From left, longtime friends Erinna McMurtry and Gloria Sun write about their experience in starting medical school during COVID-19. Submitted photo
From left, longtime friends Erinna McMurtry and Gloria Sun write about their experience in starting medical school during COVID-19. Submitted photo

Unusual beginnings in unprecedented times: Starting medical school during a pandemic

As two long-time friends in first year medicine, the word on our minds when we think about starting medical school during a pandemic isn’t “unprecedented”--it’s “privileged.”

Seeing how COVID-19 has affected everyone around the world reminds us that we are privileged to be studying medicine, that UGME has worked hard to adapt our learning experiences, and that upper-years have made the effort to welcome us from a safe distance.

For many people, the pandemic has driven home the importance of healthcare and public health. While the exact shape of our medical school experience may have changed, our reasons for pursuing medicine haven’t.

Still, it’s no secret that our first weeks of medical school haven’t exactly turned out like we’d imagined. It’s hard to hear about all of the activities that “usually happen” but that we won’t be able to experience. Missing out on rites of passage like initiation and integration weekend sucks.

Despite being friends since high school and completing undergrad together at the University of Saskatchewan, we still feel a loss of social connection and support. We can only imagine how difficult this transition might be for those new to Saskatoon or USask.

Beyond the College of Medicine, we also miss the greater campus community and general welcome week festivities. It’ll be strange to experience the start of fall term without crowds of people and the free Sasktel mini donuts.

On the flip side, our class has taken the initiative to compensate by being more active with each other online. Many students have planned virtual and distanced events for their classmates to get to know one another. Despite missing out on some traditional first-year experiences, we’re all getting the chance to show some creativity!

There are some unexpected silver linings to remote learning too. For instance, even though video calls aren’t exactly what we imagined when we pictured medical school classes, they are flexible, convenient, and far more comfortable than sitting in a lecture theatre--not to mention the excellent commute (especially in the coming winter).

Some days, it’s pretty nice to watch an 8:30 AM lecture in pyjamas, even with the panic of a professor unexpectedly telling you to turn your camera on. It’s also interesting to witness physicians embrace a larger shift towards more virtual healthcare delivery. Video calls with patients aren’t necessarily a limitation for our training: they’re a real skill that might be applicable even years from now.

Although this has been a year of stress and upheaval for many of us (within our medical school journey and our everyday lives), starting medical school is still an amazing experience. Learning in the midst of a pandemic requires flexibility and sacrifices from both educators and students, but figuring out how to adapt to these challenges is a valuable learning experience in and of itself.

It’s a pivotal time for medicine. We feel incredibly lucky to be here and to be part of shaping the future of our profession together.

Erinna McMurty and Gloria Sun are first-year medical students at the USask College of Medicine.

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