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Like all things this past Spring, medical school too was impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, forcing us all to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Last March, the College of Human Medicine was among the many schools across the country to move to online instruction. While the directive had its challenges, it also presented opportunities for students to reflect and consider how they can help. We've invited three of our CHM students—current M4 Harminder Sandhu, M3 Eunice Lee, and M2 Kryssia Campos-Selva—to discuss their experiences and observations.

Kryssia Campos-Selva

Second-Year, Middle Clinical Experience

When I started medical school last summer, I knew my year would be filled with challenges and new experiences. However, I never imagined that a global pandemic would unfold, one that would profoundly impact every aspect of our lives and give rise to a new reality that now includes face masks, hand sanitizers, toilet paper shortages, and more.

Michigan State University was among the first universities in Michigan to move to online-only classes in response to the spread of COVID-19. I was studying at a nearby coffee shop this past March when I received the notice via email. It's safe to say we were all shocked and had many questions.

The Shared Discovery Curriculum is hands-on and relies on in-person interactions. At the time, my peers and I had just returned from a much-deserved spring break. We had finalized our clinical experiences and were starting intersessions, a series of four-week courses. Ironically, our first course was Epidemiology, a branch of medicine that studies the distribution, incidence, and possible control of diseases.

Despite the short notice and uncertainty of it all, everyone within the College of Human Medicine acted fast to adapt. Within a day, we began to take our courses using the Zoom platform, which, to my surprise, had many functionalities such as break-out rooms and a whiteboard. Additionally, the college's faculty began to design and develop a COVID-19 course that encompassed basic science, epidemiology, economics, ethics, and public health policy of pandemics.

Given the vast new and changing information about COVID-19, this course was crucial in addressing our questions and providing accurate and up-to-date information. In addition to our classes, we all successfully took our semester's examinations online. In May, I took the Progress Clinical Skills Examination via zoom. My task consisted of interacting with four standardized patients that portrayed a clinical case we learned about throughout the year. I was graded on my interaction skills, the kind of questions I asked, and my plan for the patients. Although I was nervous about interacting with standardized patients over zoom, it was a great learning experience to have as a first-year medical student, especially now that many physicians are doing telemedicine.

But school was not the only thing on my mind during this time. My dad, who works in construction, was laid off, and my mother's childcare facility experienced a decrease in income. My parents were not eligible to apply for unemployment or receive the government's COVID-19 relief funds, and we worried about rent, utility bills, and other necessary expenses. I decided to go back to California to be with my family during this uncertain time.

The first few weeks of online classes were challenging. I was having trouble staying engaged in my zoom lectures. I felt unprepared during class, which caused me a bit of anxiety as I often did not meet my daily goals. It felt so absurd to focus on school when so many around me were having a very difficult time. Although I was grateful that my parents and family were healthy, I also felt guilty for not being able to help them financially and alleviate some of their worries.

Covid-19 has exposed significant health disparities and health inequities in the U.S. I have always been committed to working towards social justice and shedding light on the way systemic inequalities affect people's health. In this commitment and remembering my role as a medical student, I found the motivation to get back on track and finish strongly my academic year. It is a big privilege to be a medical student, and I owe it to my future patients and my family to become the best physician I can be.

It is a big privilege to be a medical student, and I owe it to my future patients and my family to become the best physician I can be.

It has now been more than three months since we went online for medical school. Although many aspects of our academic year might seem uncertain, I want to share with your four tips that have helped me stay focused while doing online courses:

1. Plan your day: Take some time to jot down what it is that you want to accomplish during the day. It helps prioritize tasks and also set realistic goals.

2. Designate a study space: A study space will help you stay focused during school hours and disconnect from school when it's time to "go home".

3. Take breaks: Zoom fatigue is real. Give your eyes a break from the iPad and the computer. I made it a point to take a 30-minute walk every day, and it really helped me clear my mind! You are much more than a student and your productivity.

4. Be kind to yourself: Medical school is extremely challenging, and our education does not happen in a bubble. Some of us do not have the privilege of just worrying about school, family and other outside stressors are real. Acknowledge those feelings and find what works for you. Let's remind ourselves that we have what it takes, and more!

COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected us in many different ways. This academic year has been unique, but we did it! We finished our first year of medical school and have moved onward to the Middle Clinical Experience (MCE).

Eunice Lee

Third-Year, Late Clinical Experience

The Secchia Center, as the main facility for Grand Rapids Community Campus students, is a beautiful building typically filled with natural light illuminating through large sections of windows on practically every side. Every day, we attend classes, study, eat, live, breathe, and more in this one building. So naturally, we have come to have a very close relationship with Secchia.

But, since March, the building has been closed and classes have been held remotely. It feels weird to not have access to a building of which we’ve always found refuge.

COVID has affected students in different ways. I cannot speak for all, but I know some chose to go back home to take care of elderly family members. Others have added responsibilities as a full-time parent with children and/or spouses who were now also at home. There were also some with family members who lost their jobs. It was a complete change in lifestyle that no one was quite prepared for.

In the meantime, some students decided to take time to be trained as nurse technicians in order to help with the increasing need for front-line medical staff. Others decided to volunteer to pack and deliver meals to those who are unable to go grocery shopping due to the risks of COVID. Students joined COVIDsitters to offer health care workers a range of free services, including childcare, petsitting and household errands. Many students, like Neej Patel, also donated hand-sanitizers, latex gloves, surgical masks, and more to support the communities across Michigan, . Everyone is doing what they can do with the given resources, time, and energy that they have.

But at the same time, this summer is dedicated for preparing for the step 1 exam for the M2s at CHM. However, because of COVID, many students’ study plans had to be modified to meet the needs of the individual. Many were affected by Prometric’s decision to reduce seating capacity at their testing centers to abide by the safety regulations. In order to do this, about 50 percent of the students were randomly selected to receive a cancellation of their planned testing date. Some people were cancelled more than once—more than twice even.

Everyone is doing what they can do with the given resources, time, and energy that they have.

The evolving situation with COVID required everyone to be flexible, including students, CHM administration, family, and loved ones. Nevertheless, we can rest assured that changes are continually being made and discussed in support of our medical students at CHM.

Although the times are difficult, I am grateful to be where I am today (as cliché as that sounds). I am humbled to be studying medicine and by the efforts of Grand Rapids and Michigan community to keep everyone safe during this challenging time.

Harminder Sandhu

Fourth-Year, Late Clinical Experience

At the moment, I am in my research year. This worked out perfectly, since research can be done remotely. Therefore, there were no interruptions to my work due to COVID-19—which would have occurred had I been on clinical rotations.

I am very excited to be back in the hospital and on clinical rotations later this month! It will be interesting to see how the pandemic will impact clinical experience. It is likely away rotations will not be happening this year. It definitely makes things interesting—adds a splash of surprise! It’s a fluid situation, so I will just have to go with the flow and adapt. Being in the medical field during a time like this has been especially rewarding to me because it is clear to see the difference we get to make in people’s lives.

My current research consists of various projects in the field of plastic surgery. From complications in reconstructive surgery in patients who have defeated cancer to monitoring recovery and outcome of different surgical techniques, each research project allows for the opportunity to dive into a whole new world full of knowledge and learning opportunities.

Although research is an excellent source of gaining more knowledge regardless of specialty, it is expected in certain specialties deemed more competitive. In the field of plastic surgery, in fact, a medical student is expected to have completed an average 14 combined abstract, presentations, and publications by the time they apply for residency programs at the end of medical school. This is in addition to what is normally required of medical school students to complete their training.

The reason surgery intrigues me is because there are so many facets to it. I have always enjoyed fixing things with my hands. For as long as I can remember, I grew up fixing cars at my dad’s shop. Similarly, the immediate gratification of going in and performing a surgical procedure to fix an issue is rewarding to me. Having grown up playing sports and video games, it allows me to utilize good hand-eye coordination to make quick decisions in the moment.

Similar to sports, I enjoy situations where there is high pressure to perform. I embrace these situations because those are the moments I tend to step up my game. Surgery is an art. With proper surgical technique, you approximate the edges of a wound, allowing the body to heal naturally. However, if sutures are too tight, you get bumps in the skin. If sutures are too loose, you get an indentation and the patient is left with a scar.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position to learn medicine. I hope to pay it forward one day by sharing this gift with others. I hope to do free trips abroad and fix cleft palates and cleft lips in babies from rural areas.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position to learn medicine. I hope to pay it forward one day by sharing this gift with others. I hope to do free trips abroad and fix cleft palates and cleft lips in babies from rural areas. Children have their entire lives ahead of them. Knowing that I may positively change the trajectory of a child’s entire life through a single procedure is what draws me to surgery.

That is the plan as of now, but I am keeping an open mind. As I enter my clinical years, I am excited to dive into different specialties—some of which I’m sure I did not know even existed! We will see what happens.