As a first-year medical student, most of my time involves sitting with my face down in a textbook, or a simulation of one through an iPad. To be fair, sometimes we’re let out of our hamster wheels to experience a few pockets of formal clinical exposure (called preceptorships) within the preclinical years before officially transitioning to rotations in the third year.
Given this context, somehow the initial news reports of the coronavirus outbreak did not pierce my “medical student bubble.” I had heard a few whisperings of things getting worse as the tail end of February approached, but at this point I was still too occupied memorizing 9853 heart disease medications to properly educate myself on the gravity of the impending global threat. It wasn’t until a preceptorship day in mid-March–fittingly in a pulmonology clinic–that my bubble finally popped. Normally getting to take a patient’s history and physical exam myself, I now was restricted from even shaking a patient’s hand. It became impossible to tell if a patient was coughing from asthma or a pandemic. Soon after, so much changed in so little time.
My classmates and I got emails during spring break not to come back. Classes were immediately cancelled and switched to online recordings. Research appointments, shadowing, lunch meetings, exams: all suspended. No more traditional meet-and-greet with the incoming class of students (a few of whom were from Trinity!). And definitely no more group study sessions at Starbucks.
Being a medical student in quarantine is a confusing experience. For the first time in a long time, my schedule is what I decide it to be. As I write this entry, I’m getting ready for a virtual case study, where I will struggle together with some classmates in diagnosing a fictitious patient over webcam. I also get to really breathe, spend time with family, and take care of myself, something that’s easy to forget when your entire lifestyle is learning how to take care of other humans.
But that’s also the conflict. It’s very internally conflicting to be spending hours learning clinical science and yet feel so useless watching the situation unfold through a glass window as someone not yet equipped to enter the healthcare workforce. However, it’s also incredibly humbling to watch the sacrifices of physicians and so many unsung heroes of the healthcare team, including nurses, physician assistants, and community health workers. It reminds me that I’ve picked a hard path, but more importantly reassures me how proud I am to be walking it.