Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19: risk of re-opening universities

Re-opening universities might be high risk, but it is essential for medical students

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 06 October 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m3851
  1. MedEd Collaborative
  1. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK
  1. mhvbyrne{at}

Yamey and Walensky discuss some considerations for UK universities re-opening this academic year.1 This is important because rising covid-19 cases in the UK seem to be concentrated in younger people—many of whom are likely to begin or return to university this autumn.2

Healthcare students face unique challenges because of the added risk of exposure to covid-19 in the clinical environment and the necessity for some aspects of medical training to be delivered in person. The move to online medical teaching has been logistically successful, but Burford et al found that real life experiences were better than simulation for developing skills and confidence.3 Patient contact contextualises theoretical knowledge and allows students to develop a professional identity.45 On-the-job experience is also desired by medical students: many volunteered in a clinical capacity during the pandemic and valued these experiences as an opportunity for personal and professional development.67

We think it is essential that medical students are supported to stay in the clinical environment as much as possible. To do this, universities need to work with their clinical sites to not simply move learning online but implement precautions that allow essential face-to-face, patient focused learning. Longitudinal placements can avoid students moving rapidly between departments, in addition to regular testing, suggested by Yamey and Walensky and currently being deployed at the University of Cambridge.18 This will allow medical students to safely continue their clinical, professional, and personal development, as well as ensuring that safe doctors graduate from medical schools on time, at a time when they are needed most.


  • Members of the MedEd Collaborative contributing to this letter: Anna Harvey, James Ashcroft, Andrew Clelland, Laith Alexander, Jonathan Wan, Nick Schindler, Matthew H V Byrne

  • Competing interests: The MedEd Collaborative is currently completing the Covid Ready Study, which is evaluating medical student volunteering during the covid-19 pandemic.

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