Medical School in the time of COVID-19
The fourth and final year of medical school is one full of excitement and anxiety about the next phase of our medical careers. After a long interview season, we prepare for being an MD. For some that means taking clinical rotations that will help us hone certain skills we will need in our intended specialties, for others that means rotations that will expose us to experiences we will never get again after we specialize (think: a future OB/Gyn doing a rotation in the pediatric ICU).
My final rotation was a perioperative valvular heart disease elective where I followed patients from their pre-op appointment, through their surgery and ICU stay, to their post-op clinic follow up. I reviewed their cardiac imaging, scrubbed in for surgeries, and sat at their bedside while they recovered in the ICU. Set for an early graduation at the end of March, I had carefully planned the last large chunk of free time I would have until the end of residency training, and possibly forever.
It was Friday evening, exactly one week before my last day of medical school. I had left the hospital uneventfully, gotten in a quick workout on my way home, and then headed to the grocery store. At this point the virus had already started to impact the PNW. We were receiving daily emails from hospital and University leadership about how to conserve PPE, the toilet paper was long gone from grocery stores, and our Match Day celebration, where fourth year medical students learn where we will be heading to residency, was cancelled. On this particular Friday, March 13, it had also snowed in the morning. Snow on top of coronavirus meant that the produce bins were barren, the rice and bean shelves were stripped to nothing, and paper products were nowhere to be found in the county. That’s when I got the email from the university president announcing all medical student rotations were cancelled effective immediately. And just like that I was done with medical school.
Things escalated so quickly that final week of medical school, it was hard to keep up. On Monday OHSU had normal operations, though the students on radiology rotations were told to stay home. On Tuesday there was an email announcing that departments should begin finding ways for employees to work from home wherever possible. On Wednesday the university announced there would be modified operations for the aerial tram starting that weekend. On Thursday Match Day was cancelled. And Friday, as I mentioned above, I found myself suddenly at the end of medical school without realizing it.
Everyone has a story about how coronavirus impacted their lives. Although medical school ended abruptly without closure, I am incredibly thankful that thus far my family and friends have remained healthy, and come July 1 I will be gainfully employed.
I never thought I would be starting residency during a pandemic, and I never thought I would be on the front lines of a global emergency as a critical care provider. If there has ever been a time in my life to step up to the fight, that time is now.