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Learning in ‘Real Time’ 

Learning in ‘Real Time’ 

For medical students and trainees across Johns Hopkins Medicine, COVID-19 is creating an academic year for the history books, one with challenges galore but opportunities as well.  

As the academic year began this fall, medical students, particularly in their first and second years, are experiencing many of their classes and lectures through a computer screen.  

Last spring, when in-person learning was suspended for clinical students, 30 new online electives were created to continue their education, on topics including telehealth, critical care, biomedical ethics and, of course, COVID-19. Over the summer, faculty members and support staff refreshed their materials to better reflect the realities of online learning. Lectures were updated and shortened, when appropriate, and materials were added for independent study. 

“We’re trying to be creative about leveraging virtual technology to ensure people are getting exposure to the experiences, even if it’s not in person,” says Nicole Shilkofski, associate professor and vice chair of education in the Department of Pediatrics.  

There’s no substitute for dissecting a human cadaver, however. Though gross anatomy lectures are online, dissections are still in person, with eight students at four tables, instead of 18 students at six tables.   

The in-person portion of medical training has also seen changes. Rotations are shorter: Six weeks instead of eight for medicine, pediatrics, surgery and women’s health, and three weeks instead of four for neurology, psychiatry and emergency medicine. And when the trainees do go on rounds, often only one student, one intern and one resident enter a patient’s room at a time, about half the number of pre-COVID-19 times.  

“I worry that people will be less inclined to spend time at the bedside,” says third-year internal medicine resident Madeline Rodriguez. “That time is hard to replace. It’s where medical students meet real patients, hear real stories.” On the plus side, she says, smaller groups give each learner more opportunity to ask questions.  

Information about the novel coronavirus seems to change by the minute, says Shilkofski. “We’re teaching medical students in real time,” she says. “If I’ve learned anything in the past four months, it’s that medical education is a team sport. I’ve been fascinated to see how COVID-19 has united us as an academic and medical community across the world. It’s been one of the more heartening things I’ve taken out of all this.”   

Read more about how the learning and research of Johns Hopkins’ 4,000 medical and graduate students, residents, clinical fellows and postdoctoral research fellows is being impacted by the global pandemic. 

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