Covid-19 has transformed the school of medicine landscape, but alumni are finding ways to help students navigate their way through this unfamiliar environment.
In previous years, students could get to know their entire class in the first few days of a semester. But Shwetha Mudalegundi ’24 is halfway through and has met only about half her classmates. Within that isolation, the White Coat & Stethoscope campaign — a yearly effort to supply first-year medical students with those essential but expensive tools of the trade — offered a much-needed breath of normalcy.
“It’s a time-honored tradition to receive that from alumni, and I was glad that even in the time of the coronavirus pandemic we were able to have the same [tradition],” she says. “I’m grateful to be a recipient.”
Lisa Dunkle Scheffler, M.D. ’72, one of the donors to the campaign, still has the stethoscope gifted to her when she was at Johns Hopkins by an organization her mother belonged to. “I was on a pretty tight budget,” she says, recalling cashing weekly $10 checks that would pay for groceries and other necessities. “So when someone gave me $75 to buy the stethoscope I wanted, it was a big deal. And now’s the time when I can pay it back.”
Donors like Dunkle Scheffler stepped in this year to outfit 121 future physicians, outraising the goal of $24,000 by 18 percent over last year. They are now turning their generosity to another White Coat Campaign, this one focused on providing graduate students with white coats, each with advice from alumni and donors tucked into the pocket.
Alumni are also donating time. Fourth-year medical students who typically travel for residency interviews face the prospect of virtual interviews this year, leading to the creation of a program to let students practice video interviews not only in front of faculty members — as would happen in a normal year — but with alumni across the country.
“When the Association of American Medical Colleges announced this year was going to be entirely virtual, I think that’s when it hit home that this year was going to be very different,” says David Martin, assistant professor of medicine and Colleges Advisory Program member. “We really needed to think creatively.”
More than 80 alumni offered to perform remote mock interviews with students, eventually conducting 123 practice sessions. Added to a faculty interview and a specialty-specific interview, the students actually got more practice this fall than in previous years. In fact, the alumni component was such a success that the school is considering continuing it in post-COVID years, Martin says.
Students in practice sessions receive feedback about lighting, decor, noise and other videoconference-specific challenges in addition to the usual feedback about their interview strategies.
“One thing that medical students were nervous about was how to best portray ourselves and our personalities with the camera,” says Maria Molinaro ’21. “It reminded me of being on a stage, being that far away from people and trying to show them yourself at the same time.”
Molinaro says the alumni interviews provided invaluable tips — like providing a few select background objects to help stimulate conversation instead of an empty room, pausing for a few seconds before responding to ensure the interviewer is finished speaking, and positioning the camera to try to look the interviewer in the eyes instead of down at the screen.
As students work to overcome the struggles of COVID-19, alumni say they want them to know they have their backs. Dunkle Scheffler notes that she only retired her own gifted stethoscope a year ago, when the rubber finally cracked.
“It reminds the students that they’re part of a continuum of people who have gone before them and people who will go after them,” she says. “I think it’s good for students to know that they’re part of something much bigger, and I hope it moves them.”
The graduate student White Coat Campaign is currently underway. To contribute, please visit: giving.jhu.edu/whitecoats.