Quickly switching to virtual instruction, maintaining personal connections with students and shouldering an increased workload were among the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic for the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine (BSOM) faculty.
However, the restrictions posed by the pandemic enabled students, faculty and staff to adjust to and master virtual instruction in multiple locations at the same time, creating new educational possibilities for the future.
Dr. Brenda Roman, associate dean for medical education and chair of the Department of Medical Education, said, “The pandemic has been a reminder of the incredible dedication of our faculty and staff in having the flexibility to teach differently and spend many more hours in the day to accomplish the work as facilitators of the students’ education. While it has been a challenge to foster the close-knit environment that Boonshoft has been known for, I am grateful for the grace of our faculty, staff and students during these challenging times.”
Wright State moved to remote delivery for most courses in March 2020 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. BSOM was forced to begin planning for virtual pre-clinical instruction for first- and second-year students, only one day prior to switching to virtual instruction.
“Given that we have a lecture-free curriculum, this was a huge undertaking, as we could not simply put lectures online,” said Roman. “Our staff in the Department of Medical Education, MedOps instructional technology support team, faculty and students deserve so much credit in shifting to virtual instruction literally overnight and not missing any crucial information in their medical education.”
But while the students were having peer-instruction and team-based learning sessions online, they were missing some of the more subtle aspects of teamwork and the informal aspects of getting to know one another.
Roman said there were only minor changes in the curriculum. While the teaching styles have stayed the same with peer-instruction and team-based learning, faculty use multiple platforms to approximate in-person teaching.
“Students and faculty needed to have two to three platforms running at once on a computer, or computer and phone, in order to effectively move back and forth from large group sessions to small group sessions,” she said.
Roman said the greatest challenge by far has been getting to know the first-year students and maintaining the personal connection with all of the other students.
Moving to a virtual learning format did have a different impact on some students. Roman said, “Our pre-clinical students did not feel that they were getting the same education, although content and engaged learning methods did not change; it was just all done virtually.” She added, “Our test averages have remained the same and we have been more transparent with showcasing the students’ and faculty’s efforts.”
Roman said having to remove third- and fourth-year students from clinical instruction for three months was one of the hardest decisions she had to make, but necessary as that was the guidance nationally for medical schools due to concerns about the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE).
“Faculty, especially our clerkship directors, had to become very creative in their educational endeavors, such as quickly developing telemedicine rotations at the same time that they were pivoting to conducting medical appointments virtually themselves,” she said.
Roman said maintaining similar levels of education has been more challenging in the clinical settings. Not having clinical students involved in the care of COVID-19 patients due to the PPE shortages meant fewer learning opportunities.
“As hospital systems prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients, elective surgeries were cancelled or postponed, so students did not get as robust experiences as in the past,” she said.
“We continue to provide the best experiences possible during the pandemic, but know that some students feel more anxious, they do not feel as prepared to enter residency,” she said. “Our fourth-year students interviewed for residency positions virtually and matched to programs in cities where they never visited before.”
Roman said welcoming the Class of 2024 virtually was difficult for the students, faculty and staff.
“We do not get to interact with our students in face-to-face discussions that used to occur routinely in class,” she said. “We are more isolated from students than ever before and they are isolated from us. They are also isolated from each other; while discussions can occur in small break-out rooms virtually, it limits the spontaneous interactions and getting to know people on a deeper level.”
Roman said there has been a massive increase in the frequency of meetings for faculty and staff given the ease of virtual meetings.
“Maintaining work-life balance has been even more challenging as more meeting times creep into the evenings, and parents of younger children do double duty in having to home-school and care for their children while trying to get their jobs done,” she said. “For most faculty and many staff, workload has increased since the pandemic began. Our students who are parents are especially challenged with the rigors of medical school and trying to balance their personal lives.”
Roman said faculty and staff in the school’s Skills Assessment Training Center (SATC) who lead clinical teaching programs in the pre-clinical phase have had an especially challenging time as they must prepare students in clinical skill development.
“In order to make the program work, significant adjustments have been made, which include wearing masks and face shields and having fewer people in the rooms together when assessing students,” she said. “Fewer people in rooms have meant that SATC faculty and staff must also utilize Saturdays for many of our skills training sessions to get all the students through each session.”
Roman said the most difficult thing has been having to hold a virtual graduation in 2020, and a small graduation ceremony with a few faculty and limited number of guests in 2021.
“The medical school graduation and hooding ceremony is such an intimate affair with family and friends—truly a highlight for both students and faculty, a culminating event after all the years of hard work,” she said.
The fourth-year students also missed out on the Match Day celebrations in 2020 and 2021, a time where they find out where they will go for residencies.
“It is definitely a major disappointment for our students to not have these traditional medical school milestone celebrations,” she said. “Both Match Day and graduation were times that students, faculty and staff could say goodbye to each other; not having those opportunities leaves an empty place in our hearts.”