Medical College of Wisconsin working to keep students active in medical community

Published: May. 1, 2020 at 5:26 PM CDT
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Like most colleges, the Medical College of Wisconsin Central Wisconsin Campus is closed and learning is happening virtually. With such a hands-on field, however, at some point, students need face-to-face experiences with real patients.

"Medical students' status as essential workers is a little bit up in the air," Dr. Lisa Grill Dodson, the dean at the central campus said.

What she means is that they may not be needed now, but to ensure future doctors can fill the gaps in the workforce, their education needs to continue.

"You have a huge workforce need that has to be filled every year because people move on in their training and we can't just stop it cold or the hospitals will not have the workforces they need already," she said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, north central Wisconsin already saw a shortage in doctors and nurses. It is the reason the Medical College of Wisconsin created its central campus in 2016.

"It's hard to be on the sidelines right now and knowing that this is the field we're wanting to enter into," Jacob Fay-Shields, a medical student finishing his second year.

He said after working with underserved populations through a non-profit home repair ministry, he wanted to continue serving those populations through the medical field.

"That's my dream, to give people access to those health care resources and help prevent preventable diseases," he said.

He explained it has been hard to stay at home to learn virtually for several reasons, but especially as he is about to enter his final year in the three-year accelerated program.

"This next year, my M3 year right now is supposed to be filled with just a lot of clinic time to get exposure to a lot of those specialties so I have a good understanding the different workings and how I can be a functioning cog in this great machinery of medicine moving forward," he said.

Dr. Dodson stated first and second-year students can do a lot of learning remotely, but third and fourth-year students have a lot less they can do from home. Luckily for students graduating this month, she said they were one of the few colleges that were able to keep students on clinical rotations through March and fulfill their graduation requirements.

For students, like Fay-Shields going into their final year, he said they are doing as much remote and virtual learning up-front for as long as they can and need. To get back into the clinics and hospitals, Dr. Dodson said there needs to be enough personal protective equipment for both professionals and students, and testing for COVID-19 needs to be more available. So in the meantime, she said they will use other options to supplement some of the requirements, like telehealth.

"There's a lot of people who need to be checked on that can't get to a doctor right now," she said, "and so deploying students in rolls to do check-in visits and things like that can be really helpful to the clinicians so that they can be working with other populations that might need more critical care."

Another possible option to continue student engagement with clinics and hospitals that they are looking into is training students in contact tracing of the virus.

As for people who are moving on into their residency, Dr. Dodson said she has heard of students who have been asked to come to their residencies early or to hold off for a few months depending on the rate of infection in the area. She does not expect a whole class of graduates to have trouble finding a residency.