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How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting Medical School Admissions

A few months ago, the world we’re living in now would have seemed like an absurd impossibility. But here we are.

I think the disclaimer we have to put on any discussion about how the pandemic may affect anything in the future–be it near or far–is that it’s impossible to know for sure what’s going to happen. We are learning more about the virus and the disease it causes every day, as well as how people are reacting to it. Personally, I’ve probably been taking a cynical approach, but here in the medical world, I suppose even the most optimistic projections seem pretty cynical.

So, what does this mean for you if thinking about applying to medical school or in the process of applying to medical school? Here is what I can tell you…today.

A lot of uncertainty. It’s frustrating, but honestly the best prediction we can make about how college education in general is going to be affected is that we really don’t know. Every state is operating on its own lockdown and reopening schedule, and many programs are looking to their states to guide their own reopening processes. That said, there are a lot of projections that are suggesting that, even if cases of Covid level off over the summer months, that there will be a resurgence in the fall and winter–how institutions will respond to this, even proactively, is yet to be seen.

What you should probably do if you are applying to medical school or a post-bacc program this cycle or next is to continue planning on doing so. As I’ve said many times before, the hardest and most important part of medical school is getting in. There’s no reason to believe that programs will simply halt admissions, though what happens after admission (as in, how classes are conducted, etc) is still very much up in the air.

AAMC does have a Coronavirus resource page that is regularly updated with the most current information–this is a good place to start with any issues or questions you may have.

Disrupted testing. This is a big issue for both current and prospective medical students. With testing centers closed, it’s become difficult or impossible for people to take the MCAT in time for this application cycle. For the classes under mine, it’s disrupted USMLE testing schedules (a big area of concern for those trying to apply to residency this summer). It seems that, with respect to admissions and the MCAT, schools aren’t really sure what to do about applicants who may end up taking it late or not at all. So far, AAMC has expanded the MCAT testing calendar to better accommodate applicants with new dates in June and September.

If you’re a current or soon-to-be applicant who finds themselves without an MCAT score or testing date, don’t panic. Continue with the application and get everything done. Contact the schools you are applying to directly and explain your situation, then follow their guidance. There may be many programs willing to waive MCAT requirements depending on when testing centers re-open.

A more flexible admissions approach. Right now, the AMCAS is still scheduled to open for the 2021 admissions cycle on May 4, though the release of applicant data to medical schools will be delayed by 2 weeks (from late June to early July) to give applicants more time to complete their applications. Things like the MCAT, letters of recommendation, and transcripts may be harder to get at this point. There is always the possibility that some institutions will have virtual tours and interviews rather than meet with you in person.

AAMC and AMCAS have been releasing regular updates concerning any changes being made to the application cycle and requirements, so I definitely suggest checking in often to see what it may mean for you.

Possible changes to post-bacc admissions. If you’re planning on applying to a post-bacc program, contact the admissions office of any programs you’re targeting to see how they are adjusting application timelines and requirements. As post-baccs aren’t governed by a central administrative body like most medical schools, some programs may have made more significant changes to their admissions criteria than others.

Changes to the structure of pre-clinical and clinical work. This is more of concern if you’re already admitted to school, whether as a current or soon-to-be student. Preclinical work is more easily adaptable to online format, though there are many issues with this approach and worries that educational quality will suffer. As far as clinical work goes, schools are rapidly creating contingency plans and working to do the best they can to meet core requirements while keeping their students safe. At GW, clinical clerkships and electives were put on hold last month, and timelines and graduation requirements for the classes behind me were completely re-thought. For example, many 8-week clerkships were shortened to 6 weeks and were made pass/fail. Some formerly required clerkships, like Anesthesia, were made optional.

Honestly there isn’t much you can do if you’re already in school–your institution will be your guide. Some students, however, have complained about having to pay tuition and fees during periods of online learning or outright school closure, so hopefully there will be more word on the best way to respond to that kind of situation–I personally don’t feel qualified to give any advice other than to contact your finance office with any questions or concerns.

Feel free to reach out to us here at Vet2MD with any questions or concerns. This is a challenging and confusing time for us all. Stay safe, stay healthy, and be well.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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