Approaches to Medical Students During a Pandemic

Wed Apr 15 21:24:38 2020 EDT (-0400 GMT)

Texture ball as Corona morphologyThe credentials universities and related regulatory bodies confer have a value in the achievement, rigour and knowledge they symbolize or imply. But perhaps these concepts are for a time when the public need is equal to supply, a pandemic introduces an imbalance.

Universities around the world have suspended large gatherings to reduce transmission, many medical or nursing schools have donated supplies that will go unused during this suspension, or have concluded that the supplies are of greater value to public health than public education (Apablaza, University Affairs).

In Italy, medical students’ mandatory licensing exams have been postponed for nine-months and 10,000 medical students have been injected into the Italian medical system dispensing treatment to less-serious patients. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has moved forward final exams by six weeks to allow 1,300 students to graduate early (Cole, Newsweek).

In Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons has indefinitely postponed residents’ final written exams because of social distancing concerns and dropped the oral exam requirement. Training placements that were to end June 30, 2020, can be effectively extended by the granting of restricted provisional licenses (Ormsby, The Toronto Star).

In early April 2020, 2,500 Canadian medical staff signed a petition urging Dr. Susan Moffatt-Bruce, CEO of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, to fast-track the certification process for residents, noting the issuance of the restricted provisional licences are insufficient and advocating to drop the requirement for the postponed written exam.

Canada’s 2020 medical residents are well-positioned to argue that the context of these students’ extended residencies or provisional licences, during a pandemic on a scale not seen in one hundred years, not only negates the need for a final written exam but may make these new medical residents and provisional licence holders more qualified than past newly licenced physicians and surgeons. This is certainly a question for subject experts to decide, but the discipline’s relationship to public health and its new context has increased the contestability and the multiplicity of actors.

As the pandemic and lockdown continue I am watching for answers to a number of questions:

  • How do we evaluate decisions such as these that potentially diminish the traditional measures of the educational attainment and credentials, but amplify impact?
  • Will contributions to research into COVID-19 be deemed sufficient public contribution?
  • Will continuing and potentially competing for research be tolerated?
  • Will material and labour donations influence public perception of universities’ role in a pandemic?