Why the shift to virtual learning, collaboration is an untapped opportunity for academic medical centers: 3 leaders discuss

Anuja Vaidya (Twitter) - Print  | 

Academic medical centers sit at the nexus of clinical care, education and research. Even under normal circumstances, balancing these priorities can be difficult, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges.

At a Sept. 25 session at the Becker's Academic Medical Centers Virtual Forum, three leaders discussed how their organizations are fulfilling their teaching missions and encouraging collaboration despite the hurdles brought on by the pandemic.

Panelists included:

● Mary Nash, PhD, vice president of organization development and learning at NYU Langone Health in New York City
● Ted Witherell, senior director of talent management at Boston-based Partners HealthCare System
● Vineet Arora, MD, assistant dean of scholarship and discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine, and associate CMO-clinical learning environment at University of Chicago Medicine

Here is an excerpt from the conversation, edited for clarity. To view the full session on-demand, click here.

Question: As opportunities for learning and interprofessional collaboration shift to the virtual plane, what are some of the key opportunities you are seeing?

Vineet Arora: I was just thinking about that with our hospitalist group and some of the leaders in hospital medicine as well, because a lot of what I do is train and teach quality improvement for a variety of clinicians, interprofessional clinicians, who are on the front line. I would say it's harder to pull people out of what they're doing in patient care and get them into a physical space to do that quality improvement session or reflection. It seems easier to do that in a virtual space where people can just dial in on their phone or from clinic. Our experience has been, go with what works and be open to the fact that there are some positives.

We have actually increased attendance on committees and quality improvement task forces that have rivaled any type of live session we've ever had, even at kickoff, and sustained engagement. So that's been very exciting to see in a virtual environment.

Ted Witherell: I would echo that. I think, again, the headline is the same thing. It's the ease of participation. It's so much easier to participate, that folks do. I think that actually, one of the things that we've seen happen, is it's translated into actual participation in the session. Some of our larger grand rounds, for example, are making use of the chat function and getting greater back-and-forth dialogue than they were before. That's a big one.

I'm also always watching the flip side, though. What we've had to do is negotiate quality just a little bit. A half-an-hour online session doesn't have the same transformational impact as a full day, in-person session. So, helping folks to understand that change in expectations has been a little bit of a challenge.

But definitely that ease of gathering has been huge. I would say there's another real opportunity for us that's made a really, really positive [effect] around social justice issues. We've actually been able to recruit virtually and that has really helped us to bring in all kinds of folks who may be at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum who couldn't travel, for example. It's made their candidacy a lot easier, and we've been able to bring a lot of folks in that way.

Mary Nash: I'll speak primarily from the education of the employees, the leaders, the faculty, from that perspective, rather than the education of the med students at this point. So similar to what Vineet had shared, we're scattered geographically. Having the opportunity for people to participate virtually has really enhanced the ability to not have to worry about traveling for two hours to get there and then traveling two hours afterward, and how will that impact the day? So being able to just log on and participate from where they are, whether they're working remotely, whether they're working on-site, that's just been tremendous. Our team, our learning leadership development team, has really had to step up skills quickly to facilitate engaging sessions, learning technology and make sure we take advantage of breakout rooms and whiteboards and polling and doing all of that to keep people engaged. We also have seen very high participation. I think a lot of it is people are really, especially if they're working virtually right now, they're very excited to have opportunities to at least be face-to-face like this, even if not in the same room.

Another one of the pros is we're utilizing a flipped classroom a bit more. It's accelerated our ability to do that. So having people read ahead of time, come prepared to a session, participate in an abbreviated session, but then have assignments and field work, and then a follow-up and a checkup to see 'how did it go? and what were your successes, and what were your challenges.' [We're] really having a very different adult learning experience, which has been for the most part very positive, challenging yes, but very positive.

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