This year students are being told that they are active witnesses to a major historical event – the COVID-19 pandemic. This has left many third-year medical students with an overwhelming sense of frustration and despair as away rotations are cancelled and research opportunities dwindle. The most important lesson that I’ve come to appreciate from my journey in medicine is that things don’t always go according to plan. Although simple enough to articulate, it can be a difficult reality to accept. Everyone hits a roadblock that they must overcome – family tragedy, poor board scores, late interest in a competitive field. But for once, it seems we are all facing an obstacle together.
How will the pandemic impact M3’s?
-Completion of Core Rotations Online:
- Often students begin rotations with the notion that they know which field they want to pursue. These notions are often made without any exposure to the field, so predictably they don’t always stick. As a student that did not find their niche until after several clinical rounds, I find the idea of online rotations particularly perplexing. Without the firsthand opportunity I experienced in the operating room, I doubt I would have realized my passion for surgery. Online modules do not give us nearly the same amount of insight to help us in definitively deciding our career path.
-Uncertain Board Examination Dates:
- Many students have not had the opportunity to complete Step 2 -CS or Step 2-CK. Residency programs often prefer to receive Step 2 -CK scores prior to interview invites and acceptances. Although there is expected to be leeway from programs, the -CK exam is an important tool for students that did not perform well on Step 1. This exam is often a second opportunity for students to prove themselves to residencies by demonstrating improvement. The fear that we will be screened out based on a single exam score has increased and unfortunately will be a major complication for students to overcome.
-Suspension of Away Rotations:
- The importance of away rotations is largely field dependent. The rotations allow students to compare academic programs versus community programs. This provides a chance to evaluate which environment will allow them to thrive individually. Away rotations also foster the ability of students to develop mentors and collect strong letters of recommendation. These rotations are another second chance opportunity to prove themselves to programs. Once again, a second opportunity that will go to the wayside.
-Cancellation of Conferences:
- You have without a doubt hear the saying, “it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you know.” This sentiment is often emphasized during the residency match. Conferences are one of the easiest ways for students to not only develop their network, but also demonstrate interest in the field. Conferences are also important in providing students the opportunity to be involved in research, whether it be via a poster session or video-education. Research has become fundamental to those that wish to match surgery and now students must find other ways to highlight their interest.
It is important to remember that perseverance is the key through this academic upheaval. Many may feel trapped in what seems to be a never-ending rat race. Take solace in the fact that you’re not alone during these difficult times.
What should we be doing now?
- Take time to focus on self-care. Rarely do we have the freedom to work on our own health. This is a great time to develop healthy habits that will hopefully stick with us as our careers advance. Eat healthier, exercise, sleep. A healthy body imparts a healthy mind.
- It is important that we continue to remain dedicated to our studies. It may be hard to focus, but we can and should continue to be proactive.
- Stay in touch with our mentors. They are the ones that will be writing letters on our behalf and helping us reach our career goals.
- Continue to look for research opportunities. They may be difficult to find, so it will require determination.
- Networking – Many physicians and programs have social networking platforms. Use them. Ask questions. Put your name out there.
To all fellow M3’s, stay safe and good luck in achieving your career goals