can help recreate some normalcy in your daily life, including having a regular sleep schedule.

  1. Do regular self-check ins

Our curriculum is evolving and must adapt due to COVID-19. We won’t be able to quickly return to our old normal, and our academic checkpoints may change. Check in with yourself about how you're doing, what you need, and how to best succeed moving forward. Reaching out to others, peers or M-Home Counselors, can also be helpful.

  1. Acknowledge the challenges

Write down the things you are missing out on because of the pandemic and try to brainstorm ways that they can be adapted for this new “normal” we are experiencing.

 

Resources

  • Peer Support Advocacy -  This group provides a safety net for the personal and professional psychological well-being of peer students. Reach out to the group via their listserv, peer.advocacy@umich.edu, reach out to an individual directly via their bio, or page an on-call member. During April and May, weekly Wednesday morning virtual coffee hours were held to provide extra support during the pandemic.
  • CAPS Services during COVID pandemic
    Counseling and Psychological Services for all University of Michigan students, run through central campus.
  • Medical School Counselors
    Staff counselors are available to help medical students with their career development and personal needs. There are four counselors, each dedicated to a specific M-Home house.
  • Medical School Mental Health Services
    The MSMHS provides students with confidential psychiatric evaluations, time-limited evidence-based treatment, and referrals to external, community-based therapists and psychiatrists for long-term management if needed.