"We thought, How do we teach anatomy if students are not on-site for access to cadavers? And [we] thought to apply new technologies to resources we already had," said Melvin Rosenfeld, senior associate dean for medical education at NYU Grossman.
Virtual reality tools have allowed for hybrid instruction, unlocking the potential of certain platforms such as simulation centers for a large number of remote learners, said Dr. Marc Triola, director of the Institute for Innovations in Medical Education at NYU Grossman. For example, with a faculty member on-site at the simulation center, students could interact with mannequins and observe their "vitals" all through a virtual space, Triola said.
Virtual learning benefits schools and health systems as well as students, said Dr. Daniel Katz, vice chair of education for the Mount Sinai Department of Anesthesiology, Pain and Perioperative Medicine. Before the pandemic, a refresher course for advanced cardiac life-support certification required an instructor to conduct it with a mannequin. At Katz's department, with about 200 people to be recertified, that process could take up to 10 days for everyone, assuming a ratio of one instructor for every five students.
However, Katz's department adopted the use of virtual reality headsets during the pandemic and found that not only was it more time-efficient, but it also resulted in cost savings. There were fewer variable costs involved—no expensive mannequins that had to be maintained, and no external instructors were needed—and individuals were able to undertake the training as their schedules permitted. Katz did a study on the VR tool for the recertification training and found that it achieved savings of 83% per learner, assuming the training was carried out four times a year.
"For some learners who needed more time, they could definitely do so, as opposed to a classroom setting, where they had to absorb all that information at the same pace as everyone else," Katz said.
Technology has also improved the logistics of medical education. Faculty members can now prerecord their lectures when it is convenient for them, freeing up their day for clinical matters, Rosenfeld said. Not being locked into fixed times provided individuals the flexibility to carry out their own training, and this has allowed providers more time to interact with their patients, Katz said.
Technology won't completely replace in-person learning, however, said Cole.
"Absolutely nothing replaces the actual experiences of dissection, for example," he said.
Rosenfeld agreed, saying that even after the pandemic, all the innovations borne from the crisis will need to be preserved and adapted for future education needs.
For example, telehealth has become a mainstay, and the technologies involved in enabling it will need to be taught to students, Triola said.
"Medical education won't ever be the same," Rosenfeld said.