Behind the Mask II: The Impact of COVID-19 on Developing Professional Identity Formation in First-Year Medical Students

05-06-2022 15:19


Purpose: As the entering class of 2020 began medical school, students were confronted with challenges brought forth by the COVID pandemic, but little is known about the pandemic’s impact on medical student professional identity formation (PIF). The objective of this study is to explore how COVID impacted PIF in a cohort of medical students through the art of mask-making and reflection.


Students of Penn State College of Medicine’s University Park Entering Class of 2020 were asked to complete a brief survey adapted from the Athletic Identity Measurement Scale (AIMS) and the Impact of Event Scale (IES) to quantitatively assess the impact of the COVID pandemic on their sense of professional and personal identity. In addition, participants were invited to decorate a paper mache mask to compare and contrast their personal identity with that of an “ideal” physician. Finally, participants were asked to share a written narrative describing their lived experience of their COVID/medical school experience. Survey responses, narratives and images of the masks were securely uploaded to REDCap. 

Basic descriptive statistics were used to analyze survey responses. Visual thematic analysis was used to analyze the masks and grounded theory using constant comparison was used to analyze the narratives.


Ten students completed the AIMS/IES surveys. Five students also completed the narrative reflection and created a mask. Results from the AIMS suggest that students felt optimistic that training will eventually return to normal. Students also felt that the pandemic strengthened their resolve to become a physician. The IES suggested that students had strong feelings about the impact of COVID on their lives and thought about it unintentionally. When analyzing masks and narratives, COVID was not a significant theme, being mentioned only in the context of qualities of an ideal physician, not when relating elements of self-identity.


While COVID had a significant impact on medical training, this cohort of first year students

exhibited remarkable resilience, reported minimal emotional impact from the pandemic, and shared themes of developing strong habits and laudable professional characteristics as more central to their developing sense of PIF than any specific element of COVID. This study provides a foundation for studying PIF among this cohort in future longitudinal studies that further evaluate effects of COVID on their identity.

First Objective

On completion of this session the participants should be able to...

identify and outline the six domains of professional identity formation that were examined within each participant’s mask.

Second Objective

On completion of this session the participants should be able to...

describe the three most common domains that were illustrated on the front and back of each student’s mask.

Third Objective

On completion of this session the participants should be able to...

discuss at least one significant result regarding PIF, and at least one significant result regarding the emotional impact of COVID, based on the survey adapted from the AIMS and IES scales

Author(s):Ryan Murphy, Miki Calderon, Mark B. Stephens, MD
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