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Medical School in a Pandemic

By Shanna Combs, MD

These are interesting times here in North Texas.  I just spent the day completing an eight-hour curricular meeting for our Phase 2 Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship, all through online video conferencing.  These are the current social distancing times of COVID-19.  

Our students have also adjusted to this new reality, by having all their learning converted to online video conferencing.  This includes their small groups, where they work through clinical cases, develop learning objectives, then come back together to teach their fellow students what they have learned.  Their clinical skills sessions are also online where our students can work with their physician educator as well as standardized patients to hone their craft.  While not an ideal platform for teaching hands-on clinical skills, the students are getting introduced to the ever-increasing telehealth that has become more common during this pandemic and will likely be more common after the pandemic comes to an end.  Our students have also been able to engage with patient panels online, where the patients engage with the class in a conversation on their disease processes that are connected to the curricular content the students are learning.  

Unfortunately, during this time our students have also had to step away from their clinical duties, which currently includes working with a family medicine or internal medicine physicians for a half day every other week.  While the students are not able to participate in direct patient care at this time, they have not been deterred.  They now want to find other ways they can contribute to the local community during this pandemic.  They are working on a project to do readings of children’s books for children to access online during this time of sheltering in place and distance learning for all students.   Our students are also working to support and participate in blood drives as well as working on setting up a PPE drive to obtain the necessary PPE for our local clinics and hospitals who are in need.  They truly understand the meaning of being Empathetic Scholars™.

The students are also taking this time to work with their mentors (virtually, of course) for their Scholarly Pursuit and Theses project.  This is a four-year long research program where students work one-on-one with a local mentor to develop, perform, and ultimately present their own scholarly work.  Lastly, our Prep for Practice course is taking the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight the many themes in their course including Ethics, Health Care Delivery, Health Care Policy and Advocacy, Informatics, Patient safety and CQI, Population Health, Physician as Educator, Psychological and Behavior Science, as well as Team-Based Care.  So many of these important topics can be highlighted through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pandemic carries on, we at the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine continue our work for our students, but ultimately for their future patients.  The COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully pass sooner than later, yet our students will continue in their education and be even more prepared for the next crisis in healthcare.  

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