By Chonglu Huang
From the time that COVID-19 moved many classes online, educators at the Faculty of Medicine have kept the curriculum on track via virtual platforms like MS Teams, Zoom and TOH Weblink.
For new medical residents in the Department of Emergency Medicine (EM) at uOttawa and The Ottawa Hospital, program directors Dr. Michael Ho and Dr. Lisa Thurgur said that the program hasn’t missed a beat in delivering quality education.
From weekly clinical presentations to journal clubs to wellness events, the emergency medicine team has made it possible to go virtual with an extensive array of learning opportunities for residents.
"We have an incredible administrative team and thanks to them we didn’t miss a beat. We didn’t lose or postpone any core academic sessions since COVID-19 hit us in March,” said Dr. Ho.
In emergency medicine, clinical case-based presentations such as Core Rounds and Grand Rounds have all shifted online since the pandemic began; even yoga, trivia and CrossFit sessions are available virtually.
"I think the fact that our specialty tends to be innately adaptable and comfortable with unusual situations gave us a starting advantage,” said Dr. Doran Drew, a co-chief resident in EM. “The cohesiveness of both our staff and resident group, along with our award-winning admin team and our overall departmental dedication to education, are what really made this happen so seamlessly—cancelling everything was never considered an option.”
Furthermore, a regular feedback process from residents through on-going surveys helped refine the virtual learning experience down to a science in itself.
“The most common feedback has been the importance of presenters being ready for their sessions,” explained Kymber Tran-Ai, a member of the EM admin team. “Tweaking their presentations to reflect the virtual environment, as well as sending out materials in advance, all enhance the flow of the live talk.”
One trick to increase engagement online is to encourage attendees to use both microphone and video to talk to one another and ask questions in meetings.
“The discussion is much richer, and there’s a heightened sense of community,” said Dr. Ho. “While some attendees can be camera-shy initially, the uptake to video has increased over time as people get more comfortable and experience the value of interactivity.”
Another handy online approach is the use of “breakout rooms” on certain platforms to split discussions into smaller groups of four or five people so that everyone can voice their insight and get to know their peers.
The Department of Emergency Medicine also launched a series of virtual core emergency medicine symposiums over the spring and summer; an initiative spearheaded by chief residents, Dr. Doran Drew and Dr. Renée Bradley. This initiative has allowed prospective residents to get to know the speciality and ask questions about this area of medical practice.
“We knew medical students had initially been taken off their clerkships at the start of pandemic lockdown, but we still wanted to give them a chance to learn about emergency medicine and the kind of patient care we provide,” said Dr. Ho.
For the Department of EM, the transition to a new online learning reality has largely been a story of success, perseverance and grit.
Several uOtttawa EM residents have since published papers in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine on how to enhance online learning through sharing the lessons learned from their own recent experiences.
Dr. Garrick Mok, a fourth-year emergency medicine resident, published an article that summarizes how training programs can maximize resident learning during a pandemic. And Dr. Tetyana Maniuk, a third-year emergency resident, wrote a peer-reviewed article that describes practical tips to improve wellness during COVID-19.
"I think our department adapted very quickly to virtual formats,” said Dr. Miguel Cortel-LeBlanc, an emergency physician at The Ottawa Hospital.
“We gathered a lot of user experience data early so we could make improvements week to week. We prioritized responding to people’s concerns and difficulties as quickly as we could to maintain momentum and engagement.”