ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

A Learning Curve

As courses move online in the wake of the pandemic, several academic radiology departments are figuring out how to make virtual education meaningful.
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Radiology-TEACHES is about volunteerism.

—Marc H. Willis, DO, MMM
July 23, 2020

With many radiology residents and medical students displaced from their clinical learning environments due to the pandemic, traditional education has moved online. With virtual resources like Radiology-TEACHES® (an online resource hub that uses case vignettes integrated with the ACR Select® CDS tool), radiology students have been able to stay informed and engaged.

“I do think that there are actually increased educational needs during COVID-19,” says David M. Naeger, MD, director of radiology at Denver Health and professor and vice chair of radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. That said, the rapid transition to online learning has not been without challenges. To ensure that hospitals are abiding by social distancing protocols, many radiologists, trainees, and students have had to work from home and professors have had to quickly transfer their course material online. “There have been challenges in trying to make the online platform more collaborative, but there have also been triumphs,” says Christopher Beaulieu, MD, PhD, professor of radiology at Stanford University. “Many of these students may not have otherwise found themselves taking these courses and investing themselves in the possibility of radiology as a specialty.”

At Stanford specifically, Beaulieu has seen many students flock to a virtual radiology course established during the shelter-in-place. In the past, the average class size for the radiology clerkship was around ten students. Their last clerkship clocked in at 80 students, many of whom are now considering pursuing radiology as their main course of study. “This is a specialty that is amenable to online learning because so much of it is image-based and can be transmitted better over computers,” says Beaulieu.

According to Marc H. Willis, DO, MMM, associate chair of quality improvement and clinical professor of radiology at Stanford, there was a 1,845% increase in the use of Radiology-TEACHES from March through April. More than 2,300 activities were completed during April, compared with the 131 activities completed during March.

Radiology-TEACHES covers everything from case studies to imaging practices; in fact, a COVID-19 module has already been developed and made available across the nation, ensuring that students, residents, and radiologists have all the most up-to-date information. Radiology is a particularly dynamic field, known for setting the pace for the rest of the medical community in areas such as lifelong learning and adopting new technology. Hence, resources like Radiology-TEACHES — that help radiologists stay at the top of their game in an ever-evolving field within a constantly shifting medical landscape — feel especially critical now.

Many of these students may not have otherwise found themselves taking these courses and investing themselves in the possibility of radiology as a specialty.

—Christopher Beaulieu, MD, PhD

Online learning has been an adjustment for students and staff alike. Lori A. Deitte, MD, FACR, vice chair of radiology education at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and chair of the ACR Commission on Publications and Lifelong Learning, has had to figure out how meaningful connections can still happen in virtual settings.

“I thrive on working with other people — the interaction, the camaraderie, and the knowledge-sharing that happens in a group setting,” says Deitte, who is currently working out of a solo office in a building next door to the hospital at Vanderbilt.

It can feel daunting to try and foster collaboration through video conferences or phone calls, especially when residents and staff are used to working side-by-side. For many, this new normal has also meant getting acquainted with different virtual platforms and methods of teaching. Deitte quickly had to transition her presentations to Zoom (with initial support from a tech-savvy resident). “Video conferencing can be robust, but it can also be draining, especially if you have a whole day lined up with virtual meetings,” says Deitte.

The team at Vanderbilt wanted to ensure that their transition was thoughtful and informed by the students' circumstances, not just post hours of lectures online and call it a day. “We were able to figure out individual needs: some people are higher-risk, some have childcare needs at home. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Deitte.

According to Willis, despite all the chaos and uncertainty that is COVID-19, he’s seen the best of humanity emerge in the radiology field. He notes that radiologists have volunteered their time to ensure that students can continue their education. “Radiology-TEACHES is about volunteerism,” says Willis, “and it depends on those who step up and do something in an unfolding crisis.”

Author By Ivana Rihter, freelance writer, ACR Press