Lillianna Thomas

Lillianna Thomas

To be or not to be a “frontline physician”: Professional identity formation during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Lillianna Thomas, Rebecca Henderson, Melanie Hagen, MD; Elizabeth Gundersen, MD; Christine Adams; Zareen Zaidi, MD, PhD


Dr. Melanie Hagen, MD, FACP


College of Medicine


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the foundations of medical education and highlighted the challenges of being a physician. The pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation in which the impacts on medical students are largely unknown. A cohort of twenty-eight medical students at the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University College of Medicine were followed and interviewed during an ongoing longitudinal study of professional identity formation (PIF). While interviewing students in the spring 2020 term, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and became an important aspect of these conversations. While retaining a focus on PIF, interview questions were restructured to probe the specific impacts of the pandemic. These interviews were transcribed and coded in NVivo qualitative analysis software. Data were analyzed using an inductive, descriptive approach to develop codes and achieve interrupter reliability. Prominent themes emerged, which illustrate tensions between health and safety, the newfound roles of physicians, and changing societal perceptions of medicine. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the professional identity formation of medical students by creating tensions between heroism and apprehension, as well as highlighting the inextricable relationship between politics, advocacy, and medicine. Administrators and educators must craft a response that thoughtfully addresses students’ concerns, including curricula that are conducive to professional identity formation amid precarious times.


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