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The San Diego county health department reports that more than 365,000 people in our region have been infected with COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, that’s created an up and down challenge for doctors and other medical professionals. But what about those students who are just entering a medical school like UC San Diego, as the Corona virus, ravaged communities and crippled hospitals, KPBS education reporter mg Perez has their story.
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This is the sound of doctors, practicing medicine, at least a dozen of them working with support staff had experienced colleagues. Some of these doctors are second year students from the UC San Diego medical school. The classroom on this particular Wednesday evening is the free clinic housed in rooms and an auditorium at Pacific beach United Methodist church. Justine Panion is the designated clinic general manager. She’s a second year medical student who survived her first year program gripped in the chaos of COVID 19
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Inspiring seeing everybody really unite in order to address this pandemic, it really showed me that you didn’t have to be directly on the front lines in order to fight the pandemic.
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I didn’t let it stop them from being incredible. Now,
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Dr. Natalie Rodriguez is the UCS D associate clinical professor and mentor to the students. She was a young medical student herself when she started volunteering at the free clinic 20 years ago, 13 years ago, she became the attending physician who now beams with pride. When talking about her students,
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They bring their enthusiasm, their compassion, their passion, their innovation, especially this past year with COVID. The only time Justin was different in the hospital was for his birth.
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Okay. Dr. Rodriguez and her students are back to in-person classes on the UCLA campus this fall, after a year of distance learning the critical first year of medical school.
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Sometimes it can help to dim the light in the room that might make the BB more likely to open.
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Morgan is happy to finally be in-person and in community with her other classmates who also trudge through a year of zoom classes, Morgan preferred to give only her first name as she shared personal memories and her experience like the first day of medical school at home,
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Our education was some people would say disrupted and not. We value all of the clinical work that we have just so much. It’s like working at the free clinic, getting to see a patient, um, getting to do a physical. It does just make you appreciate the opportunities that you have. Um, when you understand that they could be taken away and not, they could have
Speaker 2: (02:52)
That. Despite the challenge second year student Irvy, Guppta never gave up hope after spending first critical year of medical school in distance learning. She also dealt with the devastation caused by COVID-19 in her family’s home country of India. If anything, she says, the experience will make her a better doctor
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Or what the media and what the platform, our first priority is always just making the patients feel comfortable and making sure that we’re providing excellent care. And so I think this past year has shown us that no matter what, the situation that we’re put in, we can do that.
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The COVID shutdown did not stop the Wednesday weekly free clinic in Pacific beach. And these then first year students also encountered a sudden lesson in social justice.
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We had just come off of the black lives matter protests, and it really just exploded this entire introspection and to racial injustice and just help.
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In fact, the racial divide triggered in 2020 inspired the creation of a new enhanced health equity curriculum at the UCLA medical school, engaging students in how to treat people of different beliefs and backgrounds. Dr. Rodriguez could not be more proud of their accomplishments,
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Gives me so much hope for the future of medicine, knowing that they’re going to go out there and make such a difference in the world and in health care,
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That’s some good medicine we can all use.
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Joining me is KPBS education reporter M J Perez, M G. Welcome. Good morning. Now you’re usually reporting on K through 12 education in San Diego. What got you interested in medical school students?
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One of the many hats that I wear in my life is I’m an actor and I actually had, uh, been working with the medical school as a standardized patient and what that job entails is playing a sick patient for medical students. And so that began my relationship several years ago. And so I thought what’s going on with them in the time of COVID. And, uh, it was quite an interesting story. Um, as I talked to several, uh, students at the school,
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Did the med school students, you spoke with tell you they feel at a disadvantage now because their first year of training was online.
Speaker 2: (05:14)
It certainly was that because imagine if you will getting the call or the email in December, 2019, congratulations, you’re in med school and then two months later everything’s shut down. Uh, so there was a question, what is medical school going to look like? But, uh, having moved through that, uh, these are people who fought to get into medical schools. So they are definitely strong in, um, in their conviction to become doctors. So while it was a setback, uh, they dealt with it and, uh, clearly, uh, are, are moving ahead, uh, in their pursuit of medicine,
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How did you CSD actually handle remote learning for medical students? I mean, medicine is so dependent on lab classes and hands-on learning
Speaker 2: (06:02)
Like everybody else. It was all about the zoom. And so that’s where they started. And in the early months of medical school, I’m told, um, there’s a lot of lectures and a lot of book learning, so to speak. So that part of it was not, um, was easy to fix with, uh, with a zoom call, but they did actually meet very, very, uh, infrequently, uh, for anatomy, anatomy classes, but that was all, you know, socially distanced and with masks. But for the most part, I’d say over 95% of what they did in that first year was, um, online and through zoom
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Are all UC San Diego medical school classes in person this year,
Speaker 2: (06:42)
They are back in person and we got to follow some of them in class. And, um, and they’re adapting. Uh, several of the students I spoke with said it was odd to actually be in the same room with people that they had been working with for almost a year classmates and professors. Uh, and like most of us were, you know, getting back into what is it like to be social with people in-person
Speaker 1: (07:07)
At school applications rose during COVID and some experts kind of liken the effect to people signing up for military service after nine 11. Did the pandemic increase the dedication of these students?
Speaker 2: (07:21)
I think it definitely gave them more purpose. Um, I asked that question, why med school? And, um, they said, as things started to unravel, they began to realize how significant their commitment was. Uh, one, one student that I talked to, um, her parents actually both got COVID. Um, and so she had, she did not. And so she had to quarantine from them, but this was while she was, you know, studying, uh, her, her medical, um, curriculum. So, uh, it definitely affected students directly. And, uh, at the same time, I think gave them even more conviction, uh, to get through this and to get out there and to help people.
Speaker 1: (08:04)
I remember some medical school students who were about to graduate and begin their residencies last year, they were actually put on the front lines because hospitals were so swamped with COVID patients that must have given all medical school students, a sharp reminder of the risks they could face.
Speaker 2: (08:22)
Yes, absolutely. And as I said, you know, the medical students, uh, were a little disappointed, but in the end, basically, most of them said, Hey, we’re happy to be here. And we know there’s a risk in practicing medicine. Uh, and we believe that maybe this could be the greatest lesson of medical school, uh, of all, uh, given that it is a pandemic that none of us has experienced in our lifetime.
Speaker 1: (08:51)
Tell us more about what the UC San Diego medical school students actually do at the free clinic in Pacific beach. The
Speaker 2: (08:58)
Clinic at Pacific beach has been operating for well over 20 years and they volunteer there as medical students. And there are medical students first, second, third, and fourth year students. And it’s, it’s basic medical care for people who need it the most who don’t have money, uh, to, to, uh, get, uh, health care that they, that they need. They have a dentistry students who come and there are students who are studying, uh, mental health and, uh, optometry. So it really is a community effort, um, to help those who don’t have the finances, um, to get proper healthcare.
Speaker 1: (09:36)
Now there’s social justice demonstrations of last year will apparently have a lasting impact on UC San Diego med school. So is the health equity curriculum, a brand new part of medical training at the school?
Speaker 2: (09:49)
When I was working with students as a standardized patient, uh, there was a little bit of that, uh, discussion about, uh, different backgrounds and religious beliefs and so forth. But given what happened in 2020, uh, the school committed to a curriculum that is new and that is more engaging and goes to a deeper level of just, uh, of not just, um, you know, basic concepts, but really what does it mean to have someone you are treating, who doesn’t believe in science or questions like that, uh, that they will now have a deep conversation and more importantly learning and curriculum.
Speaker 1: (10:30)
I’ve been speaking with KPBS education reporter mg Perez mg. Thank you. Thank you.
Speaker 8: (10:37)
The San Diego County Health Department reports more than 365,000 people in our region have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. That’s created an up-and-down challenge for doctors and other medical professionals. It was especially difficult for first year students who had been accepted into the UC-San Diego School of Medicine in December 2019. They started the rigorous program in the fall 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and before vaccines were available. All classes moved online using the ZOOM platform.
Dr. Natalie Rodriguez is an associate clinical professor at the UCSD School of Medicine. She credits her students, who are now in their second year, with resilience for pushing through a difficult start to their careers. Rodriguez said, “They bring their enthusiasm, their compassion, their passion, their innovation, especially this last year with COVID.”
Her classes finally returned to in-person on campus in September. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, students were practicing pediatric procedures during a mock office visit. Dr. Rodriguez played the role of a mother with an 18-month old child. The “child” was a mannequin, which allowed students hands-on experience they had missed during the pandemic shutdown.
Urvi Gupta, 24, was one of those students. She came to study in San Diego from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area. She remembers vividly the day she was accepted to the UC San Diego program. “I was so excited when I got the email on my phone, I dropped it and started screaming,” Gupta reflected. She says she never gave up hope that she would make it to medical school even when the shutdown happened.
While spending the first critical year of medical school in distance learning, Gupta also dealt with the devastation caused by COVID-19 in her family’s home country of India. If anything, she said the experience will make her a better doctor. She told KPBS News, “no matter what the medium and the platform our first priority is just making the patients feel comfortable and making sure we are providing excellent care. This past year has shown us no matter what the situation we are put in, we can do that.”
The medical students are also encouraged to volunteer at one of the university’s four free clinics located in central San Diego neighborhoods. Besides her teaching duties, Dr. Rodriguez is also the attending physician at the free clinic in Pacific Beach. It’s housed every Wednesday night at the Pacific Beach United Methodist Church. Services offered to uninsured, indigent patients include basic healthcare and often specialty care in mental health, dentistry, and optometry. Medical students support veteran doctors at the clinic.
The COVID shutdown last year cut the staff at the clinic to just a handful of doctors who didn’t see patients in person, but instead recruited medical students and coordinated drive-by drop off delivery of medication, online consultations, and virtual education sessions for patients when vaccines became available.
2020 was also a year of the outcry for social justice. The freshmen student doctors learned lessons from that, too. Justine Panian is a second year student who is designated general manager of the Pacific Beach clinic. She said, “We had just come off the Black Lives Matter protests. It really just exploded this entire introspection into racial injustice and health equity.”
In fact, the racial divide triggered last year inspired the creation of a new enhanced health equity curriculum at the UCSD Medical School. The curriculum is designed to engage students in how to treat people of different beliefs and backgrounds. Dr. Rodriguez said, “It just gives me such hope for the future of medicine knowing that they are going to go out there and make such a difference in the world and healthcare.”
COVID-19: UCSD medical students thrive after first year online – KPBS
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