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The Struggles of Medical Students returning to Clinical Placement

As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical education has undergone dramatic changes. Via the use of virtual networks, the suspension of clinical placements throughout medical schools from March 2020 resulted in the online delivery of medical curricula. The latest review of online medical education highlighted the main benefits of these innovative teaching approaches, including improved accessibility and higher levels of engagement.

That being said, as senior clinical-year students are now either planning or returning to hospital and community placements, the insurance of medical student protection is paramount when ensuring the preparedness of tomorrow’s potential doctors. As medical students return to placement for the final year, we highlight key areas for debate in the COVID-19 pandemic between medical schools and hospital undergraduate administrators.

This return is expected as final-year medical students due for graduation in 2021, due to patient interaction limitations during online learning, as well as limited opportunities to improve our communication skills and challenges in remote non-clinical practice.

While they expect that the skills they acquired through online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic will ensure a fluent return to placement, they are concerned about the widespread lack of trust in communication and clinical skills upon our return to placement, especially when compared to previous cohorts.

While they expect that the skills they acquired through online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic will ensure a seamless return to placement, they are concerned about the lack of trust in communication and practical expertise upon their return to placement, especially in comparison to prior batches.

Before returning to placement, medical schools have needed students to undergo a risk assessment, and while we have been told that adequate personal protective equipment ( PPE) would be provided, this does not eliminate the fear of contracting the virus. There is a unique concern among individuals returning to placement who live with members of the family at risk, so guarantees of how to handle the risk of transmission and infection are important to help mitigate students’ fears.

The effect of COVID-19 has been a global challenge, but for our own and other peoples’ wellbeing, medical students have found themselves at an impasse between the need to return to a clinical setting and the protection of online learning. We hope that students will not only help negate some of these concerns with the continued changes in safety measures, along with the encouragement of both medical schools and hospital staff, but they will also feel well supported by the return to the placement and continue to succeed as doctors tomorrow.

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