Medical education in a global crisis

Sallie Han, (L), a medical student at the University of Toronto and first author of the study, was previously a research student under Dr. Joyce Nyhof-Young, education investigator at The Institute for Education Research (TIER) at UHN, and senior author of the study. (Photo: UHN StRIDe Team)

A recent study at The Institute for Education Research (TIER) at UHN explored the challenges experienced by medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted how institutions can provide more equitable support to students during times of crisis.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, the world witnessed unprecedented disruptions across various sectors, and medical education was no exception.​

Medical students were suddenly faced with unique learning challenges including the need to quarantine from exposure, lack of hands-on training, isolation from peers and decreased work performance.

Researchers, led by Dr. Joyce Nyhof-Young, education investigator at TIER and senior author of the study, interviewed and engaged with 23 medical students from the University of Toronto (U of T) who experienced two-week quarantines following exposure to hospital or community transmission.

Sallie Han, a current medical student at the U of T and first author of the study, shares a poignant insight into the journey of these quarantined students.

“Their experiences shed light on the intricate web of challenges and supports that shape the educational landscape during crises,” Sallie states.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted medical education systems. Understanding the experience of medical students during the pandemic can help institutions better support students in general and during times of crisis. (Photo: Getty Images)

Using online surveys and interviews, the research team unravelled experiences of uncertainty, resilience and solidarity, and explored students’ concerns, supports and recommendations for the medical program. They found that these students had deep concerns surrounding uncertainty about their health, racial tensions, confidentiality, unclear academic expectations and financial burdens.

“Despite these challenges, students identified sources of support, including friends, family and the medical program administration,” says Dr. Nyhof-Young, who is also a professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the U of T.

“The findings paint a vivid portrait of the multifaceted impact of the pandemic on medical education and underscore the significance of identifying barriers while fostering supportive avenues to empower students in overcoming challenges.”

Key recommendations included improving communication to mitigate uncertainty, establishing standardized administrative crisis response plans and policies, incorporating equity considerations into personalized supports, and protecting confidentiality and privacy. 

When presented with these findings, the medical program responded positively to the students’ recommendations and has been implementing service changes through the Office of Learner Affairs to continue to improve student well-being and learning.

This research serves as a call for institutions worldwide to foster a culture of support for their students and to continue conversations surrounding the impact of socioeconomic factors on student experiences.

This research was supported by generous donors to UHN Foundation.

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