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With Flying Colors

With Flying Colors

As the pandemic passes its first anniversary in the United States, we at Johns Hopkins Medicine continue to do all we can to care for patients, and to protect our communities and our employees. It’s been hard for everyone, without a doubt.

In addition to patients, staff members, the community and clinicians, there is, of course, another group at Johns Hopkins Medicine that has had to grapple with difficulty during this crisis: everyone involved in education, including students and their teachers.

Last winter, when it became clear that Johns Hopkins would need to adjust how it provided education and training, I directed our educational leaders to quickly develop a plan that would allow our learners to continue their studies without interruption. Because we have spent the last few years developing the resources and expertise needed to deliver educational content remotely, this adjustment went relatively smoothly.

Over the past months, we have incorporated a great deal of online and remote instruction into our approach. For the school of medicine, the fall semester included both online and in-person instruction. It is our belief that some of the knowledge and skills that graduate and medical students must learn are best acquired in person. We structured those on-campus activities to enhance our students’ education and training, and took the necessary steps to ensure their health and safety.

For example, our first-year medical students learned human anatomy from cadaveric dissection, as medical students have long done at Johns Hopkins. This year, though, the anatomy lab was de-densified and instructors and students wore personal protective equipment (PPE), including surgical masks and face shields. At the same time, our graduate students engaged in laboratory research, also in de-densified research space and with appropriate PPE. While there was some interruption of direct patient care activity for medical students on clerkships and clinical electives and while some of our laboratory research was interrupted, all efforts were made to continue high-quality instruction for all students, thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of our faculty members, and to the flexibility of our learners.

Our residents and clinical fellows have been very much on the front lines caring for COVID-19 patients, with all the commitment, caring, anxiety and stress that comes with that, and with worrying that they may be carrying risk home to their spouses, partners, friends, children or older relatives. Many of our residents and fellows have interrupted their usual training and refocused or redeployed in areas of the hospital and in types of care that they did not intend to be part of their residency or fellowship. Residents and clinical fellows have worked side-by-side with our faculty, nurses and others to provide care for patients with and without COVID-19 infection. Our learners’ work this year leaves no doubt whatsoever about their enormous commitment to medicine.

The pandemic has stimulated great creativity among our faculty members. We have found that some of our curriculum can be taught effectively online. In some ways, online learning is more efficient, and many students actually learn better using this method. It can liberate teachers to work closely with students in more precise, and also more rewarding, ways.

The pandemic has also required a lot from our teaching faculty, most of whom also have another job, or even two, as both clinicians and scientists. However, they managed this transition gracefully and effectively, which is a testament to their commitment.

The coming months will bring more change. Hopefully, vaccines will become increasingly available, and we may be able to begin more in-person instruction for some of our learners.

Whatever the future brings, I know that our teachers and learners will continue to move forward impressively.

As always, I hope all of you are doing all you can to stay safe. Please take care.

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