Fireside Chat: Virtual Education’s Benefits and Impact on the Healthcare Learner
Virtual education has taken on a whole new meaning in our present day. The pandemic caused the entire world to stop and adjust quickly to digital living, interacting, and learning.
Virtual learning environments aren’t new to medicine. However, we observed its evolution and growth during this shift. Malka Stromer, Education Director of CME at WCUI Global, and Dr. Beshoy Ghaly of MSK Ultrasound Mastermind® share their incredible insights as POCUS Education Providers (PEP). They have witnessed the transformational impact virtual education provides healthcare professionals by modifying their program offerings during the pandemic.
How did you, as a PEP, adjust to virtual education?
Stromer: In general, it’s complex with ultrasound because it’s a hands-on modality that historically, we work in groups to learn. Pre-pandemic, we traveled around the country, hosting sessions and educating in person. When the pandemic hit, we had to figure out and become innovative with the use of technology.
The challenge became, “Well, how do we educate from a distance teaching a hands-on skilled technique?” We had to look for options and utilize technology to our benefit. I am so excited about it as it enhanced our ability to honestly, in some ways, educate, maybe even better than we did before. There are pros to technology and cons, but we had to look at the positive and innovate. We knew we had to continue that education component further.
Dr. Ghaly: When the pandemic hit, we felt the change and immediately recognized that the future requires us to adapt and find new ways to connect with clinicians who want to learn.
Believe it or not, we learned from the kids. Schools were closed, and children attended classes remotely. It was confusing at the beginning for teachers and students, but steadily, both adapted.
So inspired by this idea, we decided that the best thing is to offer classes virtually, so we stay connected as a community and strengthen each other. I believe that there is a light somewhere in every dark situation, even if I cannot find it immediately. As you know, great ideas are developed from the womb of struggle. So, with that said, let’s do what we are good at, teaching, but let’s do it differently!
In short, I can say that the pandemic facilitated the process, but the change in education medium is here to stay. We are proud that MSK Ultrasound Mastermind® is from the pioneers who offered complete virtual education in musculoskeletal ultrasound. Many clinicians wanted to learn MSK ultrasound, so we developed the online programs to help them learn at their own pace and within their schedule, not the instructor’s schedule. Again, our ultimate goal is to help as many clinicians as possible to learn MSK ultrasound, so why not help with the delivery method.
How did you decide to develop your virtual learning opportunities?
Stromer: WCUI is a school of medical imaging, and from our standpoint, the time was now. We had a small timeframe to convert all of our formerly in-person lectures to online. WCUI was one of the first organizations to convert to a completely online platform. We had it in our five to 10-year plan to become a hybrid program and move more online, but that happened in a matter of weeks.
We were able to get accredited by using learning management systems and platforms like Zoom for lectures. When I came on board, I saw we had the infrastructure in place to do this. We just needed to add the ultrasound technology to it and get started. And that’s what we did.
A five to 10-year plan became today’s plan. Everyone had to figure out how to work in this new world. From a school perspective, I found it pretty impressive to convert everything. A lot of it, especially with education, it’s educating the educator. We have this familiar standpoint. In education, they call it the sage on the stage, someone’s up on stage and talking to people, doing their thing. Now, we’re in this new realm, unsure if it will be effective in this unique educational and instructional design.
We’re focused as an institution on making sure we are indeed a hybrid program, from our POCUS programs to our PEP programs, ensuring competency-based learning modules that I don’t think exist out there. We’re excited about that.
Dr. Ghaly: The main focus here is on the learner! The learners have to build a connection with the instructor to learn more efficiently. We cared about all the details, from the instructor-learner relationship to quizzes and lectures. We are not just recording videos; we’re developing a virtual connection between the learner and the instructor. We incorporated daily assignments and instructions for the learners to follow. Learners can ask questions directly to the instructors during their learning journey and receive tailored answers, not automated ones.
Learners can also practice using their own handheld ultrasound machine and follow the online program step-by-step similar to being in the classroom. Our name is MSK Ultrasound Mastermind®, so this is the “MASTERMIND” the learner deserves.
How did your students respond to having virtual learning opportunities?
Stromer: When it comes to education, it’s about the outcome for our learners and the positive experience we provide them. We received countless positive feedback on our virtual learning environment. In ultrasound, again, it’s a very hands-on skill that people are learning. In an in-person setting, as educators in ultrasound, we’re very used to grabbing somebody’s hand and moving it to where they have to go to allow them to acquire the physical aspect of ultrasound, the skill component. We let the struggle happen for a little bit. Then we jump in and help.
Now, we have to vocalize the movements and not use our hands. We have to tell our learners what the movements are and how to move. According to the feedback received, the learner has to take more ownership of the action, which is very positive. In this scenario, they have to contend with the struggle and are forced to understand the techniques that we know will optimize the images, which helps them learn better. We’ve had several learners say it’s almost better that we’re doing it virtually and don’t have instructors holding our hands because we have to do the activity, listen, and understand the anatomy ourselves.
Dr. Ghaly: Many welcomed the idea and saw it as a great solution that fits their needs. I can tell you that the shortage of MSK Ultrasound education resources made it hard for many to get access to the training they needed. However, I cannot deny that others were worried about the transition and if it would be effective.
Here is our strategy: learn online first on your own and then if you need additional training, reach out, and we will accommodate your request at your clinic or a pre-scheduled location. Many clinicians want a clear path to follow virtually, and they are good to go on their own. We also offer mentorship opportunities for more in-depth guidance.
What are the benefits you’ve seen of virtual education?
Stromer: Again, with technology, we can visualize and guide the learner while viewing their ultrasound screen and seeing where their hand is on their patient. This happens through our virtual live labs, where instructors and students are live scanning and have interaction. It’s solely based on technology, allowing us to do this phenomenal stuff, guiding learners from a distance.
Then, the other aspect is that even though it’s virtual, it’s live, interactive, and builds community, which is important. We’re bringing people that are doing the same thing together. We also have sessions continuously to keep the learners engaged. It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing. We’re going to be involved with them as long as they want to be involved with us.
Dr. Ghaly: Virtual education is excellent for flexibility and makes it easier for clinicians to get involved. You do not need to worry about your work schedule or making plans to travel. You do not need to wait for specific dates to learn what you are ready to know now, not tomorrow or a month later. You can study anytime during your day at your own pace.
The feeling that the instructor is all yours within your virtual education experience is fantastic. It is one-on-one learning. You can repeat what you want to learn from the lecture or the lab as many times as you wish.
The convenience of studying using your laptop, tablet, or even smartphone is priceless. The learners know what is best for them, not the instructor, and when they have the freedom to choose, they will make the best decisions for themselves, facilitating the learning process.
Virtual Education Impacts
The adjustment wasn’t easy, but it made for remarkable results. The outcome is greater accessibility, reach, and autonomy. Virtual learning has equalizing power as it eliminates barriers to further education. Our medical community only grows stronger from knowledge, and virtual learning is leading us there!
Learn more about the virtual learning opportunities offered by our PEPs.