Western University of Health Sciences


Leading Through Change as a Medical Student During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mario Gaddini

COMP-Northwest student

Any mention of 2020 in the history books would be vastly insufficient without underscoring the catastrophic and unexpected impact of COVID-19. The unique isolating effect of the pandemic forced me and many others into reflection. My realization was that pre-COVID-19, the pressures of medical school propelled me into a reductive mode of operation, which focused on achieving tasks in isolation with less emphasis on the broader interrelation between systems. I was myopically focused on academic achievement, providing leadership in my role as Class President, and serving my family, community, and country. Parallel with the osteopathic emphasis on the interrelatedness amongst human body systems, I realized that I could further optimize myself and my future contributions as an osteopathic physician, by operating in a more holistic manner. In light of this, I took action to bring people and organizations together across WesternU, the DO medical student community, and partner organizations to tackle the immediate adaptation challenges posed by COVID-19.

Amid COVID-19, the primary challenge for WesternU was transitioning to an entirely online curriculum. Faculty needed to develop creative solutions to continue to deliver effective training environments, while students needed to continue to manage the relentlessly stressful workload. As Class President, I facilitated communication between our student leaders and administration to support the migration to a fully online medical school that would meet the needs of over 300 of my classmates across our two campuses. Among the many logistical tasks, we modified exam delivery, created automated question and answer trackers for clinical medicine faculty, and continued to advocate the student perspective in weekly meetings with the Dean. However, the most meaningful action was supporting my peers through the unprecedented psychological challenges by individually checking in with as many of them as possible and by understanding that compassion and connectedness can help combat the struggles of isolation.

Beyond our school, I worked with the broader DO student networks and partner organizations to collaboratively support the continuity, quality, and integrity of medical education during the COVID-19 pandemic. As our representative to the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP), I collaborated with student leaders across the country to share best practices for COVID-19 response processes and organized national initiatives to provide a united student voice to governing organizations, such as the NBOME for board exam administration. Additionally, as many clinical students were pulled from physical rotations and placed into virtual substitutes, I partnered to develop a collaboration between WesternU and Giblib, a virtual medical education platform supplied by surgeons from leading medical institutions including Mayo Clinic, UCSF, and Cedars-Sinai. In this partnership, we built a team of nearly 30 students to research the most effective online education delivery systems and develop advanced interactive surgical modules to replicate a third-year medical school surgical rotation. Beyond supporting the Giblib-WesternU collaboration, I’m currently working with faculty to pilot a telemedicine curriculum including an intensive care unit rotation and to develop a voice-activated artificial intelligence COVID-19 consult app for physicians.

As a medical community, we all face the uncertainties posed by the pandemic, not alone, but together. I am humbled daily by the brilliance, achievement, and accolades of my peers and mentors despite relentless adversity. Unwavering in our commitment to patient care at the center of our system, I am determined to do my part to understand all aspects of the lives of my patients to guide and empower them towards greater health — mentally, physically, and spiritually. On clinical rotations, I’ve experienced the joy of building connections with my patients and have reciprocally learned from them. I’ve listened and counseled patients regarding the daily challenges of exercising during quarantine, eating healthy during economic hardship, and maintaining hope in the midst of uncertainty. In turn, my patients have taught me compassion, served as a daily confirmation of my passion for medicine, and inspired me through their commitment to taking on the challenge of obtaining optimal health.

In the future, I aspire to continue to broaden the systems that I am able to influence, in order to solve problems and improve patient care. At the critical intersections of technology, policy, research, and clinical medicine, I believe there is incredible potential for human progress. For me, the emergence of COVID-19 was an impetus to be more thoughtful about my mode of operation, to be intentional with my application of a systems approach to problem solving, and to be inspired by the power of collaboration and optimizing collective expertise. With humility, integrity and respect, I aspire to continuously strive for self-improvement to optimize my contribution to osteopathic medicine and my future patients. At the same time, I remember that I myself am a system — one that is kept at its best through a healthy lifestyle, strong relationships with my family and peers, and an interrelated approach to work, life, and the success of myself and others.