“Emergency Care for America's Heroes”

Complete Story


Before and After

ENS Mason Jackson

Regardless of who you are, what you do for a living, or how many times you have washed your hands, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone one of us. To use a paraphrased quote from Station Eleven, for medical students like me, COVID-19 will be the line drawn through our lives, from which there is only a before and after; a pre- and post-COVID. Before, it was life as usual. My classmates and I were gearing up for USMLE Step 2 and trying to finish our third year as medical students as strongly as possible. The enthusiasm was palpable as we planned our M4 schedules and crossed our fingers about away rotations. We awaited the day when we could celebrate our recently matched friends, trying to hide the desperation of how badly we longed to open our own match day letters.

Life on the other side of this dividing line is one that my cohort of future physicians will not soon forget. We went from having a rough blueprint of success to only a blur filled with uncertainty. We received an email saying we had enough time to safely hand our patients off to our residents, but were otherwise to leave the clinical environment immediately. Our previously scheduled board exams and hopeful away rotations were cancelled instantly. Match day was filled with crushing isolation as friends saw where their futures rested, barred from celebrating with those they worked side by side with. No pomp and circumstance, just private joy. 

The class of 2021 and myself seemed to have been so close to accomplishing so many long-awaited goals, but now the last few integral pieces of our plan have evaporated. What was a relatively certain future for almost 25,000 students has been shaken, and they are devoid of a central guiding plan to ensure they are on track to secure a spot for their rapidly approaching intern year. There is no telling when a whisper of normalcy will return to a medical system that needs doctors now more than ever, especially if predictions of a second infectious wave come true. However, the uncertainty of our collective future as physicians is not the thing that scares me the most. MS3s have been thrown into a helpless, functional state of disuse, and that has been one of the most eye-opening parts of this whole process. 

Third year medical students are caught at a crossroads in our education as we are rapidly developing critical experience but also still require supervision. As a Navy HPSP student and prehospital medicine provider for going on seven years, this clinical purgatory is quite evident. All of us want to help, especially those on track to pursue emergency medicine. We see the sacrifices made by our resident and attending mentors. We see the countless hours spent in the department and how end of life care has changed as an emergency physician. We see the reports of physician suicide and desperately wonder, “what can I do to make a difference? How can I be helpful in the clinical environment to relieve the strain on the people I respect the most?” Yet we are met with the answer of “nothing.” We are discouraged from or passed up for volunteer positions at veteran field hospitals in the heart of the outbreak. Our desire to help see the healthy patients in clinic are squashed as we are viewed as a liability. A trained, useful, motivated liability. That is one of the parts that hurts the worst for me. To be so close to making a difference yet, not being able to. It is my hope that I will never be passed over for the chance to help meet a need, based on training, again. The feeling of knowing people need your help, but that you are unable to meet that need is a terrible feeling. I do hope the clinical learning environment opens up again soon, so that the Class of 2021 can show their preceptors, patients, and the world what kind of physicians we will be and how motivated we are to answer a call for help. I implore students like myself not to take the learning we get every day for granted.

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