Early graduation, matching, and residencies
On April 3, the ACGME releasedregarding graduating students early and appointing them early to the clinical learning environment. “They pointed out that institutions that were in emergency pandemic status lacked the ability to offer the comprehensive orientation and training in PPE and direct supervision required for new residents at the start of their residency,” Dr. Murano said. “Their opinion maintained that graduating medical students matriculate in their previously matched program, the National Resident Match Program start date, or other date that would be nationally determined to be the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year.”
As May 2020 rolled around, the overriding feeling was uncertainty regarding when, if, and how medical schools were going to open in the early summer and fall. “There was also uncertainty about how graduating medical students were going to function in their new role as residents,” she said. “Same for the graduating residents. There were some who had signed contracts for jobs months before, and had them rescinded, and physicians were being furloughed due to financial hardships that institutions faced. There was also postponement of board certification exams, so people were uncertain about when they would become board certified.”
July 2020 ushered in what Dr. Murano characterized as “a whole new level of stress.” For medical students in particular, “we were entering the application season for residency positions,” she said. “Due to travel restrictions placed by various states and institutions, away rotations were limited or nonexistent. Application release dates through the Electronic Residency Application Service were moved to later in the year. The United States Medical Licensing Examination clinical skills exam was suspended, and there were modifications made for Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates requirements. Letters of recommendation were also going to be limited, so there had to be some degree of leniency within specialties to take a more holistic approach to review of applications for residencies.”
On the graduate medical education front, the ACGME sunsetted the initial stages and created two categories: nonemergency, which was formerly stages 1 and 2, and emergency, which was formerly stage 3. “All emergency stages are applied for and granted at 1-month intervals,” Dr. Murano said. Board certification exams were modified to accommodate either later exams or online formats, and specialties with oral examinations faced the task of potentially creating virtual oral exams.
Despite the challenges, Dr. Chandra has seen medical training programs respond with new ideas. “The flexibility and agile adaptability of the entire educational enterprise has been remarkable. The inherent uncertainty in a very dynamic and changing learning environment can be challenging. Recognizing this, many programs are creating additional ways to support the mental, emotional, physical, and financial health of students, residents, and fellows and all health care workers. The importance of this innovative response cannot be overstated.”
New learning formats
The pandemic forced Dr. Murano and other medical educators to consider unorthodox learning formats, and virtual learning took center stage. “Residency programs had shared national livestream conferences and grand rounds, and there were virtual curricula made for medical students as well as virtual simulation,” she said. “Telemedicine and telehealth really became important parts of education as well, as this may have been the only face-to-face contact that students and residents had with patients who had non–COVID-related complaints.”