Reimagining medical education in India at the time of the COVID-19 crisis

With the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a significant rise in the usage of online learning platforms among medical students, points out Gerald Jaideep, CEO, Medvarsity Online

When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? Probably we all know the answer. COVID-19 is here to stay. The sooner we accept, the better we can cope up with the new normal.

With the pandemic continuing to stay (until the vaccine arrives), it’s still uncertain when all the medical institutions will get back to their normal routine with regular classes. Hence quick adaptation to various online learning platforms and teaching tools can help to achieve the learning goals and objectives. COVID-19 has badly affected medical education with students and professors struggling to survive the crisis by deploying multiple approaches. Temporary closures of medical colleges across the country due to nation-wide lockdown caused several ramifications on the medical profession.

According to a handbook released by Indian Medical Association (IMA) under its initiative Doctors 4 Doctors (D4D), the pause in the education of medical students, especially hands-on learning, due to COVID-19 may result in long-term “negative” consequences for society as a whole.  COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on medical education worldwide, leading to the cancellation of lectures, exams, clinical rotations, and ultimately the temporary closure of medical schools. The book further highlighted that a medical student may miss out on the opportunity to deliver a newborn on their obstetrics rotation or to participate in a code called in the emergency department.

Since the start of COVID-19, the approach to medical education in India has experienced a significant shift with all the undergraduate students of medical colleges relocating to their hometown in order to prevent having contracted. Even the foot fall of medical professionals and clinicians at workshops, CMEs, and conferences have disappeared.

Postgraduate examinations are supposed to be completed by May 2020, but the Universities are advised by the Board of Governors in Supersession of the Medical Council of India (MCI BOG) to extend the date to June 30 2020. MCI BOG has issued an advisory to relax the appointment of External Examiners in the Post Graduate Medical Education Regulations (PGMER).

The growing acceptance of online learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a lot of uncertainties and thereby led medical colleges and universities to leverage various online platforms. Statutory bodies like the Medical Council of India have also supported the initiative of online learning as there were no other options left to continue education uninterruptedly.

The opportunity to learn and grow through online medium has been embraced wholeheartedly by professionals across different specialisations. But the acceptance of online education was not significant among medical students or professionals. But now with the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a significant rise in the usage of online learning platforms among medical students. Given the temporary closure being imposed due to nation-wide lockdown, most of the medical colleges have started exploring online teaching platforms to impart education to the students.

Availability of various streaming tools and affordable internet solutions are the driving force of making online learning accessible to all. Despite the geographical locations, students can get access to study materials and attend lectures at the click of a button.

Though research and studies are yet to be conducted on the implications of such learnings among medical students, the future of medical education seems to be driven by online platforms.

Addressing small glitches in virtual learning 

Teaching and learning from home may sound very comfortable but it poses innumerable challenges in meeting the right educational goals. How to assess the performance of the students on a regular basis? How to make sure that medical students gain specialised knowledge on a subject with a hands-on learning experience? Face-to-face interaction holds potential in helping students to delve deeper into the subject and implement them practically.

Though online teaching and learning become a new normal, it’s very difficult for medical students to meet their learning goals. Because practicals, clinical ward rounds, outpatient department (OPD), and OT postings, and internal assessment examinations can hardly be accomplished online.

Replicating a similar teaching experience and clinical exposure through online sometimes may create a challenge for medical faculty members. Because things like OPD, ward postings help medical students to have interactive communication with patients. Hence it adds value in developing both communication and clinical skills.

Why do medical practitioners need to develop evolving skill sets?

Medical graduates today earn their degree with limited or no exposure to new technologies, so the skills they are learning have to be updated too. The curriculum is yet to catch up to the global standards of medicine and education. And not to forget the additional challenges posed by COVID-19. Without proper training, infrastructure, and guidelines for online learning, medical professors are struggling to enable students to develop critical knowledge and understanding of medical education.

So additional training has become imperative for those in the medical and healthcare services. Given the continuous advancements in technology and approach to healthcare delivery, the need for up-skilling among the medical fraternity has gained enough awareness and momentum today.

Today the process of treating a patient requires a holistic approach that involves technical expertise and especially good communication skills apart from just clinical expertise. Students in medical colleges should be encouraged with proper training to develop good communication skills. The traditional medical curriculum should be improvised with the inclusion of formal training in communication skills in the form of Continuous Medical Education (CME).

Upskilling and reskilling have become necessary to stay competitive in today’s world given the changes brought by technologies and even societal shifts. Medical professionals are also expected to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in clinical sciences and medical technologies. Moreover, in order to respond to a situation like COVID-19, healthcare professionals need to upgrade themselves with a specialised course like COVID-19 management to better serve the patients.

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Reimagining medical education in India at the time of the COVID-19 crisis 

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Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.

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Reimagining medical education in India at the time of the COVID-19 crisis – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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