Creating our “new normal” in undergraduate medical education

Guest blog by Dr. Meredith McKague, Associate Dean Undergraduate Medical Education, and Dr. Kent Stobart, Vice-Dean Medical Education

A great deal of change was necessary in the USask MD program, in the healthcare system and in the broader university, to navigate the pandemic. Our top priority in UGME was keeping learners, staff and faculty safe, while working to find effective ways to continue delivering education and keep graduation timelines on track. And as we navigate now to our “new normal,” we are using the feedback of our learners, faculty and staff to create a teaching and learning environment that benefits from both tried and true practices and what we’ve experienced these past few years.

One area of potential misinformation we want to address is speculation that the pandemic served to reduce the cost of delivering the USask MD program. This was not the case, mainly due to increases in small group teaching due to group sizes being reduced to better enable physical distancing, as well as PPE costs. Faculty time previously spent on in-person lectures was instead used to create pre-recorded lectures or to live-teach, virtually. (There were few instances where previously recorded lectures were re-used over the past two years.)

Thus, overall, while there were savings in other cost areas within UGME, the cost of teaching in the MD program in fact rose during the pandemic. Changes made to manage the pandemic did not reduce the cost of delivering the MD program.

Now, as we have transitioned back to more in-person teaching and learning in our program, we are testing a hybrid approach based on what we learned during the pandemic, leaning heavily on student and faculty feedback. The UGME office has received mixed feedback from students regarding online course delivery, with some preferring in-person learning entirely and others preferring a virtual approach where feasible for the content.

Thus, this current hybrid approach, with a mix of in-person and online learning, is being used and tested out, and supports what we have heard from MD students. It is very much still a new approach and we are learning as we work together to deliver a strong program. Faculty and course leads, building on the many changes made during the pandemic, continue to explore ways to creatively deliver content. We are committed to working with our learners and faculty to arrive at a sweet spot—the best possible delivery of our program to learners that ensures effective outcomes and offers reasonable flexibility for everyone involved. As always, there are various things that must be considered, including taking into account the range of needs and preferences of students and faculty, delivering a solid program and achieving strong learner outcomes, all balanced against sustainable program costs.

An area of success this year for learners and our program we would like to highlight is that our Medical Council of Canada (MCC) Qualifying Exam-1 results were slightly higher than the Canadian medical school graduate average, and we achieved very similar outcomes across our campuses and sites; this is a really important achievement as a provincial medical school delivering medical training to meet the needs of all of Saskatchewan. It’s important also as we expand the Regina campus this August to include 40 per cent of our first-year medical students; up to now first year for all seats in the program was delivered in Saskatoon.

We are also excited to be unveiling a renewed curriculum for the MD program this fall, so watch for more details on that at that time.

The pandemic has been a difficult time in so many ways for so many people. Our learners, faculty and staff have come together to support one another, and we have also seen some positive changes. We will keep working with learners, faculty and staff together as a CoM team to continue to improve our curriculum delivery in support of student learning.

2 thoughts on “Creating our “new normal” in undergraduate medical education

  1. I believe it is important to acknowledge the support staff in facilitating the delivery of the program in the past two years. They have patiently delivered the extra work required.

  2. Congratulations on navigating a most difficult time, successfully. I think everyone has been so proud of the school at all levels and the commitment to education and participation in the delivery of care to our province.

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