EDUCATORS SPEAK: Teaching health-care pros under new normal setup

THE Covid-19 crisis has disrupted many sectors, particularly the medical field, where the training of doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals experienced unprecedented roadblocks.

Pandemic or not, it is still vital to produce health-care professionals skilled and equipped to do more than just respond. Thus, the University of the Philippines-College of Medicine (UPCM), UP-College of Nursing (UPCN), and UP-College of Dentistry (UPCD) came up with collective efforts on ways up-and-coming clinical professionals can be trained without jeopardizing the need for knowledge and skills using a synergistic roadmap for medical, nursing and dental education; internship; and even residency; using best practices and innovative teaching strategies.

All these are made possible while keeping with guidelines set forth by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Health (DOH) in a joint memorandum circular.

For Dr. Charlotte Chiong, dean of the UPCM, it was really an unnerving experience since the early days of the pandemic, where many of their colleagues succumbed to the disease.

“That propelled us to really work hard and think of innovative ways [to produce medical graduates] our country really needs,” Dr. Chiong said during the recent “Stop Covid Deaths” webinar: “Ang Pagtuturo ng Medisina, Nursing, at Dentistry sa New Normal” organized by UP, in partnership with UP-Manila NIH National Telehealth Center, and in cooperation with UP-Philippine General Hospital.

She said UPCM came up with several adjustments during the pandemic, particularly on the academic schedule, where semesters in the UP system were shortened to 14 weeks from the original 16, all off-campus elective rotations were canceled with electives shifted to midyear, and course durations were also reduced.

“Learning outcomes were reviewed and adjusted to essentials: the ‘must know, must do,’ especially in the clinical years,” Dr. Chiong explained. She added that teaching-learning methodologies were transformed to have them delivered to UPCM’s learning-management systems (LMS): the Canvas and the UP Manila Virtual Learning Environment.

Other changes, she said, involved the increased usage of asynchronous learning, and more use of meeting platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams and Google Meet: “We even offered honor students free enrolment in Harvard Medical School online courses on biochemistry and pharmacology. We’ve been doing this for 450 students in the past two years, and we plan to enroll 220 more before the next academic year.”

The dean also pointed out that assessments were done online using the Neuro Objective Structured Clinical Exams, while psychosocial support were also provided to students, faculty and employees with more mentoring sessions, mindfulness-training sessions, and even leniency in academic course requirements and rules, plus virtualization of medical education using equipment provided by several donors.

“For Academic Year 2022-2023, we will combine remote-technology enhanced learning, online assessments, blend of in-person and online lectures, and also a blend of performance-based evaluations and in-person examinations,” Dr. Chiong said.

Dr. Sheila Bonito, UPCN dean, noted that there were similarities and also variations in changes in teaching in the said college. She likewise lamented the fact that many schools closed and clinical practicum was stopped, while faculty development got delayed because of the pandemic.

“This also exposed some issues, such as under-investment on nursing education,” Dr. Bonito shared. “With not enough investments, how can we continue producing quality nurses?”

The dean said the UPCN has already been doing that even before CHED mandated flexible learning for tertiary education, and that they have redesigned their courses, developed course packs, as well as designed learning activities and planning assessments given the new modes of teaching and learning.

“We also did de-coupling of courses to be able to deliver remotely lectures, some laboratory work, and even clinical practicum,” according to her. “Most important, faculty members also had to undergo training in terms of how to redesign their courses, which we also shared with other nursing schools, us being a CHED Center of Excellence.”

Just like UPCM, the UPCN used online technologies like LMS, Zoom meetings, video-based learning, and creation of virtual clinics that can give students the scenario for clinical practicum exposure: an imagined hospital setting where students perform various nurses’ tasks.

“We believe there’s no more going back to the old ways of teaching and learning. The threat of infection will still be there, and there will be other challenges in the future,” she said.

Finally, Dr. Danilo Magtanong, UPCD dean, pointed out that some in the college, plus other schools in the country, still hope that education will go back to the old ways once the pandemic ends, or “back to normal.” “Personally, I wouldn’t want to go back—because there’s nothing to go back to. Our so-called response to the pandemic, such as retrofitting and renovation of the entire college facilities, must not be viewed as our preparations for the new normal. This is the environment necessary for dentistry training long before.”

He said the pandemic revealed inadequacies, incapacities, and disregard to real situations in clinical training, along with risks, perils and dangers that go with them: “Our hard lesson here is: We were just lucky to have gone this far.”