“The pandemic has changed the way our fellows see patients; we are now seeing almost all patients using telemedicine,” says Bonita Libman, MD, FACR, FACP, fellowship program director for the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, Burlington, Vt.
Similar scenarios are playing out across the nation as fellowship trainees adjust to fewer in-person visits and hold many more consultations via telephone or video communication. Program directors and their trainees continue to care for patients while navigating governor-issued, stay-at-home orders and the need for six feet of physical distance between people to limit spread of the virus.
For didactic education, faculty and students still meet, but not in person. Many professors use the Zoom platform to conduct online lectures and conferences, often with students viewing from the comfort of their own homes.
“This [approach] worked out very well,” says Dr. Libman. “In fact, we had more participation in virtual conferences than when people had to show up for them in person.”
Other fellowship directors say they too have seen lecture attendance increase since it became necessary to move didactic education out of the traditional classroom and into online video rooms. Often, it’s easier to open a laptop from home and get right to it—no driving, traffic jams or other distractions.
“Our lecture series has, thankfully, been relatively preserved despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jason Kolfenbach, MD, associate professor of medicine and rheumatology fellowship program director at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora. “We were kind of set up for that because we have a faculty member in our division, Duane Pearson, MD, who has [already] been using the Zoom platform for education of primary care providers in rural areas.”
Online Training Challenges
Starting on March 11, all weekly lecture series transferred to Zoom for Dr. Kolfenbach’s fellowship program, which covers a three-hospital system stretching across the Denver metropolitan area.
“The biggest change for us has been the clinical training,” says Dr. Kolfenbach, noting that his rheumatology trainees have various specialty rotations and some have been stopped as a result of pandemic pressures and priorities.