Dear Warren Alpert Medical School Community,

During the past several months, we have been working on a plan for the 2020-2021 academic year that would allow medical students to begin or continue their medical education while ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and staff, and the community we care for. Following up on the letter you received earlier today from President Christina Paxson announcing Brown’s plans for 2020-21 in light of the global pandemic, we are writing to outline plans for the Medical School.

Under the University’s “Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21,” undergraduates will receive instruction in two semesters of a three-semester system that will help de-densify the campus population and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Brown community. The three-term system does not apply to The Warren Alpert Medical School. We will follow the typical two-semester system with changes to modes of instruction as well as the implementation of strict protocols for personal health, distancing, and cleaning that will be essential for safeguarding the well-being of our community.

The Medical School’s full plan, which was submitted to the State of Rhode Island and reviewed by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), is covered in the University plan.

Our decision-making around these plans was guided by the following principles:

  1. Continue to deliver an innovative, evidence-based curriculum that creates an optimal educational experience for all medical students and fulfills the requirements set forth by our accrediting body;
  2. Use a variety of pedagogical methodologies including, but not limited to, lecture, small groups and clinical experiences; and
  3. Adhere to best practice guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and RIDOH in regard to physical distancing and other safety precautions.

As Brown’s plans are based on current public health guidance, these plans could shift as the University continues to closely monitor how the pandemic is evolving across the region and around the country.   


A current executive order requires people arriving in Rhode Island from states listed here with a SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate of greater than 5% either to self-quarantine for 14 days or produce proof of a negative test that was taken within 72 hours prior to arrival in Rhode Island. If you receive a test after arriving in Rhode Island and get a negative result, you can stop quarantining. 

Year 1 – beginning August 3, 2020

Students who are required to self-quarantine will be allowed to participate in lectures remotely or provide excused absences if remote participation is not possible. After a virtual orientation, members of the MD Class of 2024 will begin classes with the following modifications:

1. All large group lectures will be presented virtually through delivery mechanisms such as Zoom, Panopto and Brainshark initially with the option to attend live lectures after the first block using a sign-up system. 

2. Small groups will be conducted in person or, in some cases, through a hybrid model of virtual and in-person methods of delivery.

3. The clinical skills component of the first year will take place in person, using social distancing guidelines to ensure safety of students, faculty, and standardized patients.

4. Students will work with mentors in the clinical setting one half day per week, with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by Brown.

5. Anatomy laboratory sessions will use a mix of prosections and mobile applications, while eliminating full body cadaver dissections.

6. Examinations will be administered remotely using Zoom.

Year 2 – beginning August 5, 2020

1. Lectures will be delivered via Panopto or Zoom. There will be an option for in-person attendance at most lectures, using a sign-up system. 

2. Small groups will be conducted in person or, in some cases, through a hybrid model of virtual and in person.

3. The clinical skills component of the second year will continue in person, using social distancing guidelines to ensure safety of students, faculty, and standardized patients.

4. Students will work with mentors in the clinical setting one half day per week, with appropriate personal protective equipment [PPE] provided by Brown.

5. Examinations will be administered via Zoom. 

Years 3 and 4 – semester began May 26, 2020

The affiliated hospitals and community practice settings where third- and fourth-year medical students are completing clinical rotations may have individual policies that students are expected to follow. In addition, the following protocols will continue:

1. Students will receive appropriate PPE at the same level as other health care providers in the setting in which students are working.

2. Didactic sessions will continue to be delivered, either in person or via Zoom, depending on the clerkship

3. Written (multiple-choice) examinations will be proctored remotely via Zoom.

4. Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) will be administered in the Medical School’s clinical skills suites with appropriate precautions.

Testing and Contact Tracing for Medical Students

The CDC and RIDOH Guidelines for Healthcare Personnel (HCP) apply to medical students. If medical students are exposed or develop symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), are waiting for SARS-CoV-2 test results, or have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, Brown University Health Services can arrange testing if necessary and determine a plan of care including isolation and guidance for return to work/school. Students should refer to the COVID-19 Guide for Alpert Medical Students.

Public Health Practices

With the safety of our community of utmost concern, policies and procedures are in place that anyone entering the Medical School building or other Brown campus facilities is expected to adhere to. We have already been working with Facilities Management to increase cleaning of the building, with attention to high-touch surfaces.

Other steps include:

  • Maintaining social distancing;
  • Wearing face masks and coverings; and
  • Self-monitoring symptoms and staying away from campus or a clinical assignment if you experience symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Medical students are expected to adhere to the COVID-19 procedures as part of the principles of professionalism and standards of student conduct. Failure to follow these procedures for COVID-19 will be considered violations of the Code of Student Conduct. 

Need for Flexibility

As physicians and physicians-in-training, we know better than anyone that this pandemic is unpredictable. While the Medical School and the University are preparing for every potential scenario, we ask that you understand that we may have to adjust part or all of these plans in the coming year. We will continue to monitor and adhere to CDC and RIDOH guidelines, and to comply with any policies put forth by the University.

We have established a page on the Medical School’s website where this and any future information we can provide will be posted. Please bookmark this page and refer back to it as questions come up. Deans Allan Tunkel, Paul George, and Roxanne Vrees will continue to meet regularly with each class via Zoom to ensure that students have the most up-to-date information and have opportunities to have all of their questions answered.

We are confident that by working together as a community we can meet the challenges this global pandemic presents. We look forward to welcoming both new and returning medical students to Brown in August.


Jack A. Elias, MD                                                       Allan R. Tunkel, MD, PhD
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs                     Senior Associate Dean for Medical
Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences                Education