Attempting to get into medical school during the COVID-19 pandemic

Caroline Maltese, The Carroll News

Throughout my time at John Carroll, I have aspired to work at the Cleveland Clinic. It has been a dream of mine since submitting my deposit on Celebration day in 2017. This year was going to be my year. 

I had done everything that I could to make myself an excellent candidate for this program. I had been absolutely psychotic about my grades. I made sure that I was learning all the necessary lab skills to represent John Carroll well, and I had conveniently moved off campus so that I had a place to stay over the summer. I applied and was fortunately accepted to the program through John Carroll, interviewed with a primary investigator at the Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute and accepted a placement as a summer undergraduate researcher.

Within a few hours of accepting the position, I received the first of many emails from the John Carroll COVID-19 Task Force. In astonishment, I found myself packing up my things and heading back home to Pittsburgh for a month with the hope that I would be back soon to finish  the rest of the semester and start my internship at the Clinic. But a few days later, I got the news that the Cleveland Clinic decided to cancel all student activities for the summer, justified by the fact that education cannot take precedence over patient care during this pandemic. I was devastated by this announcement, which came during a time of seemingly endless bitter news. I felt angry, frustrated and confused. I lost all sense of certainty I recently gained just two weeks ago. 

Now, I find myself scrambling to find something meaningful to do this summer. There is some comfort in knowing that I am joined by most other pre-med students who planned on working in a clinical setting, but this does not mask the disappointment I am feeling. 

The destruction of our summer plans is not the only challenge pre-med students are facing in these uncertain times. The Medical College Admissions Test is an essential part of the medical school application, and most pre-med students will take the exam in the months of March to May. The preparation process for this exam is extensive and expensive. Most will spend around six months studying, take about 10 practice exams, each seven hours long, and invest hundreds of dollars in tutors, question banks and study books.

After this intense preparation, tests have been cancelled globally until April 4 with this date most likely to be extended. Many students are frantically rescheduling their exams and purchasing new study materials to keep themselves sharp. Other students, including myself, are holding onto the hope that COVID-19 will be controlled enough that we can still sit for our exams at our originally scheduled time. In any case, social distancing and self-quarantine have made preparing much more difficult than any pre-med student had expected.  Lack of certainty, lack of structure, and lack of motivation has left many feeling defeated.

Although it is easy to become wrapped up in the sadness and uncertainty of these times as a pre-med student, I have been challenging myself to see this situation as a necessary sacrifice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our most vulnerable loved ones. As future health professionals and researchers, we will be shaped by this pandemic, and we will be more adaptable and more resilient because of it. As John Carroll students, we are women and men for and with others. In difficult situations like these, it is most appropriate to act on that belief. Onward on.