A Message to Students in these Uncertain Times

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Author: David Fine, MD

AAEM/RSA Board Members, Liaison to the AAEM/RSA Education Committee, and AAEM/RSA Medical Student Council

Medical school is undoubtedly a stressful time, but studying medicine in the context of a pandemic is a challenge that brings about additional stressors, anxiety, and uncertainty. The changes that have been implemented are a result of safety being a number one priority. I also feel it is important to recognize the difficult situation that students are facing.

M1s have had routines disturbed in the form of online curriculums, which may not be best suited to everybody’s preferred learning style. Social distancing limits the ability to learn from one other via group studying and it limits development clinical skills via standardized patients. M2s preparing for their United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 exams have had exams cancelled and/or haphazardly rescheduled with indefinite closures of testing centers. Step 1 is not pass/fail this year, so aside from the stress of difficult test scheduling, they face the normal stress of standardized exams.1 M3s have had rotations cancelled and Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS) has been suspended.2 Many have had rotations replaced by online curriculums, which makes it difficult to determine if you are interested in pursuing a particular field of medicine and securing letters of recommendation in that field. M4s had rotations and graduations cancelled, which is disappointing, but much preferred to the adjustments of their peers. Furthermore, there is an anticipatory anxiety of beginning residency training with the uncertainty of potentially challenging moves, concern of personal protection equipment (PPE) access, and fear of more limited learning experiences. This is not a comprehensive list of academic challenges, but it paints the picture that is certainly not an ideal training environment.

Students’ patience, flexibility, and adaptability as they adjust to these monumental academic changes is impressive. However, there are more than just academic stressors that this period brings. Social distancing can be isolating adding increased mental health concerns for a population that is already at risk. Students have to additionally worry about their health and financial safety. Some split their time between their roles as students of medicine and teachers responsible for home schooling their children.

While it does not resolve these problems, we want to acknowledge the challenges that students are facing and applaud their hard work in the face of all this uncertainty. Your medical school experience is unlike any other and your ability to persevere should be recognized. If you are looking for up to date recommendations and COVID-19 education guidelines the American Medical Association (AMA) and Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have compiled resources to assist students, residents, and faculty.3,4 We hope you are safe and that there is an expedient resolution to these extra stressors in unprecedented and trying times.


  1. COVID-19 and USMLE testing: 4 key questions for students, residents. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/residents-students/usmle/covid-19-and-usmle-testing-4-key-questions-students-residents. Accessed 5/6/2020.
  2. VSLO® Program Updates. American Association of Medical Colleges. https://students-residents.aamc.org/attending-medical-school/article/vslo-program-updates. Accessed 5/6/2020.
  3. Medical education COVID-19 resource guide. American Association of Medical Colleges https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/medical-education-covid-19-resource-guide. Accessed 5/6/2020.
  4. COVID-19 Resource Hub. American Association of Medical Colleges https://www.aamc.org/coronavirus-covid-19-resource-hub. Accessed 5/6/2020.