Prior to the advent of COVID-19, radiology residency director Lilja Solnes was already working tirelessly to ensure the residency program was on top of its game. Ensuring that Johns Hopkins’ radiologists remain among the best trained in the world requires that they be trained in the latest techniques and technologies.
Long before the pandemic, Solnes and her team were exploring using Zoom video conferencing software to create virtual classrooms where residents could attend lectures and pose questions as if in a real-world classroom. The pandemic altered the trajectory of that evolution.
“The pandemic forced us into overdrive in refining these technologies as quickly and incorporating them as broadly as possible in the department,” Solnes says.
In that regard, COVID-19 produced one surprising outcome that Solnes had not anticipated: a lack of patients. Fearful of contracting the virus in a hospital setting, people were not showing up in emergency rooms and even for regular appointments. This is a problem for a residency program.
“You need a certain volume of cases for residents to learn,” Solnes says. So she did what an enterprising residency director does: She adapted.
Along with her associate program director, Cheng Ting Lin, Solnes developed a series of virtual patients for their first-year residents to evaluate. These patients were based on real-world cases and were intended to present the sort of complexity and variety that a first-year resident might encounter in a busy hospital. With a dearth of patients and the strictures of social distancing paramount, the old in-person model had to be transferred to the virtual environment.
While this process was a learning experience for Solnes and for the residents, it was most profound for the faculty, many of whom were unaccustomed to live video conferencing technologies.
“Basically overnight, we had to get everyone on Zoom,” Solnes says. “I have to say that the faculty were amazing because they just stepped in and learned how to use it, which really showed their commitment to education.”
In many ways, she says, the virtual learning platform significantly enhances the traditional teaching model at Johns Hopkins. Because the institution has long-term patient data on the cases presented virtually and can present the same case to each resident as a “new” case, it makes it much easier to assess whether a resident has correctly read a study and how they are performing relative to their peers.