Online medical school—a win for accessibility?BMJ 2022; 376 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o131 (Published 18 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o131
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I strongly agree with the author that there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic in terms of promoting accessibility. It also proves that not every medical student or doctor is "invincible".
Those at my medical school are lucky in that lectures have been recorded as policy since my first year, meaning that people had the option to rewatch a lecture if need be, or not miss out if they were unable to attend. This has been invaluable to all students, making learning more accessible for all.
However, as the author mentions, there is no substitute for face to face social interaction to prevent isolation and loneliness, already rife in the student population before the pandemic was even a conceivable threat. It is important to consider mental health, and accessibility in this regard, to services and people that improve our mental wellbeing, has taken a serious hit. Even travelling to the medical school involves getting out the house for a small amount of time, hugely beneficial compared to sitting in front of a screen all day.
Medical schools and their affiliated universities were very much forced to move online, proving that it is entirely possible, despite years of some denying this to students with health conditions who lobbied for it, on the grounds of it being too big a logistical challenge. If this has proved to in fact be possible and potentially even something to remain in place, perhaps the concept of part time medical courses, again something that has sometimes been met with resistance, can be reconsidered to tackle this issue of accessibility, mirroring the LTFT option for doctors. This would mean that students can still get the full benefit of face to face teaching where possible: especially important in clinical years.
My cohort has suddenly been given a taste of what we have been missing during our clinical years: with the return of some (very willing and enthusiastic!) simulated patients to our Medical Education Centre in the last week. Personally, I didn't realise quite how different practicing on real people, who can feed back to you on examination technique (and who said loved being back, and had missed getting to see us all face to face) really is to the experience of online learning. I knew it must be better, but never to this extent. It now makes me wonder, and worry, how disadvantaged my cohort due to start F1 in August will be compared to previous cohorts in terms of confidence, and to what extent there may be knock on effects to patient care.
Competing interests: No competing interests