The Pandemic and Teaching

COVID-19 has changed essentially everything around the whole world – everyone feels the differences to their lives are paramount, and we are no exception. Our college, an institution usually booming with the best and brightest scientists, medics and entrepreneurs finds itself barren. The latest email update sent out by Imperial College London about COVID-19 indicated that the campus is now set to an essential-only status, allowing only vital research and operational activity. This means that all of Imperial’s exams and teaching are either taking place remotely or being rescheduled.

Taking a closer look at the exams within the medical school community, all of the practical exams involving patients and actors, of course, have been cancelled. It was announced on Friday 13th March in a lecture, by Professor Mary Morrell, that the second-year practical exams also known as the Objective Structured Practical Exams (OSPEs) have been cancelled. The OSPE, a precursor to the famous and more well-known Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs) in third year and Practical Assessment of Clinical Examination Skills (PACES), has around seven stations each testing basic skills and anatomy which many second-year students would have otherwise spent much of March revising for.

Most written exams have been changed to remote exams which will be taken online; these will assess much of the theory that students have been taught this year. Many exams have the same format and timings – and have ‘just transferred online’ revealed a 4th-year student currently taking Bioengineering for her BSc.

As with the exams, teaching has also been delivered remotely. Third- and fifth-year students have been set ‘clinical caseloads’ each week, which contain a number of cases and questions to be completed within a deadline, specific to the clinical attachment they would normally be on. Students are then expected to attend a virtual ‘case round’ (an interactive lecture) on Zoom going through each case. These are carried out by clinicians and academics in the field. A student also talked to us about how the lectures for his Obstetrics and Gynaecology teaching have stuck to the timetable they normally would be on to accommodate the busy schedules of clinicians who are offering to teach. One of his online lectures was given at 8:30 am – a shock to some students’ sleep cycle in this social distancing period we’re sure!

In contrast, from speaking with a second-year source, The Gazette found that year two students have not been greatly impacted in regard to studying. This is because they had already finished all their teaching and their final lectures for the year had been given – so now they are just revising in very much the same way as they would have done otherwise. In third term, year two students undertake a Clinical Research and Innovation (CRI) project. This year, CRI will focus on either volunteering in the NHS to help fight the coronavirus and producing a video-log, or analysing data on the pandemic.Final years, of course, have had an unprecedented change in comparison. They have taken the world’s first-ever digital open-book exam in place of conventional ‘Finals’. All students have abandoned plans of an elective – the opportunity to learn and practise some medical skills in another country or community. However, many rejoiced over their graduation from medical school on the 31st of March as Doctors, which for many has been an undertaking of years with significant sweat, blood, and tears. Many of them are now starting to work as Junior Doctors to support the NHS following the announcement of their placements on Wednesday 8th March.

Moreover, our thoughts and gratitude go out to all the societies who selflessly put in a vast amount of effort this year to deliver peer-led teaching in the form of tutorials, study sessions and lectures. These were an invaluable source of knowledge, and even though some of the relevant exams have been cancelled, the practical skills learnt will be valuable for life. It is also heart- warming to see that even in the face of this setback, societies such as Muslim Medics have innovated their ways of teaching to deliver online tutorials. MedEd have also publicised the formation of a novel remote learning committee for this unpredictable period so that students feel supported to study and work to their best ability.

Thank you to all who have made sure that our students’ educations’ can go on amidst this pandemic and we hope that everyone remains safe and sane.

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