Information, guidelines and policies for MD students

Updated 5.13.20

All Harvard faculty, staff and students must follow the University's policies and guidelines found on the Harvard University coronavirus 2019 webpage. This page includes important guidance for remote courses, travel policies, campus restrictions, and visiting or returning to campus.

Fall 2020 courses will commence remotely for our entering classes of medical, dental and graduate students, as well as for our HMS-directed external education programs that would have been held on campus.

We hope to be able to hold in-person research and clinical experiences for our returning medical and graduate students and will continue to closely follow institutional guidelines and public health developments.

Our program leaders will be communicating soon with current and incoming students, faculty and staff to provide further details and preparations—including considerations for start dates, travel, housing, visas and financial aid/support—relative to their respective programs.

We hope to have all of our students back on campus by January, but we are mindful of the many unknowns and will update our projections as new information becomes available.

Your instructors will contact you with specific instructions on how to login. Please see the HMS IT Work Remotely webpage for instructions on how to download the Harvard versions of Zoom or Webex.  


  • Academics

    What about my clerkship responsibilities?

    • As of March 17, the Association of American Medical Colleges has advised that all clerkships be paused at all US medical schools until March 31. 
    • March Block - For all 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students enrolled in the March block, you will not be returning to the clinical setting in the week of March 23. Faculty of the current March core clerkships are planning to continue with virtual sessions and are sending out online materials so that students can complete these clerkships. Stay alert for updates from your faculty.
    • April Block (April 6 - May 3): The core clerkship in radiology will be offered virtually in the April block for the 50 percent of current Principal Clinical Experience (PCE) students who have not done radiology and for all spring-entry PCE students, who will now all complete radiology as their first clerkship. All students in those two groups will be registered so they can complete this core clerkship virtually during the April block. Students in the Cambridge Integrated Clerkship will do those sections of the virtual radiology April block that they have not yet experienced, supplemented by other clinical topics organized by Cambridge Health Alliance. There will be a clerkship orientation for the virtual radiology block, but the PCE orientation for spring-entry students will be delayed until later in April.
    • For students starting the second half of PCE who have completed radiology and for all post-PCE students, we will be offering a variety of other courses virtually, such as AISCs (advanced integrated sciences courses) or Essentials II and potentially even some virtual clinical electives, such as clinical pathology. Students may also work on their Scholars in Medicine project, do an independent study or simply have an unassigned month. Information about how to enroll in these options will be coming soon. All PCE and post-PCE students (as well as all pre-PCE students) will remain enrolled as HMS students.

    What if I am absent from a virtual class or miss a session due to illness?

    • Faculty understand that this is a time of great ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have been encouraged to practice flexibility and understanding of the need to extend deadlines. If you are ill, first prioritize your health and call Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your primary care provider for advice to determine whether to get assessment or treatment. Contact your course instructor to discuss protocols for missed classes or late assignments. Also contact your academic society to let them know if you are ill and need to miss class.

    Will the move to virtual learning affect my F1 visa?

    • Government guidance issued on March 10 assures Harvard that international students can participate in online classes without concern for their immigration status, provided they continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations.

    Should I still meet my mentor in person?

    • No, have your meetings by video, phone or teleconferencing options.

    Should I continue to pursue my laboratory research?

    • HMS labs are expected to be closed to all but essential personnel by Wednesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. HMS students are expected to follow this guidance, whether they are in HMS Quad or hospital labs.

    If I have a role at an HMS-affiliated hospital with stricter policies/guidelines than HMS, whose guidelines should I follow?

    • If your affiliated hospital has stricter policies/guidelines for travel, meetings, events, etc., please follow those specific policies/guidelines.

    Will there be any refund for changed classes?

    • There will not be a refund for changed classes. Students will continue learning the same materials remotely.

    Are official deadlines for May 2020 degree period in place?

    • Yes, official deadlines are still in place. Students with concerns about needing additional time to complete degree requirements should be in touch with their society advisory dean and the HMS registrar.

    Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?

    • Students should contact between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with questions or concerns. Student Affairs will ensure that your questions or concerns are directed to the appropriate office. 

    How can I avoid or how will accommodations be made to disruptions to the research in which I am involved?

    • All faculty and program leadership are sensitive to students’ needs during this uncertain time. Special accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Graduating Students

    I am scheduled to graduate in May. Do I tell my family to continue making travel arrangements? 

    • Plans for the observance and celebration of Commencement and the local HMS ceremony are under consideration in response to the concerns regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), however, Harvard University is closely monitoring the rapidly changing guidance regarding large events. There remains significant uncertainty about gatherings after April 30.
    • The Office of Student Affairs hopes to have a decision about Commencement from the University Commencement Office on March 27th. Graduating students will be informed by the dean for students by March 28th.
    • Commencement is a time many graduates share with immediate and extended family and friends, and in some cases, this requires significant advance planning. We encourage you and your guests to monitor the situation and be aware of national and international guidelines and circumstances when considering making travel plans. It is advisable to purchase only refundable tickets for any kind of travel and to otherwise engage in flexible travel planning should the celebrations on campus be modified or canceled. 
    • Please know that Harvard University does not take making the decision about observing Commencement lightly. Harvard Commencement has taken place uninterrupted since 1781.
  • Health & Wellness

    This is a difficult time for everyone. The pandemic is affecting our global community’s physical and mental health. Please take all the common-sense hygiene approaches: wash hands frequently and well; avoid close contact, such as handshaking, hugging, etc.; practice social distancing; and avoid crowds. Monitor your temperature. If you are ill and have symptoms such as a cough, fever and/or muscle aches, contact Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your doctor before going in. If you have been in direct contact with anyone with COVID-19, stay home and isolate yourself.

    • Watch the HMS Coping with Coronavirus web series for help dealing with daily stress, anxiety, and a range of other emotions
    • It is important to recognize that this is also a challenging time for mental health. Contact Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services for counseling and mental health resources.
    • Although you are physically remote, remain virtually connected and engaged with our community. HMS and program staff are available for you by email and Zoom. 
    • Exercise, and get sleep. 
    • Additional mental health resources are being developed, and we will share them here and by email as they come online. 
  • Housing

    Can we stay in our apartment if it is Harvard-owned?

    • If you live in a Harvard-owned property that is not a dormitory, you will not need to move. 

    Do we have to move out of Vanderbilt?

    • All residents have been asked to move out of Vanderbilt Hall, and those who need alternate housing are being relocated to Harvard Business School housing. 

    Will I still be able to access Vanderbilt or other Quad buildings if I need to?

    • HMS will be moving to card access only for Quad buildings at three specific locations—Goldenson, Building C/TMEC link, and the NRB—beginning Wednesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. for approved essential personnel in accordance with the shutting down of labs and research cores. Access to buildings not connected to the Quad will be limited to essential personnel, as determined by departmental leadership.

    Will there be parking available if I need to return to campus for some reason?

    • Garage access will be limited beginning Wednesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. for approved essential personnel only.

    I live off-campus. Do I need to stay in Boston for virtual classes?

    • As courses will be virtual until further notice, you do not need to remain in Boston.

    Will my visa be affected if I go home?

    • Since the academic term will continue online, you are considered to be enrolled. Please direct any additional questions to the Harvard International Office.
    • Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?
      • PLEASE CONTACT between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with questions or concerns. Student Affairs will ensure that your questions or concerns are directed to the appropriate office.


  • Travel Restrictions

    What are the current policies regarding Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for students?

    Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for all students that is scheduled to start and end between now and August 31 is prohibited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. State Department have issued global level 3 and level 4 advisories: “avoid nonessential travel” and “do not travel,” respectively. It is unclear when those restrictions will be lifted. We know that many of our students – undergraduates as well as graduate and professional school students – rely on summer travel to further their education, fulfill academic requirements, and explore new work environments. This decision is difficult and disappointing, but we urge students to contact their individual Schools, centers, and programs to explore creative options for alternative summer study, research, and work. For more information, see the memo from the Vice Provost for International Affairs.

    I am an international student. What is the latest guidance on obtaining or renewing my visa?
    We are closely monitoring the worldwide suspension of routine visa processing at U.S. consular locations and advising international students and scholars accordingly. We anticipate that many newly admitted and returning international students and scholars will face delays in obtaining or renewing visas. The Harvard International Office (HIO) continues to issue the necessary University documentation for F-1, J-1, and other visa applications, so that when consular processing resumes, students and scholars will have the forms they need to schedule visa appointments. Visit the HIO COVID-19 webpage for the latest immigration updates and advice.

    Are there restrictions for visiting or returning to campus?

    • Anyone—including affiliates and invited guests—who return to campus and arrive from a location with a CDC level 3 travel warning for COVID-19 must complete a confidential health form and self-isolate until receiving further guidance from Harvard University Health Services. This also applies to individuals who have transited through the affected locations. Review the HUHS campus guidance for additional advice.

    My travel has been canceled, and I am worried about my academic progress? Who can I speak with?

    • Contact your society advisory dean and society coordinator as well as the HMS registrar for guidance. 

    Should I just go home? 

    • Many students have wondered if they should travel home at this point. From a curricular perspective, all activities will be done virtually through the April block (through May 3rd), so that should not be relevant to your decision making about travel. The main factors to consider at this time are:
      • The state and federal government and public health authorities all recommend not traveling at this time as a matter of public health. That should be the primary consideration.
      • There is risk to family who may be vulnerable, since we are all potential carriers at this point.
      • For more advanced (post-PCE) students in particular, there is every reason to believe that in the coming weeks, as more faculty and residents are unavailable, the needs for on-site clinical service with non-COVID patients will escalate. There is a chance that if people have left Boston they may not be able to return for some time or may need to self-isolate on return for two weeks, making it impossible to serve when this need will inevitably arise.
      • There is no legal restriction on domestic travel at this time, and students are encouraged to make travel decisions that make the most sense for their wellness and health of their loved ones. No one will second-guess any decision made by any student. We are here to support you.
  • General Questions

    When will students be allowed to come back to campus?

    • We do not know this yet, but the guidance from HMS Dean George Q. Daley for researchers is to prepare for labs to be shut down for 6-8 weeks.

    What if I am interested in contributing the clinical mission during the pandemic?

    • Opportunities to contribute to the effort in our hospitals are already appearing, with some needs already identified. These are being organized around each of the four PCE hospitals and their affiliated institutions. Information about these opportunities will be forthcoming, including whether they are virtual or on-site. Note that, so far, most are virtual, but this may change as attending physicians and residents become unavailable over the weeks ahead. While these experiences will not represent a “clerkship,” there will almost certainly be a way to capture this as your month’s activity, meaning as a community service elective. Please remember that these opportunities are entirely voluntary.