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School of Medicine Class of 2024 welcomed amid new normal

UMass Medical School welcomes 162 students during COVID-19 pandemic

Members of the School of Medicine Class of 2024 kicked off their UMass Medical School journey on Monday, Aug. 3, with a mostly virtual orientation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chancellor Michael F. Collins welcomed the 162 students over a Zoom video conference.

“It has been mentioned several times that you are entering a period of lifelong learning,” said Chancellor Collins. “Remember that you are now in a period of fascination with science and medicine. You will inspire others to become a part of a great and noble profession. It is a privilege for us to care for our patients, not a privilege for our patients to be cared for by us.”

The diverse class consists of 91 women, 69 men and two students who did not declare their gender. One hundred and twelve students are from Massachusetts. Eighteen are first-generation college students, 18 are from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds and 26 from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. Twenty-six of the 162 students are enrolled in the Population based Urban Rural Community Health track (PURCH).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, first- and second-year SOM students are participating in a hybrid curriculum, as third- and fourth-year students continue their work in clinics and hospitals.

“Learners build competence through a blend of independent and group learning experiences using a variety of settings and modalities,” said Melissa Fischer, MD, MEd, professor of medicine and associate dean for undergraduate medical education. “While this pandemic has brought tragedy and opened our eyes, it’s strengthened our community. Our curricular response has brought us closer together. What an important time to enter the field of medicine.”

New SOM students are required to receive a COVID test each week. Those coming from out-of-state must undergo a 14-day quarantine prior to coming to campus, per UMMS rules.

The hybrid curriculum meshes in-person and online learning to ensure limited exposure. All large-group lectures are held virtually. Specific small groups and labs that use designated core teaching and longitudinal faculty are on campus, while others are virtual. Participation in in-person activities that meet on campus requires physical spacing and use appropriate PPE.

Face-to-face learning is implemented when there are opportunities to increase student and community engagement, such as the longitudinal preceptor program, physical diagnosis, standardized patient activities and simulation sessions. Exams will default to a virtual setting except when in-person is deemed necessary.

“Soon, you will all become physicians. You will hear the monitors, and be at the bedside stretching out your hand to patients,” said Collins. “You will tell your children and grandchildren that you started medical school during a pandemic. It’s my hope that you will be a part of the change in health of places throughout the world.”