‘It’s such a passionate field’: How the pandemic is impacting medical school

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — It’s been a tough nearly two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and no career field has been impacted as hard as the health care industry has.

“I’m sorry that it’s drug on for so long, I know how difficult it is,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson. “I hear the stories and my heart goes out to those who have labored for so long, and gratitude.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges says that 55% of frontline health care workers reported burn out during the pandemic. The highest rates were among younger staff in the age range from 18 to 29.

So how is the pandemic impacting the next generation of health care workers in Arkansas?

“It definitely changed the way medical school operated,” said Austin Morgan, who is a medical student at UAMS originally from Bentonville.

COVID-19 had a big impact on higher education as classes moved online and hands on opportunities were cancelled. Morgan said it’s had an impact on his experience in the College of Medicine.

“Whenever the pandemic hit, I was in my second year of medical school, and the way medical school works at UAMS is your first and second years are very class based, you’re learning a lot,” he said

“We actually like most medical schools in the country, pulled all our students on classrooms and the classroom teaching was relatively easy to adjust because we can use technology like Zoom or other forms of connected technology,” said Dr. James Graham, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College of Medicine at UAMS.

However, getting the students the crucial hands-on work in the hospitals was a different story.

“It shut down that other side for us the ability to go into the hospital to shadow physicians and see patients,” said Morgan.

So how is this pandemic impacting students? Is it scaring them away from the field, or is it motivation?

“Definitely the latter,” said Morgan. “I think people really want to get in there now and want to help out. And I think UAMS has done a great job with with us a student’s giving us opportunities to help out wherever you can.”

Dr. Graham said enrollment this past fall semester was also up.

“We did see a significant increase in the number of students who applied to go to medical school, this past cycle,” he said.

UAMS students stepped up and have gotten experience in other ways, from collecting PPE to volunteering to answer the phones in the hospital.

“It’s very overwhelming in certain parts of the hospital, and being able to just help out where we can I think is has been great,” said Morgan.

“Their enthusiasm, their excitement, their dedication is really, really heartwarming,” said Dr. Graham.

The motivation to jump into the healthcare workforce isn’t stopping at the college level.

“What really motivated me was probably seeing how I can help people and that makes a difference in people’s lives,” said Ambry Smith, a senior at Gentry High School. “I’ve heard a lot of heroic stories from nurse, so that really took an impact on me.

Smith wants to go to the University of Arkansas in the hopes of becoming a traveling nurse. She said the pandemic shaped her decision.

“A lot of people are hesitant to go out there and I can’t wait because I know people are suffering and I can’t wait to help them,” she said.

Smith and Morgan have words of encouragement for anyone who may be intimidated about becoming healthcare workers.

“People really need help right now and that’s probably like the best line is to be getting out there when they need it the most,” said Smith.

“It’s such a passionate field,” said Morgan. “You see things like this happen and you really want to help out you want to try and make a difference in the tiniest way you can. It’s something that if you if you want to go to medical school, this should make you want to go into more.”

Morgan was also busy during the pandemic writing a paper that got published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. His paper is titled “Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Representation in Leadership Positions at National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers,” and it examines the diversity of leadership at cancer centers in the U.S. Click here to learn more about his research.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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