“DMUnfazed”: D.O. student describes “thriving under quarantine”

NOTE: DMU student Nikhil Pallikonda, D.O.’23, authored this article for the September-December 2020 edition of the Polk County Medical Society Bulletin. It is reposted with the generous permission of Nikhil and the Polk County Medical Society.

Amidst civil unrest, record-setting unemployment numbers, and a public health crisis unlike any before, it is easy to imagine we are headed for Armageddon.

The history of civilization is dictated not by how we surrender to our circumstances, but rather how we conquer them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the students at Des Moines University (DMU) faced an extraordinary proposition: remote classes, replacements for clinical rotations, truncation of volunteer opportunities, and the closure of several city-wide facilities essential to our routine. Yet as I reflect on these past few months, I cannot help but admire our resiliency.

Nikhil Pallikonda, D.O.’23

One of the first initiatives enacted by DMU when quarantine began was adopting a Pass/Fail (P/F) system for our courses. This reduced the academic burden on students and families who suffered collateral damage from the virus. By erasing the traditional grading metric, we focused on learning as much medicine as possible, without the stress of an official GPA. While some students voiced concerns about how this affects our residency applications, overall this decision was met with open arms. Unsurprisingly, we performed even better this semester (typically considered the most difficult of medical school) than in the fall. If we are keeping score, that is 1 point for DMU, 0 for COVID.

The change I found most impactful was the temporary loss of our practical labs in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and Clinical Medicine. I learned best under the tutelage of our professors and teaching assistants, so attending remote labs was certainly jarring at first.

Furthermore, these classes adopted modified testing methods. Practical exams were converted to written tests, and our traditional simulated patient encounters between actors and students were modified so that we watched our professor examine a simulated patient himself and noted/graded his accuracies and missteps. Our success indicates both measures were successful, even at the loss of palpable practice time. That is 2-0, DMU.

Lastly, as highlighted in the previous issue of the Bulletin, students continued to be innovative with volunteering opportunities. Class President Sydney Stanley spearheaded a volunteer day-care program and partnered with the Polk County Medical Society to pair students with medical professionals in need. This was a tremendous success, and DMU students set another record for total volunteering hours this year. Another creative adaptation, and another point for DMU.

Compared to the heroic, haunting, and heartbreaking stories from medical professionals chronicling their COVID-19 experiences, I wonder what merit the words of a rising second-year medical student carry. The future of medical education is evolving, given the relative successes of remote classes and testing, and the pandemic’s vice-like grip on society is mandated by cycles of good and bad news. But if my classmates’ unrelenting tenacity to adapt is any indication, the medical field is in good hands. Game, set, and (possibly) match, DMU.

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