Medical education team celebrates a year of innovation

Tamara Vineberg - 23 February 2021

The medical education team collaborated on many projects, including a virtual CaRMS, during the pandemic.
It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 changed the way we work. The Department of Pediatrics’ medical education team had to re-think how they delivered services to learners. We asked Jessica Tucker, gastroenterology and endocrinology program administrator, Cassie Tobin, general pediatrics program administrator, Anita Reff, emergency medicine program administrator, and Sheri Godreau-Shedeck, undergraduate program administrator, to look back at their year of innovation.

How did COVID-19 change the way you deliver services?

Cassie Tobin: I have been with the university for many years and we have evolved into the virtual world slowly. I believe COVID launched us into this life and we had to adapt and be productive through these changes. Everything from meetings to interviews to orientation is completely virtual. Having to promote the University of Alberta to potential future residents has made us more proactive with marketing our programs since previously, students could come to Edmonton directly. We have had to be more innovative with how we manage our education programs.

Anita Reff: COVID has given us the opportunity to grow in ways we hadn’t expected. Business will never be the same post-COVID. We’ve learned that we can provide everything we need to deliver in alternate ways. The pandemic was the impetus to step up our game and embrace technology. That has allowed us to maintain all the services that we did before and sometimes improve upon them.

What types of innovative projects did you develop? How did you conceive of these ideas?

Jessica Tucker: We implemented and developed ways to run exams effectively, OSCEs, Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) interviews, meetings, orientations and events all virtually. It was all trial and error and tons of practice to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Cassie Tobin: We have an incredible team of program directors and administrators working together to ensure our exams run smoothly. We hold CaRMS interviews on Zoom and the Wonder platform to produce more of a socializing aspect. We wanted our CaRMS week to not only be about the interview, but also for candidates to get to know us as a program at the University of Alberta. We have held many webinar sessions, updated our websites, created tour videos/slideshows, and virtual social events.

Anita Reff: Resuscitation rounds are definitely more of an in-person activity, but the faculty stepped up and walked through a resuscitation on video so that learning could continue. We have actually found that rounds attendance has gone up since going virtual. In the past, lack of sleep would keep people that worked over nights from coming back, or staying at the hospital, to attend. Now they can sign in from their own living room, kitchen, or even bed. There is no judgement in Pediatric Emergency Medicine if you show up for rounds in your pyjamas. We also record some of our rounds, so they are available to view later if you aren’t able to show up.

What types of results or impact did you have from these projects?

Sheri Godreau-Shedeck: We have received positive feedback. There was learning at the beginning, as it was all unfamiliar to us.

Jessica Tucker: Overall, I think people are shocked with the outcome of how well we transitioned into the virtual world and how effective it is. Feedback has all been positive. Obviously we ran into learning curves as this is new for everyone, but the cost savings alone with running exams, and interviews virtually is clearly a huge positive result from all of this.

Who did you require to collaborate with in order to get successful results?

Sheri Godreau-Shedeck: We could not have been successful without everyone. It was nice that we all experienced similar changes with our programs and could gain from each other - the good, the bad, and the shortcuts.

Anita Reff: The medical education team has been amazing about sharing tips and tricks with each other. We often get together virtually for planned, and spur-of-the-moment meetings to help each other. Dropping by someone's desk has been replaced by sending someone a quick chat, or better yet, sending a group chat. We have done a phenomenal job of being there for each other, maybe even a better job than we did at work. Without the additional distractions of being in a busy, open office, we give individual members one-on-one attention. It has been great for team building.

Will you incorporate these different processes into subsequent projects following the pandemic?

Jessica Tucker: We have proven that we can run things more efficiently and it will be successful. The cost savings alone are huge.

What challenges did you face when you had to innovate, and how did you overcome them?

Sheri Godreau-Shedeck: I remember the first time I had to run exams virtually, I was so anxious. I practiced, and I asked lots of questions. But with anything after you do it once (or twice) it honestly isn’t that bad.

Cassie Tobin: For our first virtual objective structured clinical examination (VOSCE), I was very nervous as this was utterly unfamiliar to me. I also had only been in this position for a year and was still learning. I asked many questions, practiced the online platforms, and worked with the education team to overcome any fears I may have with the virtual world.

How did it feel to face these challenges and, now that you can look back, how do you feel about what you accomplished?

Jessica Tucker: I am truly proud of my peers and myself for getting through this tough year. It was certainly frustrating, but the impact that this transition to virtual has had supersedes all feelings I had going into it.

Cassie Tobin: It felt daunting but very rewarding. It is exciting to have to be innovative and create something thoroughly different; I feel like I am even learning every day in this virtual world and always looking forward to creating new concepts.