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MAY 08, 2020 — Severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools are gearing up to reopen in the near future.
At a press conference on Friday, officials of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provided updates. Two thirds of the 155 accredited US medical schools recently provided the AAMC with information on their plans to reopen, said Alison Whelan, MD, chief medical education officer of the association.
In mid-March, nearly all medical schools removed students from direct patient care in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE). Students have continued to take courses online, but that alone falls short of the requirements for graduation.
Of the medical colleges that informed the AAMC of their plans, 15% plan to restore students to clinical care by the end of May, 55% by the end of June, and 77% by the end of July. Fifteen percent of the schools are finalizing their plans, Whelan said.
“Returning students to direct patient contact, like reopening communities, is a delicate balancing act,” she noted. “Schools want to get students back to patient-centered learning, so they can continue progress toward on-time graduation in 2021 and 2022. But critical considerations, including patient safety and not triggering a second surge, must be taken into account.”
Medical colleges must also ensure that there are opportunities for meaningful learning, Whelan said. “In areas where there are a lot of COVID patients, the physicians who typically supervise these medical students may have zero time and zero capacity to teach. In those areas where elective surgeries and routine office visits are severely restricted, there may be very few patients to learn from.”
Internships on Track, In-Person Instruction on Hold
Whether or not medical schools will resume classroom instruction in the fall will depend on the local severity of the pandemic, as well as on state and national guidelines, Whelan noted. “If there are recommendations for social distancing, they won’t be bringing students back into large classrooms.”
Moreover, she said, there’s no immediate need for in-person instruction “because the medical schools have been very successful with online learning. So they’ll go back when they think it’s safe, but there’s not a huge urgency for that because virtual and online distance learning has been found to be effective.”