Inspired Teaching

Supporting Your Healthcare Students in Times of Crisis

By Amanda Bell (@BellDramanda)
Originally Published: March 23, 2020

Teaching healthcare students is often one of the very rewarding parts of our work as physicians or health care professionals and faculty.  Yet in this new crisis clinical environment, healthcare students have been removed from clinical duties across the globe in an effort to keep them safe and to preserve the supplies of PPE for those providing front line care.  We continue to have a duty, as medical educators, to stay connected with our learners and to help them learn from and learn during this global pandemic.

While many faculty leads are creating online curriculum, virtual learning opportunities and new assessment tools, others of us are considering how we can stay connected with and be a support to our students in a practical way.

Here are some articles that will help you to be present for your students when you can’t be present with them:

1. Our Students Want to Help

Check out this article on McMaster students and this article on students in New York City.

Medical students across North America have been removed from clinical duties.  Their learning continues, in different ways, online and in virtual classrooms.  Their strong desire to be a meaningful part of the health care system and provide care to the vulnerable has not changed.  This article describes efforts of medical students in the U.S. which are similar to work being done across Canada by medical students to support the health care work force and the community.  Other healthcare professional students are stepping up in similar, inspiring ways.

As educators, we can support our students and praise them in their efforts to contribute meaningfully to the community.  Their dedication speaks highly to their professionalism and we can reinforce this as an important skill for future healthcare professionals

Check out this link here for an article about this topic here.

Many of our students are very technologically savvy and this temporary world of virtual learning is one in which they are quite comfortable.  What they are missing, however, is the emotional connection with preceptors, the mentorship opportunities, the informal discussion of cases and the clinical learning environment that solidifies their book knowledge and reinforces their career decision-making.  They need our continued connection in real and personal ways at this time to see how we are coping, to know their unique concerns are being considered and to see that we are planning for their future in concrete ways.

We have an opportunity now to role model in ways we never have.  Stay connected with your learners through phone calls and emails.  Speak optimistically about their future learning.  Let them know they are supporting the system in their own way.


3. Our Students Need Us to Be Leaders

Check out this blog post on Leading in Uncertain Times or this article from the CSPL Bulletin about Leadership Agility in chaotic systems.

Healthcare students are scared, concerned for their future and their families and uncertain about what it means to be a physician in times of crisis.  As educators we have a chance to bring calm and control to the educational environment and lead by example.  These articles discuss leadership skills needed in times of crisis - including compassion, communication, advocacy, support, protection, humor and sense of purpose.  Organizational change expert Dr. Jen Frahm discusses five tips in helping to calm people as a leader .

Many of us are finding ourselves pulled to more and more clinical work as demands increase, leaving less time for administrative and educational duties.  Using this opportunity to be strong, compassionate, honest and clear leaders will serve us, our patients, our colleagues and our students in all of our many roles.

In these times of crisis our classrooms have become computer screens and our contact with students is moderated largely by email and video.  Yet now, more than ever, our students look to us for ways to be helpful, for ways to connect meaningfully to their academic home and for our leadership through this storm.  I hope you find, in adapting your teaching methods and your ways of connecting with your students, you will still find that same rewarding, energy-giving interaction with learners and you will be making a genuine difference to them through difficult times.

Dr. Amanda Bell (@BellDramanda) is a part-time associate clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University and the Regional Assistant Dean of the Niagara Regional Campus (@MacMedNRC) of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. In balancing her administrative role and her clinical duties, she remains a passionate advocate for student and faculty support and well-being.