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The pandemic made our medical school stronger

We continue to read a great deal about the effects of the pandemic on universities, particularly the obstacles and stress associated with the changes in the way we teach.

Within three days after the first lockdown the school was ready to fully operate online. Photo: European University Cyprus

"New pressures led to a positive shift in the way our medical students approach their studies"

Yet, very little has been said about the positives. The extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic over a year-and-half brought the very best in our student body, faculty and staff, making us an even stronger and better medical school.

The new pressures led to a positive shift in the way our medical students approach their studies, with a renewed and determined spirit not only focused on their studies, but also on their future roles as healthcare providers and leaders. Both students and faculty showed astonishing agility, resourcefulness and resilience throughout the pandemic. It was no mean feat that within three days after the first lockdown we were ready to fully operate online – we had one sole objective: to ensure that everyone stayed on track.

We were touched by the number of students who stepped forward in the crisis to help our community combat the worst public health crisis of this generation. As dean, I was extraordinarily proud to see that our entire faculty, staff and students were not only determined to continue our educational program but that they sought to serve our oath to provide care!

One of the country’s most prestigious healthcare units made a plea for manpower support to help during the pandemic asking of the possibility of using “a couple of your senior medical students to assist”. The response was incredible. Many students went on to help with various tasks depending on the needs and their level of knowledge and skills.

“With their new growing role in the community, we saw a subtle but important shift in students’ orientation”

With their new growing role in the community, we saw a subtle but important shift in students’ orientation. Their internal direction shifted from Me to Us. They switched their focus from themselves to their role in being part of a team. They saw first-hand and perhaps for the first time that the focus needed to be not on what was good for them but what was good for those around them. Collectively, both students and faculty remained steadfast to the school’s core values: Integrity, Collaboration and Community.

We embraced innovation in order to accommodate safe clinical-skills training, particularly during the pre-clinical years. Our school – which this year received 5 QS Stars for its Medical Doctor Program – developed and implemented a “Train your medical skills at home” pilot program. All our second year students enrolled in the Introduction to Clinical Skills course received a kit containing the material and consumables required to create low-tech simulators to train basic clinical skills at home: A stethoscope, sphygmomanometer, pen light, tuning fork, catheters, plastic tubing, synthetic plastic skin, gloves, and other consumables.

Students were directed through online tutorials to create low-tech simulators that they will use for skills on blood drawing, intravenous catheter insertion, urinary and catheter insertion. They were able to train other non-invasive skills such as vital signs measurement, medical history interview and physical examination with a family member or roommate using the provided material and standardised scenarios.

Our students faced new circumstances brought on by the pandemic by discovering solutions and working as a team. With a renewed sense of humanity and their role in the community, they learned the core elements to overcoming any obstacles the future may bring: Careful Observation, Agility, Compassion and No Compromise to Quality.

So, while the crisis may have created confusion, it also brought clarity – our medical students grasped their future role and our medical school produced the next leaders in medicine.

About the author: This is a sponsored post from Elizabeth Johnson, Professor of Anatomy and Dean of the School of Medicine at European University Cyprus. She has been active in spearheading curricular reform at the Schools of Medicine of the University of Ioannina, University of Athens and European University Cyprus, the later resulting in full recognition of the programthrough the process of the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME). Dean Johnson was trained at Cornell University and the University of Maryland, and did her post-doctoral training at the National Institutes Health. Her research in neuroscience onstress-related disorders has produced a noteworthy scientific record. With an extensive history of trainees, many of her mentees are currently faculty, researchers or clinicians in top centers globally. Johnsonserves on the Federative International Programme for Anatomical Education (FIPAE) and is currently President of the Board of the International Network for Health Workforce Education (INHWE).

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