Educating future physicians in the time of COVID: A scoping review of online medical education

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About the project

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the design and delivery of undergraduate medical education. Medical education itself has shifted rapidly from traditional classroom learning to online medical education curriculum delivery (teleteaching) and home-based work by medical education faculty and staff (telework). Medical education programs grappled with which educational activities should be changed, continued, added, postponed or cancelled. They also had to ensure the skills, knowledge, support and tools required by medical education workers were available for this transition. The COVID-19 pandemic, and our rapid move to online delivery of medical education, has significantly changed the work of medical educators and administrators, highlighting an important knowledge gap.

This scoping review was designed to respond to this urgent need to identify, organize, analyze and share information about how medical education has been, and could be, delivered in online formats that are effective, inclusive and support the resilience and wellbeing of teachers and learners. Our specific research questions were:

  1. What do we know in the literature about delivering: a) effective, b) resilient and c) inclusive online Undergraduate Medical Education (UGME)? What do we need to explore?
  2. Given the importance of hands-on clinical and procedural skills in UGME, how can we guide decisions regarding best curricular formats amid COVID-19?

Key findings

Implications for research on online learning in medical education:

  • Medical education would benefit from more rigorous, theoretically informed research in online learning.
  • Medical education would benefit from broadening the types of research questions being addressed about online learning.
  • Medical education would benefit from more in-depth, qualitative investigations of the experiences of online learning.
  • The literature in Simulation and Virtual Reality is plentiful and merits its own review.

Implications for practice for online teaching and learning in medical education:

  • Medical education should identify specialties, content areas and/or skills that are amenable to online learning.
  • Medical education should consider virtual electives and rotations to increase exposure to non-core clinical areas.
  • Medical education/educators should seize the opportunity to weave inclusion into all aspects of online UGME.
  • Medical education should find opportunities to integrate feedback into online learning resources wherever possible.
  • Medical education should consider the benefits of online assessment.
  • Medical education should embrace creativity born of necessity.

Policy implications

  • Medical schools should design and implement curriculum focused on telemedicine: Telemedicine is an urgent and exciting area for growth in contemporary UGME. Medical curricula must be developed to ensure these technological and telehealth skills are being developed and assessed. These programs should be monitored by the Committee on the Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (CACMS).
  • Medical schools must ensure that online education is delivered in a safe, inclusive and healthy manner: The Committee on the Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools (2019) Standard 3 focuses on Academic and Learning Environments, and states, “A medical school ensures that its medical education program occurs in professional, respectful, and intellectually stimulating academic and clinical environments, recognizes the benefits of diversity, and promotes students’ attainment of competencies required of future physicians” (p. 5). While this standard was originally developed with an in-person learning experience in mind, we believe that it is time to revisit this standard given the complexities of the online learning environment.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Anna MacLeod, Professor and Director, Education Research, Research in Medicine Unit Head, Continuing Professional Development and Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University:

Paula Cameron, Senior Research Associate, Continuing Professional Development and Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University:

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, the Future Skills Centre or the Government of Canada.

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