By: Ramneek Hoonjan
Ramneek Hoonjan is a medical student in the Trinity School of Medicine, and served as the previous chair of the AMSA WSL Committee
This post is a series of mental health pieces from the AMSA WSL Committee.
It is no surprise that medical students have high rates of burnout, depression and suicidal ideation. Undertreatment of such mental conditions increases the risk of suicide. Physicians face an alarmingly high rate of suicides per year that is double the general population. The issue of high physician suicide rates and increasing prevalence of mental health disorders in the medical community have been called a public health crisis by experts such as Dr. Pamela Wible.
We know mental health topics of burnout, anxiety, depression and suicide have been hot topics in the medical community. Now with the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are faced with even more obstacles and struggles.
In March 2020, graduating medical students just found out where they would be going for residency. Third year medical students were looking forward to completing their USMLE Step 2 CK and CS examinations and moving onto electives. Second year medical students were taking their Step 1 exams and looking forward to transitioning into clinical rotations. First years were looking forward to celebrating the end of year one.
When the COVID pandemic hit, it disrupted the entire world. For medical students this meant rapid changes to the medical school curriculum, decreased student activities, removal of students from clinical rotations. Everything hit the pause button, but time kept moving on. Graduating medical students still were expected to begin residency in July. Upcoming fourth years needed to finish taking board exams and begin preparation for residency applications in the fall. Second and third years still needed to get clinic hours and experience while taking shelf exams.
Students had to adapt quickly to utilizing virtual platforms for classroom learning and examinations. Students had to limit clinical exposure to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 and conserve PPE for essential hospital staff. Students were faced with cancellations and delays of USMLE examinations. International students were faced with new ECFMG certification changes. All of these changes were on top of other challenges the pandemic brought upon such as isolation, no travelling, and wearing masks.
It is natural to experience more anxiety and stress during these times. It is now more important than ever to address issues of mental health of medical students. Our society needs competent physicians ready to enter the workforce while we fight this pandemic. Here are some strategies you and your peers can use to maintain well-being during these challenging times: