For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: No going back

I’ve been involved in several educational encounters recently that got me thinking about some aspects of educational delivery methodology now and especially in the future. The first two were in-person teaching sessions I had: one where I taught cardiovascular patient management to a physician assistant class, and the other when I helped run a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) boot camp for second-year medical students just prior to the start of their clinical rotations. I haven’t done much in-person teaching since the start of the pandemic in 2020, and I was thrilled to be back in the classroom and simulation center instead of teaching virtually. There is no question that it is much easier to connect with students when we are all together in the same room, and where I can get a good feel if the students are “getting it” by watching their body language.

The CPR boot camp experience also was great fun, but it emphasized another key principle related to virtual education – I really don’t know how one would teach, let alone actually perform, CPR other than in person. During the exercise, each of the six students in the group rotated through the six team positions (team leader, chest compressor, airway specialist, medication provider, recorder, and monitor manager) and practiced the specific duties of the position while learning how to be an effective team member. It seems to me that such an exercise would be essentially impossible to do other than in-person and face-to-face.

On the other hand, I’m involved in an all-virtual learning experience this week that has been awesome! My wife Dr. Susan Farkas and I are involved in a four-day Mayo Clinic continuing medical education course in cardiology. It is a review and update of the latest developments in the field, presented by highly experienced and knowledgeable clinician-investigators. The course is hybrid, meaning that some participants are in-person with the lecturers, but many of us (like Susan and me) are viewing online.

We can watch from the comfort of our study and chat with each other if we have a question, without disturbing others. And if we have to miss one of the live presentations (such as during the day today when I’m seeing patients in clinic), we can review the recordings of the sessions we’ve missed at a later date.

A number of factors have contributed to making this virtual experience so positive. Importantly, the quality of the audio and video is outstanding. The video is high-resolution, and the sound quality is excellent. There is an online tool that allows participants to painlessly pose questions that then are answered. The presenters are excellent and comfortable with the technological issues involved in such a hybrid presentation. Fortunately, only a few years ago the State of North Dakota authorized us to build our new SMHS building in Grand Forks to include this capacity for distance education. As such, the building has the latest in audio-visual and wireless technology, at least for now. And while such technologies have yet to be fully implemented at our other regional clinical campuses, we’re getting there.

Thus, it is clear to me from these recent experiences that both in-person and virtual learning environments are valuable when done right. Importantly, I can’t imagine that we’ll return to the “old days” prior to the start of the pandemic. I have no doubt that a hybrid blend in education – and in the workplace in general – is here to stay. The challenge will be to get the balance right, but the expectation of returning in the future to a near-100 percent live work/education experience seems to me to be unrealistic, given what we’ve learned over the past three years. The issues will be to get the right blend of live in-person and virtual experiences, and to ensure that the technology for the virtual experiences is of the first order. One look at the parking lot in front of our building in Grand Forks on any given day confirms that for many of us, a mixture of in-person and virtual teaching and work delivery methods is already a reality.

I’d welcome any comments or feedback you may have. But I have to run right now – another lecture in the Mayo Clinic cardiology course is about to start and I need to tune in!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences