AMSA President: COVID-19 Shouldn't Sideline Med Students

Isaiah A. Cochran, MD

Disclosures

April 08, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

COVID-19 has shaken up everyone in medicine, from experienced doctors to those still in training. I know that many medical students feel that they have been thrown to the sidelines, forced to watch as our educators and more experienced peers enter a life-or-death fight. Students do not have to stay on that sideline.

I chose to become the president of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) in order to help empower future physicians in the same way that this organization empowered me as a student. I was hopeful that this role would allow me to reach communities all over the country. That is why, at this time of crisis, I would like to share some guidance on the pandemic with you and offer you my personal phone number: (330) 814-2694. I hope you know that I am dedicated to helping all of you in any way that I can.

In my role at AMSA, I have heard from medical students across the country who want to know what this pandemic means for their future. To be quite honest, no one knows. Everyone is unsure about where things are going, and the situation changes by the hour. The more pressing question, then, is how med students can be effective right now, during this unprecedented crisis.

To help find specific ways that students can help, AMSA began holding roundtable sessions about the pandemic. During the first session, many participants wanted to know how students could help with the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). They also were curious about opportunities for advocacy and how they should proceed with their medical education.

In a video Q&A conducted by AMSA, Pamela Wible, MD, spoke to many of these concerns. Although such advice may seem obvious, she began by reiterating that medical students can be helpful by first following recommended guidelines regarding physical and social distancing. She also pointed out that students who are not graduating early (in order to help directly) can use this time to continue their learning and studying. Her advice was to continue to go through question banks and read ahead on material that you have not yet learned. This isn't to say that you should spend your whole day studying , but you can become more prepared while you are afforded this time.

Dr Wible also reminded medical students that they can be helpful as active members of their communities. Now is the time to call your local hospitals and check in with them to see how you can assist. As medical students and residents, we learn by first helping those more experienced than we are. That is what we can still do here. Those medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic need things like childcare, meals, and anything else that can help alleviate the stress that comes from taking care of patients. I know we all want to help those who are sick. Helping those who are helping the sick is helping the sick.

Dr Wible also spoke about the mental health and well-being of trainees. She explained that this is a time for us as future medical professionals to be informed, vocal advocates. The PPE crisis is an area where we can help. Check out #GetUsPPE and Masks for America. Get involved, donate if you can, and speak up and speak out. We need to help provide more PPE for our frontline healthcare professional peers and mentors who are front and center during this pandemic. I promise you, this is a crucial way you can make a difference as a medical student.

In addition, you can provide comfort to those closest to you. Although not yet doctors, students are the most medically educated members of their families. You can speak to them about the facts and provide a sense of calm. Importantly, we also need to comfort each other. Now is the time for us to come out of our shells as medical students and communicate with one another. Often , the daily grind of our education does not allow that to happen. So many of us are feeling anxiety about our futures, confusion about what we "should " be doing next, and wondering whether we are doing the "right " thing. As the next generation of doctors who will be entering medicine at an unprecedented time, we have to support, listen to, and comfort each other. Our mentors are very busy. We must mentor each other.

One of the reasons I joined AMSA was to provide that kind of community support. Our organization prides itself on being here for students. We have launched an empowerment campaign to help medical students remember that even if they can't be out in the clinic treating patients, they are valuable and important. The Q&A with Dr Wible was just the beginning of a video series in response to COVID-19. This will also be an opportunity to hear from professionals on how we can make a difference right now. In addition, we are hosting roundtable discussions, which provide opportunities for students to share efforts that you or your community members may be making in the response to COVID-19. This will also be a chance to release your frustrations and share your feelings.

I joined AMSA in part because of its history rooted in advocacy. As a gay black male entering the field of medicine, this organization gave me the hope that I could reach my goals and make a difference for the better. I am here, and the organization is here, to help you use your voice to ensure that our government hears how best to help the medical community, to speak up for those too busy to speak up themselves, and to connect with other students who are also stressed in enduring this crisis. In fact, we have a dedicated Advocacy Day during our upcoming very first virtual annual convention, which will take place April 16-18. On that day, we can unite as one to help combat the economic, health, and social disparities that have been highlighted by COVID-19.

Although some may feel uneasy and confused, medical students are not going to be—and should not be—pushed to the sidelines right now. In fact, this is a time for young and future physicians to come together and remember how much power and influence they have. We are in the midst of a crisis, but by continuing our educations as best we can, by being advocates, and by supporting each other and those in the medical community, we can play a vital role.

As long as this pandemic continues, our future as young doctors will remain uncertain. But we can be productive now while learning how to best prepare ourselves for any challenges that lie ahead.

Isaiah A. Cochran, MD, is national president and chair of the board of trustees of AMSA. In addition to serving as an AMSA board member since 2016, he has held leadership positions with the Refugee Student Alliance and the Global Health Initiative.

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