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          Professors and administrators predict what the future of med school might look like post-pandemic — and argue that virtual learning is here to stay

          medical coronavirus flu virus covid19 hospital doctor nurse tools stethoscope blood pressure pills vitamins medicine pharmacy pharmaceutical lab vaccine cox 22 medical coronavirus flu virus covid19 hospital doctor nurse tools stethoscope blood pressure pills vitamins medicine pharmacy pharmaceutical lab vaccine cox 22
          Virtual learning, professors argued, allows for quick transitions during stay-at-home orders and protects students' health.
          Crystal Cox/sunbet

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          • The coronavirus pandemic has altered the medical field, and with it programming at med schools.
          • Professors, deans, and program directors at med schools across the US told sunbet that online learning will continue to grow in popularity.
          • Simulations and virtual worlds like Second Life could replace some hands-on training.
          • Meanwhile, they see more communication between schools, professors, and students happening over email and chat groups, as well as smaller classrooms dedicated to break-out sessions.
          • And in light of recent protests and calls for racial equality, professors emphasized a need for more anti-racism and bias training for students.
          • Visit sunbet's homepage for more stories.

          For decades, the way that students trained to become physicians in the US was fairly predictable, generally involving preclinical classroom-based learning of basic medical concepts and competencies followed by hands-on experience with patients. But in the wake of the coronavirus, the medical field is quickly morphing — as is the experience of attending medical school.

          "Medical schools across the nation have made tremendous efforts to ensure the quality of education expected of medical students while maintaining both medical recommendations and precautions to mitigate transmission of the coronavirus," said Chris Colbert, assistant program director of the emergency medicine residency program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

          From a renewed emphasis on technology to new teaching methods and dual degree opportunities, here's what experts predict medical training grounds will look like post-pandemic.

          Expanded virtual learning and telehealth training

          Medical school students and professors alike will need to adjust to the increasing role technology will play in the healthcare industry, said Andrew Ibrahim, a resident surgeon at the University of Michigan and chief medical officer at global architecture firm HOK who's been on the front lines of fighting COVID-19. 

          "The next generation of med school students will need to be trained on how to conduct virtual visits as telehealth continues to rise in popularity," he said. "Telemonitoring will also need to be taught." 

          Andrew Ibrahim
          Andrew Ibrahim.
          Andrew Ibrahim

          The surgeon added that the med school curriculum itself will also need to shift to being partially virtual at least until the virus has subsided, meaning institutions will have to overcome and address challenges with varying forms of instruction. 

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          Colbert agreed that an excellent way to maintain the safety of students while providing required education is through virtual classes. He said that classes will most likely be both prerecorded and live and that the fundamental objectives of med school topics will be discussed and explained in virtual classrooms as they are in the traditional classroom. 

          Chris Colbert
          Chris Colbert.
          Chris Colbert

          "Topics will be covered in similar fashion," Colbert said. "The actual hands-on interaction has been modified due to social distancing. Online simulation labs coupled with alternative teaching modalities will be used to supplement educational integrity."

          Camille Wendekier, an associate professor of nursing at Saint Francis University Worldwide, said that because of COVID-19, many schools are rethinking preparedness for coursework moving forward for the fall and potentially beyond.  

          Camille Wendekier
          Camille Wendekier.
          Camille Wendekier

          "These schools may transfer all classroom education experiences to an online format [so] that they could deliver instruction face to face or online," Wendekier said.

          She stressed that while the move to an online format would not replace face-to-face learning, it would provide a seamless transition in the event of needing to adapt to more stay-at-home orders. She also predicted that due to the potential for more stringent hospital clinical regulations and/or future stay-at-home orders, programs will need to rethink simulation and virtual experiences to assure students can continue clinical learning from a distance.  

          "Programs may use virtual patients or simulators using teleconference, virtual clinical software, and/or virtual world platforms such as Second Life, where clinical instructors could interact with students in real time," Wendekier said.   

          Finally, Wendekier predicted that the role of student support will also evolve to include more personal assistance from faculty to help students through not only the initial transition to distance learning, but to assure that the students are having a positive learning experience long term.  

          "Program budgets will need to be adjusted accordingly so that the programs can invest in the informatics infrastructure, faculty education for efficient use of the technology, and increased faculty advising/mentoring on a one-to-one level," Wendekier said.  

          More online communication

          Warren Wiechmann, associate dean of clinical science education and educational technology and associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, said that when considering the many fundamental challenges that the pandemic has brought forth, one of the biggest questions has been whether it's possible to train future doctors in the absence of direct patient care.  

          Warren Wiechmann
          Warren Wiechmann.
          Warren Wiechmann

          "There were countless creative approaches that schools used to keep our medical students engaged in the clinical aspect of patient care — connecting to clinical rounds via video conferencing software, bolstering their knowledge with online case-based discussions, and increased utilization of existing and newly created standardized patient and simulation cases to replicate the clinical environment," Wiechmann said. "Ultimately, these were all temporary measures until our students could safely return to direct patient care."  

          But Wiechmann added that planning for a post-pandemic environment — or even for future pandemics — really requires not only defining the role of the medical student but also establishing clear measures for how to keep learners safe. He sees communication and transparency as vital toward these goals.

          "Schools should use a multifaceted approach — student and leadership town halls, institutional COVID-19 updates, easy access to policies and workflows — to ensure that students have access to the best information available," Wiechmann said. "These clear channels of communication also make it easier to pivot when the circumstances require a change."  

          In lieu of in-person classes and face-to-face meetings with course professors, Colbert also foresees a much higher priority being placed on students maintaining an open line of communication through email and med schools creating group emails and chat rooms based on each course. 

          "Scheduling and participating in online group discussions will further enhance an understanding of the topic discussed [online]," he said.

          Growing interest in dual degrees and hybrid fellowships

          Ibrahim predicted that many schools will develop technology minors, allowing medical students to focus their studies in this direction. 

          "These students could be at the forefront of developing and implementing virtual care in new, innovative ways," Ibrahim said. "COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for this much-needed change."

          Konstantin Vasyukevich, an assistant clinical professor in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and a cosmetic surgeon in Manhattan, added that for students considering getting a dual degree, now could be a good time to do so.

          Konstantin Vasyukevich
          Konstantin Vasyukevich.
          Konstantin Vasyukevich

          "The combined curriculum for popular dual degrees like MD/MS, MD/MPH, and MD/MBA are more suited for a virtual learning because they are more lecture-based," he said. "With labs and clinical rotations on hold for the time being, it could be a good use of time." 

          Ibrahim explained that COVID-19 has illuminated the importance of connectivity between the built environment and the care being given, which is why he's worked with the University of Michigan to develop a fellowship that gives students the opportunity to simultaneously study medicine and healthcare design. He anticipates seeing additional hybrid fellowship opportunities emerge — giving students an opportunity to converge topics that have previously been studied in silos — and predicts healthcare and healthcare policy will become increasingly intertwined with design and planning. 

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          A new look for classrooms with built-in flexibility

          "Physical environments for learning and social gathering spaces will always have a place in medical education, but in the wake of COVID-19, I could see there being less density in these learning environments," Ibrahim said. "This will place a premium value on the physical environment." 

          He explained that as some aspects of medical education get converted to virtual formats, the buildings will inevitably reflect this change through additional small break-out spaces and tech rooms to broadcast classes and allow students to participate in virtual classes.

          A significant upside to this shift, according to Ibrahim, is that many medical students are now nontraditional. 

          "They are older, might have previously worked in another field, and value flexibility," he said. "Virtual formats for some courses will help attract more diverse medical students, which is good for everyone."

          Prioritizing diversity and inclusion and anti-racism training

          Ibrahim emphasized that a focus on diversity and inclusion in light of recent protests around police brutality and systemic racism must be prioritized for medical schools moving forward. 

          "I think we'll see the student bodies at most medical schools become much more diverse, with more people of color, students from diverse backgrounds, and individuals with differing life experiences who may not have followed the more 'traditional' path to med school," Ibrahim said. 

          Luz Claudio, a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, pointed out that the pandemic has made health disparities very clear, which have been further illuminated during the subsequent protests on racial equality.

          Luz Claudio
          Luz Claudio.
          Luz Claudio
          "One of the things that must change in medical schools around the world is to improve and expand the training for future doctors on the role of racism in healthcare and the resulting disparities in health outcomes," Claudio said. "There's an urgent need for more training in how to combat these issues as part of the medical school curricula."  

          To that end, Claudio explained that med schools must cover how doctors can actively engage in anti-racism while practicing medicine.  

          "It is important for new physicians to learn to recognize racism and socioeconomic inequalities as crucial determinants of health," she said. "They have to learn this not only as abstract concepts or as a bird's eye view of the overall population. Physicians must learn that these social factors and inequalities affect the health of their actual individual patients."  

          For this kind of training to be most effective, according to Claudio, medical schools need to partner with community organizations, advocates, and leaders to promote hands-on learnings that teach students the actions that they can take to consider racism and inequalities in their medical practices.  

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          Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer and communications consultant in New York and San Francisco, serving as a copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter for executives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders across diverse industries, with a focus on productivity, work-life balance, stress management, and women's leadership. As a business journalist, Robin contributes to sunbet's Strategy section, and her work has also been published in Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Forbes, US News & World Report, and many other business publications.
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          Robin is the author of \"Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30\" and has contributed to many business books including \"Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career,\" \"Rise to the Top: How Women Leverage Their Professional Persona to Earn More,\" and \"Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success,\" published by Random House. Before starting her own business as a corporate writer, Robin held executive positions in communications, journalism, and advertising, including as vice president and managing director at Draftfcb in New York, as managing editor at Cline Davis & Mann, and as director of communications at Catalyst, Inc., on Wall Street; she has also served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in New York and San Francisco.

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          An avid runner and two-time Boston Marathon qualifier, Robin graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with honors from University of Oregon, a.k.a. TrackTown USA, where she majored in English visit her on her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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