Luke Kennedy Fourth Year
2020 class president Luke Kennedy enjoys beekeeping in his back yard to pass the time during quarantine. (Photo by Luke Kennedy)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the day-to-day lives of people all over the world. Health care workers are on the front lines, businesses are closed, and people are encouraged to stay home. Despite life being turned upside down, the students at McGovern Medical School, whose curriculum has shifted entirely online, are showing resiliency in finding new ways to prepare for their future in health care.

“The uncertainty has been the hardest part of this experience for me,” said McGovern first-year medical student Callie Simon. “Sometimes, I will read the last page of a suspenseful book or search IMDB of a movie before it is over. My dad always reminds me to have the wisdom to know what I can control. I am learning to become more comfortable with not knowing, as well as being more flexible and resilient as things change daily.”

Change has become a constant for medical students at McGovern and across the United States over the early months of 2020. From personal life changes like Harris County’s “stay inside” initiative to help flatten the curve to the cancellation of major events like Match Day and commencements, medical school students have been forced to adapt quickly.

“All of this really hit me and my class hard,” said Luke Kennedy, MSIV and McGovern’s 2020 class president. “We were gearing up to have a great time celebrating together. Our class is disappointed and sad that we won’t have those celebrations and be able to hug each other’s necks one last time before we leave.

“We understand why we needed to cancel these events, and I agree it is for the best, but the effects hit me harder than I thought they would. Thankfully, social media has allowed me to connect and see everyone celebrate where they are going for match.”

Technology has been key for medical students to be able to keep a routine. McGovern students were able to e-celebrate their Match Day announcements, sharing photos and videos with the world through social media while still being able to be surrounded by their closest friends and family.

The pandemic has added an additional layer of stress to the medical school experience that already comes with its fair share. For students like Simon, social media has also allowed an escape from self-quarantine, allowing her to still interact with her peers.

“My sister and I have started learning choreography with “how to” dance videos on YouTube. We are hilariously bad, but it is a lot of fun, and we hope to be pretty good by the end of our self-isolating,” Simon joked. “I have also learned when to turn off the news, and instead FaceTime a friend I have not caught up with in a while.”

Across the board, the pandemic has affected the academic side of students at McGovern. For Kennedy and the fourth-years, they were gearing up for a two-week “transition to residency” course where they would receive lectures to help prepare them for their first jobs as physicians. For Simon and the first-years they saw crucial clinical experiences canceled.

However, both students applauded the leadership at McGovern Medical School for ensuring a smooth-as-possible transition. Despite unprecedented measures to move all classes online, the faculty has found unique ways to still teach from patient encounters and keep newly acquired skills fresh for the younger students.

“UTHealth and McGovern specifically have been very proactive in their public health directives,” Kennedy said. “We were the first to announce the closure of Match Day to the public before most institutions across the country. Now that we have seen how bad this pandemic truly is, I applaud the proactive nature of these cancellations and closures.”

“Our professors and coordinators have been really upfront and honest with us about each decision, the reasoning behind it, and how things may continue to change,” Simon added. “This has made the adjustments a lot easier. They have been understanding to our individual circumstances and patient as we learn the online tools. I think that’s the most important thing – being compassionate as all of us adapt. Our faculty and my entire class have really taken on the challenge of becoming more creative in solving difficult problems through this unprecedented experience.”

Through all of the uncertainty, one thing is for sure: the future of health care will rest on the shoulders of medical students across the world like Kennedy who will soon begin his residency and Simon, who will move on to her second year of medical school. Their experience throughout the pandemic, as well as the education they receive from McGovern Medical School, will shape the future for the better.

“Health care is important. To be done well, the physician needs the best information at the time and the willingness to assess the situation for what it is and not what you need it to be,” Kennedy said. “I really think most of my job as a future MD will be one of education of my patients about the facts and risks of their health.”