Imperial Connection: Breaking new virtual ground in medical education

By Dr Samantha Gallivan, Deputy Academic Lead (Collaborative Partnerships), Imperial College London

The Covid-19 is not the first global pandemic but one that has struck at a time of unprecedented interconnectivity. Our connected world creates ideas and inspiration that circuit the globe as fast as electricity can carry them. It is one of the strengths of our collaboration between LKCMedicine and Imperial that we can share best practices and experiences as soon as they happen, and we have the skill and flexibility to adapt to the benefit of all our students.

In response to the pandemic, examinations, clinical placements, tutorials and teaching have been revised and both schools now look to the future as they plan for the upcoming academic year. The pandemic has affected students at all stages of their training, from entry to final examinations, and the lessons learned at both schools have the potential to benefit all of them.

Excellence in medical education relies on universities being able to identify those students best suited to a career as a doctor. In usual times at both schools, prospective students take part in Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs), where candidates are assessed across several activities by multiple independent observers to give a rounded, more objective overview of a student’s performance than a traditional interview affords. At LKCMedicine, in response to DORSCON orange restrictions, online MMIs were conducted representing a novel, adaptive approach for the school. An account of the experience has been published in a recent academic paper so that other schools can learn from their insights.

At both schools, a programme of online learning has been rapidly developed by the dedicated teams of faculty and clinician-educators. In addition to the creation of digital content and Team-Based Learning conducted entirely online (at LKCMedicine), a combination of case-based learning, online tutorials and available digital materials has been used in the clinical years to provide the best possible alternative to face-to-face patient contact.

This academic year has already seen dramatic changes in teaching and learning, but there will be further challenges in the months ahead for those young people who are in the middle of their studies. Medical schools must balance the mission to provide an excellent clinical education that includes contact with patients and healthcare staff, with the need to keep our students as safe as possible. 

Both LKCMedicine and Imperial share a commitment to listening to students’ voices and have kept this principle at the heart of any changes made. Both schools have used online feedback mechanisms and regular student communication sessions to keep up to date with students’ experiences.

Examinations are a key element of any medical course and usually combine written and practical tests of skills, knowledge and professional attitudes. Final exams need to rigorously assess students as safe to practise and are the last step before students complete their medical education. At Imperial, final examinations coincided with the most restrictive period of social ‘lockdown’ in the UK resulting in the development of an online, ‘open book’ final MBBS examination. With that approach, these new doctors were able to join their colleagues in front-line patient care weeks earlier than originally planned.