Information, guidelines and policies for MD students

Updated 10.20.20


All Harvard faculty, staff and students must follow the University's policies and guidelines found on the Harvard University COVID-19 webpage. This page provides important guidance for HMS students regarding remote courses, travel policies, campus restrictions and visiting or returning to campus.

For Spring 2021, the MD program at HMS will be welcoming preclerkship medical and dental students to Boston in January for January and spring semester courses. Medical students in their clinical rotations have been back since the summer.

We expect that throughout the January-June period, public health guidance will remain in place that will limit capacity in our education spaces and require physical distancing, regular testing, and the ongoing requirement to wear masks.  Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be provided to students.

With safety considerations paramount for our students, faculty and staff, the curriculum will be “hybrid,” with some sessions conducted remotely and some in person. Different courses will have varying versions of “hybrid.”

Priority for in-person courses will depend on course content that – unlike didactic material, which can work well via Zoom – can best be learned in person, such as aspects of the physical exam in the Pathways Practice of Medicine course or the HST Introduction to Clinical Medicine course, or Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs) and hands-on laboratory exercises. Many laboratories will be open for in-person research opportunities.

For returning medical students, we will continue to hold in-person research and clinical experiences while continuing to closely follow institutional guidelines and public health developments. 

Program leaders will be communicating with current and incoming students, faculty and staff to provide additional details — including information on start dates, travel, housing, visas and financial aid/support—relative to their respective programs.

While we are looking forward to having all of our students back on campus in January, it is important to be mindful that this is a constantly evolving situation; flexibility will be required and we will update our projections as new information becomes available. 

For any student having trouble with logging in for remote coursework, please see the HMS IT Work Remotely webpage for instructions on how to download the latest Harvard version of Zoom.  


  • Academics

    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.

    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.

    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.
  • 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

    Harvard University Housing: Updates to application and leasing processes.

    • 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.

    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.
  • General Questions

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

    • Opportunities to contribute to the effort in our hospitals are available. These are organized around each of the four PCE hospitals and their affiliated institutions. Check with your advisory deans for information about these opportunities.  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.