Dean's letter to learners

    Reaching out to you with important information and reassurance during this time of uncertainty.

    By Dean Brenda Hemmelgarn, MD/PhD on March 26, 2020

    I know that the transitions for our learners during the past weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging. The University of Alberta is working hard to minimize negative impacts to your academic life and future. Your health, safety and well-being are paramount. In addition to transferring courses to an online format, the University also made the decision to go to a CR (credit) or NC (non-credit) system for Winter 2020 as an equitable solution for our students. This was approved by the General Faculties Council Executive Committee and supported by its student representatives. As more and more people become directly or indirectly affected by the crisis, the grades earned by students may increasingly reflect the conditions in which they find themselves rather than level of effort and their talent.

    I understand how this decision may cause you concern. The great uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting learners and instructors alike, and we are all being asked to cope with unprecedented challenges, in both our academic and personal lives.

    I know you have been working hard to earn strong academic standing in your coursework and want to applaud you for your continued hard work and effort. I understand that you may feel like your career plans are now altered or that you may be at a disadvantage in your plans to apply for graduate, professional and specialization programs.

    I also understand that many of you are worried about different things beyond grades—adjusting to learning remotely, accessibility to technology and the internet, staying healthy and well, keeping connected with your family and loved ones while practicing physical distancing, jobs and income, and the COVID-19 virus itself.

    Please know that the University, your instructors and I are working together to ensure our students are treated fairly, both in terms of awards and scholarships for coursework completed this 2019/2020 academic year, as well as to identify solutions to minimize the potential impacts on future applications and admissions to other programs and institutions. Discussions are also being held at other academic institutions across the country, and I anticipate globally as well.

    For further information related to the CR/NC decision, please review these FAQs, which provide good insights and should answer some of your concerns that we are hearing.

    Here are some clarifications for learners at all levels in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry: 

    Undergraduate students:

    • MD and DDS courses in the medical school and School of Dentistry are already credit/no credit. Changes to the grading system at the University level will not change how grading is handled in these programs.

    • Year 3 and Year 4 MD clinical placements are temporarily on hold at this time. Conversations at the national level are ongoing to determine the process and timing of re-entry of the medical students, and to ensure that the Year 4 MD students graduate on time.

    • We have confirmed with our partnering licensure and accreditation bodies that letter grades will not be required for students in Medical Laboratory Science, Dental Hygiene and Radiation Therapy programs, including for course work in Physiology 210, Biochem 200 and Biochem 330. All student grading for these courses will be CR/NC. 

    • The CR/NC system will apply for all undergraduate learners taking basic science courses in FoMD in the Winter 2020 term.

    • I am in constant communication with the deans from medical schools and leaders from other health science programs across the country. While each institution may have different plans for grading this semester, I want to reassure you that we are aligned in that we do not want anyone to feel disadvantaged or discouraged about the future admission processes for graduate and professional programs. We are in conversations about how admissions may change, not only for next year, but for years to come.

    Graduate students:

    • We understand that many of our graduate students are working through the challenges of managing family commitments, physical isolation rules, and other restrictions. If you were scheduled to complete a candidacy or final oral exam, these exams can continue with remote participation of some or all of your examination committee members; but if supervisors and graduate students are unable to do so now, please note that all extension requests to accommodate a postponed final oral exam due to these extraordinary circumstances will be approved.

    Post Graduate Medical Education:

    • Certification exams from CFPC and RCPCS are postponed until the fall.

    • The CPSA is working on the process and eligibility criteria for provisional licences for final-year residents.

    • General principles for redeployment have been developed and may be used to optimize where residents provide health-care delivery.

    Taking care of yourself

    It is a priority for us that our learners in the final year of their training or degree program graduate on time, and that other students progress to their next level as seamlessly as possible.

    I know it is challenging to remain focused on your studies. Our University community is here to support and encourage you to continue working toward your future in whatever way you feel able. Please reach out to each other and to your instructors for the encouragement you may need to continue your academic journey through this difficult time.

    At the same time, your mental and physical health are of utmost importance. To offer continued support, the Office of Advocacy and Wellbeing remains open, with psychologists available for phone or Skype appointments.

    As we continue to face the evolving challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know our strong, committed community will get through this.

    Thank you to everyone for the hard work you are doing as we face these challenging times together.