Should You Postpone a Semester During the Pandemic? A Medical Student’s Perspective

Santiago Callegari
Published on Nov 2, 2020. Updated on Nov 2, 2020.

Medical education has taken a hard hit from COVID-19, affecting programs and hospitals all around the world. Leaving medical students uncertain if universities and hospitals are ready to provide us with the proper clinical experience in the midst of these new challenges. On today’s blog, Santiago Callegari, a Regional Lead for our OMEF program shares his thoughts on postponing a semester during COVID-19. 

In 2020, everything has changed! For us medical students, clinical education is one of the most significant things that has been impacted by the global spread of COVID-19. So, what does this mean for us? 

In a career like medicine, where clinical rotations are the core of learning hands on skills, virtual classes have limited value. Even the best virtual classes with our maximum effort are not as useful as the invaluable experience that hands-on training at the hospital provides. So, with this in mind—and the uncertainty of returning to normal clinical rotations—is it worth postponing a semester?

The definitive answer is entirely personal, but here I am going to discuss some of the factors that I think should be considered in the decision-making process. 

Where are you now?

Your context is influenced by a huge set of variables, from the political policies of your country to your med school year. Every country is experiencing the pandemic differently. For example, where I live in Colombia, there are endless uncertainties about what is going to happen. Stakeholders and physicians mostly agree that it is going to take months, at the very least, to return back to a “normal-ish” clinical rotation. 

Your year in medical school is also important to consider. 

Are you in your first years of theoretical learning? (This is arguably much less troublesome to do virtually.) 

Have you finished and are awaiting clinical placement? Or have you finished most of the clinical training and are taking electives? (Here, things become more difficult.)

If you are like me, stuck in the middle, finished my theoretical training but have no clinical experience, it may be worth postponing a semester to ensure adequate clinical training. 

Are your clinical rotations enough to learn right now?

The most important factor is for you to know—to the best of your knowledge—the extent of your clinical experience during these times. What I mean with clinical experience is not if you have to wear a mask or not (which should not be in question) but how limited the patient interactions will be. Will you be in a rotation like internal medicine where there are limited-to-no COVID patients? This rotation might allow you to carry on and perform duties that medical students are normally allowed to do like, taking a history and physical exam. 

Or is the rotation surgical or emergency medicine that will not allow you to see patients due to lack of personal protective equipment? If you're planning to apply to these specialties it’s worth asking your upper classmates or department heads what they think about postponing these rotations until things normalize.

What about plan B? 

The idea of postponing a semester is just as good as the plan you have to do for that semester. If you are going to play video games all day, maybe it’s better to consider going through the virtual semester and limited clinical rotations. 

But, if you have a plan like helping others during the pandemic, preparing for the USMLE exams, learning a new language, doing research, trying out Osmosis, or anything, then you are going to make the best out of this situation. Maybe it can be a semester dedicated to you! Not everything needs be about med school—just about 99%. 

Med school is way beyond a diploma! 

Finally, we are here to learn! If you think you are not learning at your full potential, this should make you think twice about how you are studying or maybe even consider taking some time out of university. 

Virtual classes haven’t been easy for me and I know some of you can relate. Even the most organized and educational virtual clinical sessions are not the same and it can be a struggle to focus. Not being able to physically practice what we have learned makes this time hard to learn.

Also, if we are here to try to learn the most, is it worth it to do a semester with some limitations? This applies differently to everyone! Some of my classmates are thrilled about the virtual sessions, but not all of us have the same enjoyable time with these.

Now, we don’t know if in six months everything will change or if this is our new normal in med school. It’s best to stay up to date and informed about all your clinical rotation sites as much as possible. Weigh your options and seek guidance before you take a semester break between clinical rotations. 

Best of luck!

About Santiago

Santiago Callegari is a third-year medical student at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, where he was born and raised. He hopes to one day become an amazing anesthesiologist or internist. When he’s not studying or in the clinic, he’s spending time with his five dogs and three cats!


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