The Appendix Journal sent out a call for submissions in the month of September regarding first year medical students’ experiences beginning medical school during the COVID-19 pandemic. First year medical students nationwide are experiencing an incredibly dystopian introduction into healthcare. Historically, no other cohort of medical or PA students has begun their careers during such a tumultuous time and we wanted to hear all about it.
2020 was supposed to be an exciting year for not just me, but my entire family. My older brother was graduating medical school and starting residency, I was graduating college and starting medical school, and my younger sister was graduating high school and starting undergrad. We were all excited to attend each others’ graduations and celebrate four years of hard work. Technically, we all graduated, but none of us had real ceremonies because of the pandemic. And while that was sad, especially for my mom who had spent as much time invested in each of our education as we were invested in our singular education, 2020 was a reality check for all of us and not just because of COVID-19.
The pandemic has been one of the most altering experiences I have had in my life. Never have I seen anything like it, and I hope I never will again. The U.S. has suffered more than most because of the ignorance perpetuated by failures in our country’s handling of the situation. To think that people are so quick to disregard infectious disease experts and scientists and medical professionals. It was shocking, especially as someone starting a career in medicine. The consequence was a very lengthy quarantine with a continued necessity for social distancing. While the end of senior year and the entirety of my summer became rather monotonous and full of strange hobbies, August finally came around and with it, medical school.
As someone who really loves socializing, it has been hard to do so here. We spend most of our time outside of MERF (the Medical Education Research Facility), at home, listening to lectures on Zoom. I’m sure Dr. Rubenstein’s material is hard enough when he is five feet in front of you in a lecture hall, so it was definitely difficult keeping up through Zoom (or more often Panopto). However, I think CCOM has done more than most schools to ensure at least some sense of normalcy with anatomy lab and small group sessions (although I can barely hear people through the layers of PPE we have on, but that won’t necessarily go away with the pandemic for healthcare providers). Nonetheless, it has been difficult interacting with other medical students, especially in a new state. I do want to note that I completely understand the necessity for these measures to be taken. These are unprecedented times that have been plagued with an ever-growing list of struggles.
But back to the problems I’m facing. To be honest, I think that 2020 will shape my professional disposition in medicine. With the growth in knowledge dissemination on the sociopolitical climate in this country, I have really come to see what is important in my life. Going into this application cycle, I was set on going to a school on either coasts. I was comfortable with those areas and knew they were diverse and exciting places because of the population density. However, with the systemic racism and list of other -isms that many groups face daily, I looked towards a school that, while incredibly tolerant, was amidst an area fairly limited in its knowledge on diversity and dare I say it, tolerance. I knew I could become a physician at any of the schools I had gotten into, but I felt I would be able to do more at CCOM by bringing my experiences in diversity and helping to educate a region of the country that does not have the same access to that knowledge. Therefore, I felt CCOM would be a place where I could still achieve my goals but also hopefully do something for the community as well. In addition to this reason, the pandemic was growing rapidly in populated areas where I was originally considering attending medical school.
As someone whose immune system is only sometimes functional, I had to consider my safety as well. Oh and the tuition benefits and scholarships were pretty great too. But all-in-all, I do feel like 2020 was a reality check for me to contextualize what matters to me. Attending Zoom university at CCOM has been difficult, but I have still managed to make friends, learn a lot (too much some would say) in my classes, and conclude that I have had a positive experience thus far in Iowa (although the derecho did threaten my first impression). As we get closer to a vaccine and we overcome this pandemic, I am sure we will all let out a sigh of relief and continue our medical education with greater fervor, especially as we start getting all the free food I’ve heard so much about.
About the Author
Zain Mehdi is a first year medical student at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and is originally from Pittsburgh, PA. He attended college at Cornell University and completed a BA in Molecular and Cell Biology with honors and a BA in English.