Where Next for Medical Education in a (post)Pandemic world?
by Richard Littlehales
Like almost everything else in this world, medical education & training took a hit from COVID-19. Many medical professionals had their focus diverted from teaching towards helping battle the pandemic, clinical placements stopped, and most medical schools closed their campuses. Medical education was disrupted, and not in a good way.
Educators and students are keen to know how the delivery of medical education will adapt in a world where the physical presence of professors and students at learning events is becoming increasingly rare in the pandemic, and yet the crisis has highlighted the importance of a robust and adaptable healthcare system. Of course, such a system is only achievable & sustainable in the long-term if underpinned by robust and adaptable medical education.
Here we provide some thoughts on how the medical education landscape might (and should) change for the foreseeable future.
The restrictions implemented because of COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of online learning tools by higher education institutions across the globe. This is a great time for medical schools (and universities in general) to challenge slow & rigid buying cycles and introduce innovative tools & solutions to their teaching. So where should the focus be?
From mobile apps serving as incredibly detailed reference tools & diagnostic assistants to fantastic 3D anatomy visualization tools, there are quite a few great digital learning solutions for medical students, some of them (such as the Epocrates app) with very wide adoption. There are two interrelated areas however where a significant gap exists between the needs of students (especially in today’s COVID-19 environment) and what is available. These are physiology & practical experience with patients.
Physiology is notoriously difficult to teach and existing attempts at physiology engines & simulators suffer from too many limitations (in both technological & user experience context) to be of effective use in an educational setting. During periods where in-person contact might be limited, practical experience with patients is also limited. What can we do about this?
The future of medical education lies in innovative developments and the ongoing integration of digital & virtual clinical simulation experiences into the medical education curriculum. In a nutshell, we need more practical experience for students, in a virtual, safe environment.
A sophisticated digital physiology engine such as AIBODY for example can greatly enhance the learning experience, bring to life complicated concepts, and help students learn through practical simulations of a huge variety of pathologies, otherwise unattainable in today’s environment. All available remotely and facilitating studying in an online lecture environment as well as self-study & collaboration with others.
When it comes to engaging directly with patients, we cannot substitute real life experience but with today’s technology we can come very close. Virtual reality simulation (VRS) places students in life-like clinical scenarios to enable them to learn in an environment which closely replicates real hospital-based conditions and real patients. When powered by a sophisticated physiology engine, VRS offers distinct advantages in terms of ease of use and set-up time to create an integrated simulated approach that may ultimately improve clinical outcomes. Accessing clinical scenarios via web browser, mobile device, and Augmented Reality headsets, regardless of their location, greatly improves educational task flows. A cloud based VRS powered by a great physiology engine can offer easy content customization to suit specific program requirements which can even extend to the incorporation of third-party technology, such as pacemakers from a particular manufacturer for example.
In addition to providing access to learning resources, anytime, anywhere, a robust VRS also solves some of the other major challenges in medical education today, such as:
- Improving inter-disciplinary collaboration
- Providing otherwise unattainable condition diversity & complexity
Overall, this will provide fantastic opportunities for students to start gaining extensive and highly varied practical experience in a safe environment from their first day at medical school.
Are students ready for this?
Educational methods are changing and new domains of medical sciences and technological innovations, as well as educational technologies, are growing. Today’s generation of medical sciences students are digital natives sitting comfortably in the world of virtual education and virtual reality simulated experiences, having grown up with almost lifelong access to the Internet. Their expectations of learning opportunities are high and the integration of technology into the process of education fits well with their learning vision. Educational content providers who embrace new technologies have a great opportunity to partner with educational institutions and students to collaborate on brand new content which has to satisfy the needs of the universities and colleges’ standards, and, on the other hand, become a feasible solution for students outside of the campuses.
We must be practical during these pandemic times and take advantage of the fundamental shift we are experiencing. We must seize the opportunity to reconsider the effectiveness of current undergraduate medical education and let the pandemic serve as a catalyst to welcome innovative methods of delivering education. The integration of technology will undoubtedly influence current teaching modalities and as such, the outlook for medical education may change forever. As with all change, some will fear and resist while some will embrace innovation and improve the quality of their syllabus and learning delivery channels. The latter ones will eventually emerge as leaders in the post-pandemic world of medical education while the former will play catch-up.