Virtual IR elective prompted by pandemic restrictions will outlast COVID-19, IRs suggest

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virtualIn response to the COVID-19 pandemic reducing medical student presence on clinical services and in classrooms, academic institutions are utilising a virtual format to continue medical student education, Daniel M DePietro (Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA) and colleagues write in Academic Radiology. Appraising this new form of medical education, the authors describe a successful virtual interventional radiology (IR) elective, and claim that this model “provides a framework for others to continue IR medical student education during the pandemic and grow the specialty’s presence within an increasingly virtual medical school curriculum”. They add that it may be modified to improve IR education beyond the COVID-19 era.

The team created a two-week virtual IR elective curriculum, utilising a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning and a “flipped” classroom educational model. According to DePietro et al, students virtually participated in daily IR resident education conferences, resident-led case review sessions, and dedicated lectures. Asynchronous pre-learning material consisted of text and video correlating to lecture topics. All ten students who participated in the course completed an anonymous pre-course survey, and seven (70%) completed an anonymous post-course survey.

Enrolled students were considering residencies in surgery (50%), internal medicine (40%), interventional radiology (30%), and/or diagnostic radiology (30%). Students’ understanding of what interventional radiologists do and the procedures they perform (p<0.001), when to consult IR for assistance in patient management (p=0.005), and the number of IR procedures students could recall (p=0.015) improved after the course. Case-review sessions and virtual lectures ranked as having the highest education value. Students recommended additional small-group case workshops.

“While the core IR clinical experience comprised of hands-on procedures and patient-care cannot be replaced, the challenges of finding new ways to engage learners and showcase the scope of IR offers opportunities to positively reshape the future of IR medical student education,” the authors write. “The described experience demonstrates that a highly effective virtual IR elective can be created and implemented.”

While the virtual elective was created in response to restrictions imposed on in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors believe it is the start of a trend towards remote or virtual learning. They state: “Interventional radiologists must leverage their ability to embrace technology in order to adapt to the increased emphasis on virtual learning in the wake of COVID-19. This successful initial experience with a virtual IR elective provides a framework for continuing IR medical student education during the pandemic and growing the specialty’s presence within an increasingly virtual medical school curriculum.”

They acknowledge some limitations to their study, notably the small cohort size. DePietro et al add that the generalisability of their institutional experience may be limited by the availability of adequate video conferencing software, ability of IR attendings and residents to participate in synchronous teaching sessions, and access to previously created educational content at other institutions. Furthermore, how participation in a virtual elective impacts student’s abilities to obtain letters of recommendation or impacts their application to IR residency was not evaluated. “Requests to participate in the elective were received from students from outside institutions, however, no institution-approved mechanism for participation of such students were in place during this initial experience,” they say.


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