The Pandemic Leadership Model: A Study of Medical Student Values During COVID-19


  • Alec Bernard University of Michigan Medical School
  • Sarah C. Ortiz University of Michigan Medical School
  • Elizabeth Jones University of Michigan Medical School, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
  • Michael Heung University of Michigan, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology
  • Timothy C. Guetterman Department of Family Medicine, Mixed Methods Program, University of Michigan
  • Nell Kirst Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan



Leadership, Medical Education, Pandemic


Background: Leadership training is of growing importance in medical education. The COVID-19 pandemic provides unique insight into the qualities and characteristics medical students value in leaders. Little standard information exists regarding best practices, competency-based leadership models or frameworks to guide leadership program development in undergraduate medical education. This study aims to determine what students value in leadership during a pandemic and what implicit leadership framework students use in order to inform medical education curricula.

Methods: We developed a survey instrument aimed to uncover student perceptions of effective and ineffective leadership qualities and examples, both during the current COVID-19 pandemic and during crises in general.

Results: Students identified the overarching themes of Communication, Other-Orientation, Personal Characteristics, Decisive Action, and Use of Information. These five themes were then built into the model of Pandemic Leadership within the context of complexity leadership theory and collective leadership theory. 

Conclusion: This study is unique in its focus on student perceptions of leadership qualities both in general, and during a time of challenge that can serve as a real-world laboratory for leadership. We hope that this information, along with the pandemic leadership model, can serve as the first step to useful and relevant leadership training programs in undergraduate medical education. 

Author Biographies

Alec Bernard, University of Michigan Medical School

Alec Bernard earned his Bachelors of Science in Human Biology, Health & Society from Cornell University (2010) and is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, pursuing a Master of Science in Clinical Research (MSCR) in the Rackham School of Public Health. His research interests include medical education and student wellness. He has served on the Wellness Steering Committee for the University of Michigan and developed the leadership training curriculum for UMMS’ wilderness orientation program, Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians (CAMP).


Sarah C. Ortiz, University of Michigan Medical School

Sarah Contreras-Ortiz is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She received her Bachelors of Science in Bioengineering in 2015 at the University of California Riverside. During medical school she helped arrange the Student Leadership Task Force, in which a group of medical students explored areas to integrate opportunities for leadership development within the school medical school curriculum. Current research interests include leadership development and quality improvement. 


Elizabeth Jones, University of Michigan Medical School, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine

Dr. Jones earned her medical degree from Wayne State University (2008) and completed her residency training at the University of Michigan (2011), followed by a Department of Family Medicine Academic Fellowship (2012). She opened the Livonia Health Center as medical director and served in that leadership position for nearly four years. She is currently involved in medical education in multiple areas across the spectrum of training including undergraduate and graduate medical education. She serves on the Department of Family Medicine DE&I Committee as well as medical school DE&I Curricular Workgroup with personal interest in how to evaluate and intervene in educational efforts in order to promote equity for our learners and patients.


Michael Heung, University of Michigan, Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology

Dr. Heung graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1999. He completed a residency and chief resident year in internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati, then pursued nephrology fellowship at the University of Michigan.  He joined the University of Michigan faculty in 2005.  He is a Professor of Medicine and serves as Associate Chief for the Division of Nephrology.  He has a longstanding interest in medical education, and serves as faculty for the University of Michigan Medical School’s Leadership Development Program curriculum. 


Timothy C. Guetterman, Department of Family Medicine, Mixed Methods Program, University of Michigan

Timothy C. Guetterman, PhD, completed his PhD in Quantitative, Qualitative, and Psychometric Methods at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2015). He is an applied research methodologist, Assistant Professor, and Associate Director of the Mixed Methods Program at the University of Michigan. His methodological interest is to advance rigorous methods of qualitative, and mixed methods research, particularly strategies for integrating and intersecting qualitative and quantitative research. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), his applied research investigates informatics technology to improve health communication. Tim is also actively engaged developing research methods capacity through foundation grants and the NIH Mixed Methods Research Training Program for the Health Sciences.


Nell Kirst, Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan

Nell Kirst earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School (2009) and completed her residency training in Family Medicine at the University of Michigan (2012). She is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and the Co-director of the Medical School Leadership Development Program at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Her research interests include medical education and student development and she is an accomplished author, having written for the New York Times and publishing a book: "Inspired to Change: Improving Patient Care One Story at a Time".



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How to Cite

Bernard, A., Ortiz, S. C., Jones, E., Heung, M., Guetterman, T. C. ., & Kirst, N. (2021). The Pandemic Leadership Model: A Study of Medical Student Values During COVID-19. International Journal of Medical Students.



Original Article