Providing education continuity for medical students in response to COVID-19 pandemic

  • Students

Remote and online teaching and learning developments were rapidly deployed for medical students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) review, conducted by researchers from RCSI’s Health Professions Education Centre.

The review, undertaken as part of an international BEME collaboration, is published in a recent edition of the journal Medical Teacher. It found that practical clinical education was provided using telehealth, PPE and social distancing measures.

Medical education required a swift shift in delivery following the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic. The comprehensive rapid review reflects this pressing need for redevelopment, totaling only four weeks from inception to completion. It sought to investigate the implemented changes across medical schools and hospitals internationally and identify published reports that can serve as models for future developments, providing vital insight into ensuring continued best practice in medical education and positive learning outcomes for students.

49 articles reporting medical educational developments for undergraduate and postgraduate learners were identified and reviewed, considering descriptions of interventions, evaluation data and lessons learned. Researchers found that key developments include pivoting educational delivery from classroom-based learning to virtual spaces, replacing clinical placement-based learning with alternate approaches like telehealth, or utilising digital platforms for long-distance clinical and patient contact, and supporting direct patient contact with mitigated risk.

The results also reveal that learner engagement, structure and organization are crucial in transitioning and maintaining new forms of education delivery. Training to prepare medical students for treating patients with COVID-19, student assessments, wellbeing, admissions, faculty development and service reconfiguration were all additional areas addressed and adapted in response to the pandemic.

The effectiveness of these measures and their long-term implementation is yet to be seen. While some studies reported notably robust evaluations, there were limitations in relation to the quality and completeness of the evidence base as these measures were rapidly introduced in response to the pandemic. The review identified areas such as admissions, assessments and faculty development that were underrepresented in the COVID-19 literature at present and made recommendations to encourage informative and high quality evidence-based research to guide the medical education and health profession community going forward.

This research is the result of cooperative efforts between RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and eight other universities internationally through the BEME collaboration. It is hoped that this will encourage others in the medical education community to become involved in such activities through international collaborations. RCSI has a long-term strategy to enhance digital medical education. In its own response to the COVID-19 crisis, these plans have accelerated so that RCSI can maximise the potential of digital education for its medicine and healthcare students.

"We have put robust health and safety measures in place to protect our students’ health and wellbeing during the pandemic. They will experience smaller class sizes and blended delivery of their programmes, but we will ensure that the same learning outcomes will be delivered to all of our students. They will still have access to the same expert lecturers and clinicians who have been working creatively to adapt programmes to the new arrangements," said Professor Hannah McGee, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences.  "With the help of HPEC and our BEME research, we are committed to informed medical education that can be adapted to provide an excellent learning experience for all our students."