What the Coronavirus Pandemic Means for Premed Students

There are many unanswered questions that medical school hopefuls may have regarding the COVID-19 novel coronavirus: Will I become infected? When will it be under control? What do I do if my school is closed? Will my medical school application be affected?

Although there are still many unknowns, the pandemic will affect the state of medical school admissions. Fortunately, many of the components of the medical school application are virtual. However, social distancing and school closures will still affect the current and next application cycles.

Although the exact effects remain to be seen, here are some ways students and medical school admissions offices are feeling the effects of COVID-19 and the possible impact of the ongoing and changing public health crisis.

School Closures

Major universities, including those that have the largest population of premed students, have been closed or transitioned to online learning only. As many premeds have to take in-person laboratory classes, this can have a significant impact on the completion of medical school prerequisite courses and required learning.

[Read: What to Do If Your College Closes Due to the Coronavirus.]

Most medical schools prefer that premed students take in-person courses to fulfill their prerequisites, but in the midst of COVID-19, students may not have this option.

How this will exactly affect medical school admissions remains to be seen, but the presumption is that medical schools may have to be more flexible with online courses, especially during the pandemic.

In addition, given the disruption in learning, students’ grades may be affected. Hopefully, medical school admission committees will evaluate this in the context of the current crisis and its impact.

MCAT Test Dates

Spring is one of the most common times for students to take the Medical College Admissions Test, also known as the MCAT, in preparation to submit med school applications in May. However, the Association of American Medical Colleges has already taken action to reschedule certain exam dates.

Currently, there is no way of knowing how many test dates will be affected. But this potentially means that if students can’t take their MCAT, then they may not apply to medical school this year.

Another potential impact is that students may delay the submission of their primary application — through the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS — if they have to take a later MCAT date. As most medical schools use rolling admissions to evaluate applicants, this could put many students at a disadvantage if they have to push their MCAT to a later date and thus submit their med school application later.

How this will impact admissions is also yet to be known, but hopefully these are factors that admission committees will take into account during the upcoming application cycle.

Letters of Recommendation

Asking for letters of recommendation is an important part of the medical school application, and many students begin asking their professors in March and April. With schools closed, this can be more difficult as students do not have the ability to approach their professors in person and discuss the letters.

[READ: How to Make Sure You Fulfill Medical School Requirements for Admission.]

Instead, students will have to communicate via phone and email to request the letters. Students should provide substantial information to professors, usually a resume and personal statement, so that recommenders can write strong letters.

Medical School Interviews

For those already actively applying to medical school for matriculation this fall, medical school interviews usually continue through April and sometimes May. However, with the recommendations for social distancing and school closures in light of COVID-19, in-person interviews will likely be canceled or conducted over the phone.

In addition, if the interview schedules are disrupted, schools may pull more students from the waitlist without offering additional interviews.

What Applicants Should Do During This Time

Med school applicants should follow recommendations put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local public health departments, which include behaviors to prioritize their health and the health of those around them.

In terms of the upcoming application cycle, med school hopefuls should stay tuned for updates from the AAMC regarding the AMCAS application and MCAT exam dates. There will likely be more changes in coming days and weeks, so it is important to keep up with notifications of test date changes or cancellations.

It’s also important to contact professors now for letters of recommendation. Students who may be concerned that a professor may not know who they are without seeing them face to face should provide plenty of identifying information and maybe even remind them of a particular conversation to help them put a face to a name.

Applicants should also continue to work through their courses and devote the same effort to online classes as they would coursework in a traditional classroom. Although the transition to online learning can require an adjustment period, premeds should focus on maintaining good grades in order to be competitive for medical school admissions.

If you’re actively applying, stay in touch with the schools you’re waiting to hear from. Prepare for a possible phone interview, which could be requested by medical schools. If you already have an acceptance to a school, check frequently for any changes to the scheduling of orientation or matriculation.

[READ: What to Do Between Medical School Acceptance and Starting Classes.]

There may be little else to do but wait to see how developments relative to the coronavirus unfold.

On an encouraging note, this is an interesting time to be studying to become a physician. One can see how valuable physicians and health care workers are to not only take care of those who are ill, but also to be stewards of accurate and data-driven information. Medicine is at the forefront of almost every conversation and news story, and it is an exciting time to break into the medical field.

While you wait for news about your path forward, keep up to date with information, stay safe, stay healthy and keep focused on your dream of becoming a physician.

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