Our Faculty’s teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future

Message from Dr. Annette Majnemer, Vice-Dean, Education

Today is October 5, World Teachers’ Day, an opportunity not only to reflect, but to thank our incredible faculty members, mentors and educational leaders.

Leading in Crisis

Beginning March 13, 2020, there were abrupt and profound changes to the teaching and learning environments of our Faculty’s educational programs in the biomedical sciences and the health professions.

The initial lockdown prevented face to face teaching and learning activities; graduate students were removed from research laboratories and students in the health profession programs were pulled out of clinical placements/clerkship rotations.

A host of contingency plans were developed to alleviate risk for delayed graduation of program cohorts including running entire courses online and moving clinical teaching to later teaching blocks. Winter term course requirements, including final exams, were fulfilled. Residents were redeployed to COVID-19 units in an effort to support the health care needs of the first wave of the pandemic. Graduate students were redirected to writing papers and other pedagogical activities while waiting for research labs to reopen. In the background, hundreds of our students as well as health professionals volunteered in long term care facilities in an effort to protect this most vulnerable population. Concurrently, Black Lives Matter became a multicultural awakening, further impacting the educational landscape.

Moving forward, our educators rapidly pivoted to ensure that their educational mandate and their program requirements were met without jeopardizing quality. By June and into the summer months, clinical placements for students in medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech language pathology were being reintegrated.

Innovations flourished, particularly with respect to virtual and interprofessional clinical placements. The explosion in the uptake of telehealth as a vehicle for service delivery required new skill development in the clinical supervision of students providing care to patients through this platform.

Our clinical partners, notably the Directors of Education at the two Integrated Health and Social Services University Networks (CIUSSS West-Central Montreal and the CIUSSS West Island) and the McGill University Health Centre, collaborated closely with us to ensure that our students could safely be reintegrated into the health care system. Our clinical supervisors (teachers) were committed to supporting our programs in spite of the competing demands within the healthcare system.

For our health professions programs, students were also required to catch up on in-person clinical skills training, in laboratories on campus and at the simulation centre. In order to meet public health guidelines for safety, this required extensive and ongoing planning among professional program leaders, building directors, representatives from facilities management and ancillary services and members of the Emergency Operations Committee at McGill.

In the Biomedical Sciences, graduate students were reintegrated into their basic science research laboratories before the summer, once the laboratories and buildings met requirements for symptom verification, enhanced cleaning and physical distancing. Over the summer months, professors teaching in the undergraduate biomedical sciences programs prepared for remote delivery of fall courses and this required the integration of new software (e.g. Labster, virtual 3D anatomy) and home kits, so that students would be able to experience virtual laboratory learning contexts.

Reimagining the Future

This remarkably disruptive period has been an accelerant for change. The need to learn, work and problem-solve together across disciplines and professions has become paramount. There is urgency to advance the quality of online learning and to address issues of inequities and mistreatment. The desire to better support learner wellness and faculty resilience preoccupies us. In this context, the Education Strategic Plan has pivoted to focus on these important recent preoccupations, while attenuating others.

New and better ways have emerged through this crisis. We are now much better in the use of educational technologies. Our teachers have learned new skills on Zoom and on the MyCourses platform so as to actively engage learners.

Our Faculty Development Office and Teaching and Learning Services have been hosting numerous webinars and tailored sessions to optimize uptake of online teaching technologies. All platforms were translated and teacher training was offered in French for our new Campus Outaouais medical education program.

The use of telehealth was rapidly instituted by frontline clinicians across the health professions. This was new terrain for most.

Concurrently, important gaps in our curricula on cultural competence and anti-racist pedagogy and the need for anti-racism training for students, faculty and staff as well as coping resources have become a new priority for us.

This period over the last six months has greatly perturbed our teaching and learning landscape, however new and better ways have emerged as we reimagine the future. In no small part, this is thanks to our teachers and educational leaders.

Enhanced skills in the use of education technologies will enable greater comfort with blended learning approaches such as flipped classrooms. Sensitivity to considerations of equity, diversity and inclusion have become paramount to our education enterprise. Telehealth is likely to remain a part of our toolkit of efficient and effective health care. We will need to better understand its true value and limitations, as well as the most effective ways of supervising learners using this health care modality.

Thank You to Our Teachers

A key ingredient of our ongoing success in courageously confronting the educational fallout of this pandemic is our teachers, who are leading in crisis, and reimagining the future.

Our faculty members in the biomedical sciences and health professions, on campus and in the clinical sites, have exhibited unbridled energy and ingenuity in the face of the many obstacles encountered in meeting their educational obligations.

Our teachers are learning new skills and remain steadfast in their commitment to educational excellence. This was supported in numerous ways by the incredible leadership of Associate Deans of the Schools, the Dean and his leadership team (DOC), our administrators, and the Provost’s leadership team. There have been many lessons learned along the way; we continue to improve as we go. We are preoccupied by the challenges that our learners are facing and trying our best to optimize their learning experience.

World Teachers’ Day is an international celebration recognized by UNESCO that takes place on October 5th each year. This special Day provides us all with the opportunity to acknowledge and thank our teachers in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. I am grateful for your efforts, and so inspired by your dedication to our education mission. I deeply appreciate your commitment to teaching excellence.

Thank you!

Dr. Annette Majnemer
Vice-Dean, Education
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

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