The Student Experience

Columbia medical student with stethoscope around neck
When the pandemic hit, “we weren't just learning from our professors anymore,” recalls Samuel Burnim, a fourth-year medical student at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. When the students worked with community members and community leaders, "they were our teachers, telling us about their needs." Photo: NewYork-Presbyterian

With the onset of COVID, coursework went online. Clinical rotations were paused or adapted for telehealth. Students nearing graduation were tapped to help in the hospital. And later, after the initial surge, students came together to support the CUIMC community and the medical center’s neighbors, playing a key role in early vaccination efforts in Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx.

The COVID pandemic transformed their education, but also imparted profound experiences that students say will make them stronger practitioners and leaders.

“We weren't just learning from our professors anymore,” recalls Samuel Burnim, a fourth-year medical student at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “When we helped with some of the PPE distribution around the city, [with] community members and community leaders telling us about their needs, they were our teachers. In a certain sense, I see the educational experience broadening for a lot of our students.”

Alden Bush, a student in the School of Nursing, was among many nursing students who became nurse technicians, helping with COVID patients in the hospital’s ICUs or making follow-up phone calls with discharged patients.


covid_at_two_the_student_experience_at_cuimc

Watch: Alden Bush, Lydia Nieto, and Sam Burnim discuss how the pandemic changed their education and made them stronger practitioners. 


“I think [the experience] will mark me and many of my colleagues for the rest of our careers,” Bush says. “It's something that brought out that true desire to be clinicians and health care providers and really give back to the community.”

For Lydia Nieto, a fourth-year student in the College of Dental Medicine, the pandemic changed her view of dentistry. "I never really saw dentists as being front-line providers" Nieto says. "Now I consider dentists to be right there with nurses and physicians because I see how much patients went through in these two years of pandemic, their teeth hurting, losing teeth, broken teeth. I saw how much I am needed and how much dentists are needed."

Lydia Nieto with her grandmother at a COVID vaccination site
Lydia Nieto, a fourth-year student in the College of Dental Medicine, poses with her grandmother at the Armory vaccination site. As a volunteer, Nieto was able to vaccinate her own grandmother and her great uncle. (Photo courtesy of Lydia Nieto)