Ever since medical schools sent students home in the spring of 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, technology has helped to meet the challenges of virtual learning — but students’ social and emotional challenges are more difficult to assuage. The restrictions on gathering in person have left many students feeling deprived by the isolation from peers, instructors, and the physical space of school. 

“More students are struggling,” says Guenevere Rae, PhD, assistant dean for basic science education at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. “They feel isolated, lonely, and more depressed.” 

Schools and faculty are employing various strategies to help students cope, including social gatherings online, small in-person events on campus, and beefed-up wellness outreach and counseling. 

To be sure, students are adjusting and plowing ahead. Those in their third and fourth years tend to feel less isolated, because they had established networks at school by the time the pandemic hit, and many have returned to clinical work. In contrast, today’s second-year students had their first year on campus cut short by COVID-19 shutdowns, and many of those who entered medical school last fall have never attended an in-person class.

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