PRP123: Medical Student Uncertainty in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lauren Spaeth; Anna Kerr, PhD; Jody Gerome, DO


Context: Individuals experience uncertainty when they are faced with situations that are complex, unpredictable, or when the likelihood of the event occurring is unknown. They also experience uncertainty when information wanted or needed is unavailable or inconsistent. Objective: Explore the uncertainty medical students are facing in the midst of COVID-19 and their coping mechanisms. Study Design: Mixed-methods online survey. Administered via e-mail one week after students shifted to online instruction due to COVID-19. Students were compensated for their time with a $10 Amazon gift card. Setting/Population: Medical students enrolled at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. Instruments: 28-item Brief COPE Inventory, which asks about different coping strategies people use in response to stress. The 10-item Emotional Regulation Questionnaire which asks about cognitive reappraisal and emotional suppression. The survey also included open-ended questions guided by Uncertainty Management Theory: Type of uncertainty, appraisal/reaction to uncertainty, communication to manage uncertainty, information to manage uncertainty, (un)helpful strategies. Lastly, students will provide their age, gender, class rank, and race/ethnicity. Outcome Measures: Coping strategies, emotional regulation behaviors, and identification of types of uncertainty specific to class rank as well as communication/ information trends and emotional responses. Preliminary Results: 360 medical student responses have been recorded. Distraction, acceptance, and planning are the most frequently reported coping strategies, and students engage in more emotional reappraisal rather than suppression. However, significant differences in coping and emotional regulation exist by class rank. Analysis of qualitative data is in progress. Sources of uncertainty emerging in preliminary analysis are categorized into medical, personal, relational, and social/public concerns that vary based on class rank. Emotions and contributing factors regarding coping with uncertainty appear to have shared themes throughout the class ranks. Relevance Statement: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty is high nationwide. Medical students are facing unique uncertainty as they are training to be providers in the midst of a public health crisis. This data will assist academic faculty and residency program directors to better understand the challenges applicants faced during their medical education.

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