When we were still in the early days of COVID-19, QS predicted several aspects of medical education would look significantly different in the post-pandemic era, including the following:

  • With the move to remote learning and a pushback by many students against this shift, prospective medical and dental school students were less likely to defer and more likely to be open to the prospect of online learning than other students, according to a QS white paper. 

  • Virtual and artificial reality were expected to “transform” both medicine and healthcare in the year ahead, especially for training and surgery simulation. Telemedicine was also expected to become more prevalent to the delivery of care.  

  • QS also anticipated data collection and analysis would be more utilized to understand and treat diseases.

  • The pandemic was expected to take a massive toll on the emotional impact of healthcare professionals, many of whom were anxious knowing that doing their job was putting them at risk. This underscored the need for stress and anxiety management; especially vital for medical students for whom the pandemic might have accelerated graduation and entry into the workforce. 

  • The economic impact is also expected to be profound as both the medical and medical education industries absorb the tremendous cost of new technologies, as well as the expense of COVID-related personal protective equipment, testing, and other equipment.  

A paper published at the onset of the pandemic in March in the academic journal MedEdPublish also forecast a transformed medical education system with technology at its center. “The use of emergent technology for education, such as artificial intelligence for adaptive learning and virtual reality, are highly likely to be essential components of the transformative change and the future of medical education,” the paper’s authors asserted.

The American Medical Association (AMA) also recently identified potential changes to medical education. These include the following: 

  • a new emphasis on public health and collaboration between physicians and public health professionals

  • real-time curriculum adaptation

  • the reevaluation of graduation requirements

  • changes in residency selection

  • a more proactive approach to crisis management

Catherine Lucey, MD. vice dean for education at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, says, “[The pandemic] created another really existential disruption to the way many of our learners were approaching their education. [...] Our faculty of color and students of color, and the allies that work with them, were really shaken to the bone by this vivid reminder of the elements of structural racism that exist within our communities. In situations like this, leaders of educational programs need to be facile with crisis communication strategies that support all stakeholders during these crises.”

The following February, research published in The Journal of Surgical Research had nearly a whole year’s more worth of data and experience to assess the impact of the pandemic on medical school admissions. The paper identifies several challenges. However, there was good news. “One of the marvels of the medical field is its ability to overcome challenges (diseases) and push boundaries (cures) beyond what has been done before. This COVID-19 pandemic will be no different,” the authors contend. 

Indeed, insiders assert these challenges will be surmounted. Dr. Kenneth Steier, DO and executive dean at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, told Forbes, “Ultimately, I think one way or another, the pipeline will remain open because we need more physicians to battle against things like this pandemic. Still, there will be changes -- both in the short- and long-term, including the fact that virtual interviews may be here to stay, even when normal travel resumes.  

In the meantime, data from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) suggests prospective medical students remain undeterred by these challenges: Applications to medical school spiked to an all-time high last year

Some country-specific changes have also taken place. In the UK, for example, the government lifted the cap on the number of medical school spots at the country’s medical school. While this will allow more aspiring doctors to attend medical school, it’s also led to some concerns. For example, some worry students who wouldn’t otherwise have been admitted will struggle in medical school while others wonder if medical schools will be able to cope with the excess students, according to The British Medical Journal

Increased demand for medical care has also opened up new opportunities for doctor trainees in the UK. “Clinicians are changing their pattern of working on a daily basis, and trainees may also be able to contribute their viewpoints to improve care. This is a great opportunity for trainees to learn excellent leadership skills from seniors at the trust, directorate and team level,” according to an article in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. 

In Australia, the closure of the Australian Medical Council Limited (AMC) resulted in some changes, including completing accreditation assessments online and communicating with medical schools about flexibility with accreditation processes and deadlines. 

In the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, Arab Health, the largest exhibition and congress for healthcare and trade professionals, launched its first advisory board to look at the sector’s post-COVID challenges and opportunities. Dr. Maliha Hashmi, executive director of health, well-being and biotech at NEOM, said, “Humanizing technology will play a major role in innovation in the new normal where living in a digital world without compromising social and emotional connectedness will become essential.”

What’s the takeaway for medical students and aspiring medical students? While the future may feel precarious, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Plus, while pursuing a medical career is a major decision with or without a pandemic, the reasons that compel you to want to be a doctor may have only grown stronger during this global health emergency.