The Making Clinical Sense research team studies the material conditions of learning medicine, or, as our website says, “a comparative study of how doctors learn in digital times”. In the last week or so, almost everywhere in the world, times have just become a whole lot more digital in medicine, in the midst of the SARS Co-V-2, or novel coronavirus pandemic.
As telemedicine and robotic care come to the fore in clinical situations and smartphones aid contract-tracing, medical educators are trying to think of creative ways to educate future doctors online. Medical organisations are frantically arranging video conferences to work out how to respond to these “accelerated changes” in medical education.
While some final year medical students are being called to the frontline of healthcare with early graduations, and others volunteer their services where they can, many more sit at home, in front of computers and books, trying to learn about anatomy and pathology, about the sensory signs and symptoms of clinical conditions in their future patients. They are taking online courses on how to break bad news, watching videos on how to examine someone’s lungs and lectures on reading pathology results.
Medical councils are investigating whether there can be an increase in the amount of experience gained through simulations, with “meaningful alternatives” to in-person clinical learning encouraged. Virtual Reality providers in medical education are seeing a boom in sales and advertising their products widely since the global spread of the virus (judging from the number of emails from them in my inbox). For the first time final year medical students are being examined online. Last week at Imperial College: “students in their sixth year of medical studies logged in at 1pm on Wednesday and Friday to demonstrate their ability to diagnose a patient’s condition. They were presented with a patient and given their history, findings from clinical examination and data from investigations such as blood tests. They then had to answer 150 questions in three hours, meaning they had 72 seconds to answer each one”.
The implications of this kind of testing, of the increased reliance on simulation and on learning how to listen, touch and be with patients online are challenging and uncertain. There is much to think about and contribute to this situation, in regards to how material conditions shape the ways doctors train doctors who will increasingly be facing such situations. In the coming weeks we will offer some further reflections on this topic based on our work, as we, like the rest of the world, try to grapple with what is happening.
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