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Med Students Worry about Skills Post-Pandemic



LUCY GRINDON, HOST: There is a shortage of healthcare workers in the United States. A fifth have quit their jobs since the start of the pandemic. In the fall, Governor Hochul declared a disaster emergency due to healthcare staffing shortages. And that means all eyes on new medical school grads. However, as David Newtown finds, some med students say the pandemic is affecting their ability to receive the best possible training.


DAVID NEWTOWN, BYLINE: Ruhee Shah is a 24-year-old med student in New York City. Shah says her classes were online last year. But she says, in a normal year, students like her would get to practice hands-on skills in person one day a week.


RUHEE SHAH: And that was something that my class missed out on. Almost entirely.


NEWTOWN: Without that practice, Shah says she doesn’t feel confident in her physical exam skills. We’re not sharing the name of her school because Shah is hoping to work there as a doctor after she graduates and she’s worried about jeopardizing her chances. This is Shah’s third year, and students are expected to be in the hospital full-time. They rotate every few weeks between specialties like anesthesia, family medicine, and transplant surgery. Shah says the transition from being on Zoom has been stark.


SHAH: I felt really unconfident in my physical exam skills. I felt like, can I find the heart every time? [Laughs.] It just felt like, there, it feels like there are a lot of skills where repetition is really key. And going in, I was freaking out, like, the week before we started because I was like, I feel like I just don't know how to do things. It was a really, a really hard pivot.


NEWTOWN: Shah knows medical school is hard. But pandemic medical school is harder. According to a study from Yale rates of anxiety in med students during 2020 increased by more than 60% compared to a typical year. Shah says she’s worried that the specific challenges pandemic-era students face are being overlooked.


SHAH: When I share this experience with, like, older students or residents, a lot of people will say, like, “Of course it's overwhelming.”


NEWTOWN: When asked about the possibility that medical students missed out on critical hands-on training during the pandemic, two top New York City schools, NYU and Columbia didn’t respond to emailed queries. But a representative from Weill-Cornell Medicine said their med students worked through the pandemic. And despite the risk of COVID, the school made sure its students got the hands-on training they need.


NEWTOWN: But there’s another problem for med students which the pandemic may have highlighted. Dr. Shara Sand is a psychologist on the Upper West Side. She sees patients who work in healthcare.


SHARA SAND: There's no allowance for self care. We preach to our patients to take care of themselves. And we as psychologists, and physicians, don't seem to do it very well, for ourselves.


NEWTOWN: Shah says she has some things which bring her comfort. Walking in the park, cooking, chatting with her roommates. But she knows she has a lot of work ahead of her.


SHAH: I suspect that some of these things will be a lot harder in residency.


NEWTOWN: Shah has a year and a half until then. In the meantime, she’s doing what med students do and working many hours. David Newtown, Columbia Radio News.


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