|LETTER TO EDITOR
|Year : 2021 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 68-70
Pre-medical students: Lost in the COVID-19 chaos?
Isabela Crueza1, Theresa T Stawicki2
1 The College of Arts and Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
2 The Division of Sciences and Mathematics, DeSales University, Center Valley, Pennsylvania, USA
|Date of Submission||03-Mar-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||15-Mar-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||25-Mar-2021|
Dr. Isabela Crueza
The College of Arts and Sciences, Lehigh University, 27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Crueza I, Stawicki TT. Pre-medical students: Lost in the COVID-19 chaos?. Int J Acad Med 2021;7:68-70
To the Editor,
Premedical education tends to be somewhat compartmentalized in the medical education literature. Yet, the overall continuum of premedical to medical to graduate medical education should be considered in a more comprehensive fashion. Premedical college curricula are known to be highly competitive and demanding. To succeed in achieving medical school acceptance, undergraduate students must maintain excellent grades in rigorous science courses and score well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) all while fulfilling their roles outside of the lecture room working in research laboratories, shadowing physicians, and volunteering.
For a variety of reasons, but at least in part due to the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to succeed as a premedical student, medical school applications in recent years have been growing at a relatively smaller rate when compared with other health-care professional schools (i.e., advanced practice, physical therapy, nursing, etc.). Instead of applying to medical school, many undergraduate students have gravitated to other rewarding, high-growth careers in health care. However in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a sudden and sharp increase in medical school admissions has taken place. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical school applications have grown by as much as 18% since 2019. While multiple aspects of the pandemic may have led to this shift in a number of applications, one central reason may be attributed to how COVID-19 has changed the way that many undergraduate students have viewed the role of physicians as role models and leaders.
During 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic in general, physicians have been brought to the forefront of global attention, including both social media and mainstream media outlets. Given the projected knowledge, evidence-based application, and highly visible participation of national healthcare leaders, many undergraduate students were inspired to consider a career in medicine. Social media has focused heavily on many of the challenges that physicians have faced during the pandemic, including overcrowded hospital conditions, insufficient amounts of ventilators, lack of personal protective equipment, and health-care workers falling ill or even dying while saving others.,, Although some may think that seeing the challenges that physicians have had to go through during the pandemic would have scared applicants away, it actually invigorated their desire to want to step up and “follow the leaders”.
In addition to the way the media has highlighted the struggles and sacrifices that physicians make, it has also highlighted the critical leadership role that physicians provide during a public health crisis. Moreover, it also became evident that there are major physician shortages, often in areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The above factors could also be responsible for the spike in medical school applications as well as the increased interest in medicine as a career among undergraduate college students.
In a way, the ongoing pandemic served as a stimulus or a call-to-arms for those who feel compelled to care for their fellow human beings. At the same time, due to a number of factors, including the insufficient number of current medical trainees and rapidly changing demographics, a shortage of doctors is anticipated after the pandemic is over. In his recent commentary, Brendan Murphy from the American Medical Association points out that the shortage in the number of physicians, both in primary and specialty care, could be as high as 54,100 and 13,900 by 2033, respectively.
In addition to the circumstances of the current pandemic inspiring students to pursue their interest in a career as a physician, the overall “school milieu” became much more academically oriented, with many social and extracurricular activities canceled or postponed indefinitely. This, in turn, created an environment that facilitates independent study, standardized test preparation, and focus on academic achievement. Another major factor that likely played a role in the recent surge in medical school applications is the advent of virtual interviews. For many potential medical school applicants in the past, the cost of interviews and travel was near prohibitive. With that barrier removed, premedical students do not have to worry about the cost of in-person interviews or any additional debt traditionally required to pay for interview-related expenses.
Not surprisingly, there has been a reported increase in stress and anxiety for premedical students worldwide. For example in Chennai, India, premedical students were given a Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 Items (DASS21) assessment. The results showed that depression rates were similar to previous assessments, but anxiety and stress levels significantly increased. In response, a growing number of medical schools have created guidelines for premedical and medical students to combat stress and anxiety. For example, the Florida College of Medicine has created a fairly detailed guide with practical tips. Among the tips are some of the ways to positively channel pent-up emotions, including virtual volunteerism, creative work such as art or writing, and other constructive coping strategies.
In response to the pandemic, several medical schools bypassed the requirement for MCAT testing. Some of these schools include Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Caldwell University/St. George's University, University of New Mexico, The State Unviersity of New York (SUNY) Downstate and Upstate Campuses. In 2021, MCAT scores and transcript deadlines will remain flexible at certain medical schools due to universities limiting operations during the pandemic. In terms of “detectable” departures from the past, there will be mask wearing, social distancing, and other COVID-19 precautions. Diminishing emphasis on standardized test scores, volunteering, and in-person interviewing, when combined with an emphasis on humanities and a strong societal need for training new physicians, interest in medical careers is likely to increase even further.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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