You’ve obviously excelled in a traditional educational system — that’s how you made it to your current position. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed medical training in a variety of ways. Since remote learning resources haven’t traditionally been part of the premed or medical school curriculum, you’ll be adapting while your program implements more remote learning resources than ever before.
The uncertainty of this transition can make you feel powerless. Remember that adjusting to an unwelcome challenge can also be a chance to shine and enhance skills you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build otherwise. Here’s some advice to keep in mind as you head toward fall.
Seek Clarity Through Communication
How do distance learning classes work? It’s an honest question, so don’t hesitate to ask it for each course you take. Each instructor might approach remote classes differently, and you can get off to a good start by understanding their system and expectations.
A virtual anatomy course might involve demonstrating your understanding of anatomy using three-dimensional simulation tools, while a clinical skills course might require live interactive sessions. An article in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine describes a virtual course in which student competence was measured by assessing how well they recognized the need to escalate care for patients with signs of impending respiratory failure.
It can help to figure out the best way to maintain interaction with the professor and the other students in the course. Online discussions can help you get to know your professor and classmates, so try not to miss discussion sessions. This type of community building isn’t as easy in a remote setting as it is in person, but it can be done.
Improve Your Audio and Visual Presentation Skills
Speaking effectively in a group setting is one of the most valuable assets you can cultivate. You might have given class presentations or participated in meetings in person, but virtual talks and conferences require a different set of abilities that many people are uncomfortable with. These types of interactions entail projecting your voice and maintaining your posture differently from how you would in person — whether you’re the speaker or the listener.
When people only see your head and the top of your shoulders, it can be hard to show that you’re paying attention when someone else is speaking. For example, you can’t turn your body to face them and their support materials, a subtle cue that shows interest. You may find yourself nodding or smiling in exaggerated ways to show others that you’re listening. Overall, there’s a learning curve when it comes to videoconferencing, and the more you observe yourself and others, the more natural it will become.
A big advantage with online presentations is that there’s often a built-in mechanism for recording and watching your own presentations so you can improve your technique.
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Master Group Collaboration
Group collaboration will be a part of your life forever. Take this opportunity to develop organizational skills and leadership capabilities, figuring out ways to fit accountability into your group projects. Keep in mind that as you’re learning to work with your peers in a remote group setting, everyone else is learning, too. And it’s important to recognize that others who aren’t so great at meshing with a group will probably improve with practice.
Get Ready for a Telemedicine Future
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed virtual care into the spotlight, as patients use telehealth to connect with their doctors during the strict lockdown period. Experts suggest that telemedicine will play a bigger role in healthcare delivery for years to come. For just one example, an article in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology describes the changing paradigm of e-health in the care of inflammatory bowel disease. Doctors in training may be more equipped to adapt to telemedicine than experienced physicians, although proficiency with live patient management certainly carries over into telemedicine. Seeing patients in person builds clinical judgment in ways that telemedicine can’t.
During medical school, you can shadow physicians during telemedicine visits. They’ll be able to show you how to interview and “examine” patients using only virtual tools. You have a huge advantage in using this technology early in your medical education by experiencing firsthand the logistics, capabilities and limitations of telehealth.
Remote learning resources include online materials, live meetings, recorded lectures and practice exams. The volume of medical knowledge you need to master isn’t going to shrink.
I recently had an interesting discussion with a medical educator who isn’t a physician. This respected professional explained to me that she hadn’t been the best student herself and sympathizes with the fact that the pace and volume of material medical students need to conquer is intense. At the same time, she can’t compromise the educational standards and requirements for students who are having a hard time keeping up.
So, you need to absorb and digest all the material even if you have to do a lot of that learning in a remote environment. This means identifying your own best study techniques — whether you learn best by listening, relistening, taking notes, participating in group study sessions, reading or even letting yourself get put on the spot so you can explain things to others. Be sure to take advantage of innovative study options like the journal club or brown-bag webinars described by the American College of Sports Medicine.
As with every aspect of remote learning, there are pros and cons. Make an effort to reinforce your weak spots while making the most of your strengths.