UT-Austin Dell Medical School adapts to COVID-19, goes virtual


Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

Dell Medical School adapted safety protocols and teaching methods due to COVID-19 this year, leading to a different learning process for medical students. 

Beth Nelson, associate dean of undergraduate medical education and professor of medicine and medical education, said the initial changes from COVID-19 were individualized to each year of medical school. Second-year students experienced the most disruption, Nelson said. 

“(Second years) were doing what we call core clerkships, which are things like internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, OBGYN — things ... all doctors in training do,” Nelson said. “(On) March 13, they were only two weeks into the fifth out of their six clerkships that they had to complete. They stayed out of direct patient care until June 15.”

Third-year Dell student Elaine Ramirez was pulled out of clerkships in the spring. She said she had just completed a 28-hour shift on her surgical rotation when she found out about the disruption. 

“We reverted to an online platform, like Zoom, to meet up with attendings who take their time to teach us certain topics that they normally would have taught us at the hospital or during a surgery,” Ramirez said. 


Ramirez completed her sixth clerkship in June but will finish the surgery clerkship during winter break.

Third-year student Kaylee O'Connor had to finish her last clerkship in August at the same time she began working on a Masters of Health Care Transformation.

“There was more downtime (on surgery) than normal because they weren't doing any elective surgeries, so that was a bummer,” O’Connor said.

Nelson said first-year students complete a classroom-based curriculum, so they were able to finish their year virtually. Second-year student Maius Bianca Bermejo said during the spring, faculty listened to students and used Zoom well, but it was still hard to shift to virtual learning.

“At Dell, they design the building to be super interactive, so we have whiteboards everywhere, and we do fun group activities during our case-based sessions,” Bermejo said. “So that was a more difficult transition as far as logistics goes.” 

Nelson said the new first-year class started off virtually but they began in-person, socially-distant learning in October. 

“Since our class is small, we have the ability to have spaced-out and appropriate reduced numbers in our different classroom settings,” Nelson said. 

Nelson said third-year students at Dell were working on dual degrees or research, so they followed UT’s guidelines for their programs or research labs. 

Fourth-year student Megan Lewis said she was working on her Masters of Public Health when the pandemic hit. Her spring coursework shifted to virtual learning, and she is now applying to residency programs. 

“In normal times, it's an opportunity to fly over the country and interview at different programs, and that's been converted to virtual this year, so a lot of us spend a lot of our time on Zoom,” Lewis said. 

Nelson said 50% of the fourth years had not finished the graduation requirements, so they participated in alternative learning experiences. The fourth year class was also looking forward to Match Day, a large event where they find out their residence programs, and their graduation ceremony. Both were done virtually in the spring.

“They were very well done and very meaningful, but not the big celebrations that you hoped for with an inaugural class of students,” Nelson said.