NYMC Faculty Publications

Surgery Clerkship Directors' Perceptions of the COVID-19 Pandemic's Impact on Medical Student Education

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Journal of the American College of Surgeons

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BACKGROUND: This study assessed the national impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the education of medical students assigned to surgery clerkship rotations, as reported by surgery clerkship directors (CDs). STUDY DESIGN: In the spring of 2020 and 2021, the authors surveyed 164 CDs from 144 Liaison Committee on Medical Education-accredited US medical schools about their views of the pandemic's impact on the surgery clerkship curriculum, students' experiences, outcomes, and institutional responses. RESULTS: Overall survey response rates, calculated as number of respondents/number of surveyed, were 44.5% (73 of 164) and 50.6% (83 of 164) for the spring 2020 and 2021 surveys, respectively. Nearly all CDs (more than 95%) pivoted to virtual platforms and solutions. Most returned to some form of in-person learning by winter 2020, and prepandemic status by spring 2021 (46%, 38 of 83). Students' progression to the next year was delayed by 12% (9 of 73), and preparation was negatively impacted by 45% (37 of 83). Despite these data, CDs perceived students' interest in surgical careers was not significantly affected (89% vs 77.0%, p = 0.09). During the 1-year study, the proportion of CDs reporting a severe negative impact on the curriculum dropped significantly (p < 0.0001) for most parameters assessed except summative evaluations (40.3% vs 45.7%, p = 0.53). CDs (n = 83) also noted the pandemic's positive impact with respect to virtual patient encounters (21.7%), didactics (16.9%), student test performance (16.9%), continuous personal learning (14.5%), engagement in the clerkship (9.6%), and student interest in surgery as a career (7.2%). CONCLUSIONS: During the pandemic, the severe negative impact on student educational programs lessened, and novel virtual curricular solutions emerged. Student interest in surgery as a career was sustained. Measures of student competency and effectiveness of new curriculum, including telehealth, remain areas for future investigation.