Pulse on Public Health

HPHR Fellow Priya Vedula

By Priya Vedula

Reflections from a Medical Student Part II: Online Medical School

My fellow classmates and I joke that our diplomas would say that we graduated from online medical school. I imagined my first year full of scrubs, white coats, dissections, late nights at the library, and lots of new friends. Unfortunately, these experiences were not in the cards for many of us entering our first year of medical school in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We learned during our first week that school would take place online indefinitely.

We kicked off with a week of online orientation. Many of us started off with our finest attire, cameras on, and smiles beaming. As the week progressed, cameras started being turned off, partly due to the connection issues involved with having nearly 100 cameras on.

I felt that a big chunk of my time was spent on learning how to learn aside from learning the actual material. Luckily, medical students have a myriad of resources and it takes time to figure out which ones work best for each individual. While histology may have been easier online- owing to the fact that we were able to zoom in on histological slides and use special features to make our own markings about the cells- some topics such as performing a physical exam were not so easy. We learned from Bates’ Visual Guide videos and then practiced on our spouses or parents while our professors watched from the cameras and helped us correct our mistakes along the way. 

Perhaps the most interesting class was anatomy. Thanks to new softwares such as Complete Anatomy, we started off with learning the names and functions of muscles through virtual 3D models. As we became comfortable, we progressed to online dissection images. Our goal was to identify the muscle, nerve, or artery flagged. One benefit during testing time was that we had clear images. The drawback was that we were only able to see a small segment of the body in the image and could not physically move structures around. That being said, my classmates persevered!

Last year challenged us in many ways. As I mentioned before, isolation was a big factor that often presented difficulties. We were glued to our monitors and screens for 6-8 a day with exams every 3-4 weeks. It was difficult to create group learning opportunities for ourselves. Aside from people in our assigned weekly presentation groups, we didn’t have much of an idea of who else constituted our class. There is no doubt that it was difficult to form those necessary connections that one should in professional school.

Conversely, without the need to drive back and forth, I had a lot more time for studying. I was also able to reach my professors easily through our message features and ask questions in real time. Additionally, I was eating healthy, home-cooked meals for lunch and taking my puppy out for regular walks. 

The biggest benefit that I saw with online learning was that students became very skilled at reading facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice through our online clinical sessions with our patient actors. The pandemic unveiled the need for the expansion of telehealth services. Telehealth, however, can have a lot of disadvantages if key concerns are not adequately addressed. It felt like our online training was preparing us for telehealth, more than anything else. In the future, I feel that I will be confident with taking telehealth appointments with my patients. 

Overall, entering my second year in-person has been a blessing. Our schedule is more compact and I have been able to expand my friend circle. I personally feel that my learning has profoundly improved through in-person learning. That being said, I am proud of how much I learned and retained from last year. In an already difficult field which requires focus, dedication, and strong memory, medical school students have accomplished yet another impressive feat of adjusting to an online format. I am most impressed with my incredible peers; each and every one is accomplished in their own right and they manage to bring energy, light, and motivation to each and every session. I truly feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that the residents of my community will be taken care of by such fine, caring, and intelligent individuals. 


I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I have had as a first year medical student; but I certainly look forward to all the new memories I will make in my scrubs and white coat, performing dissections, and making new friends. 

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