"Match Day," on which graduating medical students nationwide are chosen for residencies, came and went on Friday for students whose educations were profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
For Jamila Picart at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, her match turned out to be general surgery at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, where she will be for five to seven years.
Picart, one of the three Pritzker chiefs (akin to class presidents), said the matching process has been different than usual.
Students typically fly around the country doing interviews; now, it's harder to get a feel for hospitals programs from remote interviews.
"It's harder to look at the hospital and see where it is, see what's around the hospital, sit down with people and have one-on-one conversations with them about their experiences and see how well you match with that program over Zoom," she said.
But medical school will come to an end soon. Picart said it has been an honor serving as a representative for her fellow students in her role as a Pritzker chief, but she said going to school amid the pandemic has not been easy.
"Many of my friends and I came into this profession to take care of patients. In the spring of last year, we were no longer able to continue in the clinic because of how bad COVID was in our neighborhood and communities, and the emphasis in the hospital was crisis management rather than teaching," she said. "And that makes sense, right? You want to make sure, when there is a pandemic, that patients come first. For us, it was so hard, because we wanted to help."
The hospital gave its students opportunities to help whenever possible: COVID-19 support lines to answer questions for employees and people in the neighborhood about when they should isolate or get tested, blood drives for when most people were strictly sheltering in place, personal protective equipment manufacturing and distribution. Later on, students distributed food to South Side seniors and became pen pals, Picart said. Now they are helping with vaccine appointment navigation.
She said how proud she was that the emphasis on service never went away. "One of the things about the school is that we always had an emphasis on service at Pritzker. People come here because they want to serve Black and Brown communities. They want to service the underserved," she said. "But we just pushed that this year, and we made that our mission. We made it our heart, and that has been beautiful to see."
That being said, Picart said students have suffered from social isolation, especially first-years who have come into medical school but haven't all been in a room together. While clinical rounds resumed last summer, residents, students and attending physicians are no longer going as a large team to see patients.
The absence of shared space has been particularly felt in the context of the past year's dramatic civil unrest.
"Their hearts hurt," Picart said. "Not only can they not talk about it, they're isolated from each other. So they're dealing with these feelings alone while also trying to take on a heavy course load."
Asked what she will take from attending medical school during the pandemic, Picart said she learned how important it is for patients to have family members present in the room when they are hospitalized.
"It means so much and does so much good for them," she said. "Seeing how patients and families suffer when you are not able to be with your loved one, hearing the stories from my colleagues and my attendings of patients who had to die along, hearing about family members who did not get to see their loved ones in their final days but over an iPad call — that's something that sits with you.
"Especially going into surgery and knowing that in surgery you can do some large procedures and with large procedures come large risks and preparing yourself mentally for the gravity of the care that I'll be providing. Now it's colored by knowing how important family is. What that means for my future practice is if a patient asks me, 'Can my family member be here with me?' and it is at all possible, I'm going to make that happen."