Professional community supports students during crisis

The onset of COVID-19 earlier this year created a ripple effect of challenges through the Melbourne Medical School. Subject coordinators scrambled to get content online and clinical placements were cancelled.

Professional identity formation, ethical practice and wellbeing are some of the core themes taught as part of the Melbourne MD Professional Practice. As part of the current MD redesign, vertically integrated professional practice was to be progressively rolled out across all four years of the degree. However, this year’s disruption necessitated fast-tracking of the plan to provide support and mentorship to our students who were socially isolated, facing the unknown and expressing concern about their career, health and wellbeing.

While working to address the impact of reduced patient contact on the development of clinical skills, the priority was to address the professional practice needs of an understandably anxious student body. The immediate problem was one of teaching capacity, as over 100 tutors were required to support approximately 750 students in online small group sessions.

The school enlisted the help of the MDHS Alumni team, who helped circulate a call out to our medical community including current clinical and academic staff and medical school alumni. Within two days we had 130 expressions of interest. Many of these individuals were not currently involved in the course but all expressed desire to support the students.

Briefing sessions were run online and a virtual community was created for the new tutors. Four weeks later the tutorials were launched via Zoom for third and fourth-year students.

Dr Pavithra Amadoruge (BBiomedSc 2006, BSc (Hons) 2008, MD 2014), an unaccredited surgical registrar based in Melbourne stepped forward into the role of tutor when she saw the call out.

“Being a part of the program provides me with the opportunity to give back to the Melbourne MD community, who I feel fortunate to continue to collaborate with,” she said. “Melbourne MD students are our future doctors, and it is a privilege to be able to provide meaningful contributions to further the education and professional development of final year medical students during this vital period in their careers.”

Though there have been many learnings from the speedy implementation of this program, the ability to pivot so quickly and get this project up and running within such a short period of time is a testament to the staff working tirelessly behind the scenes. But without fantastic support and engagement from the wider community, it would not have been possible.

Dr Amadoruge was impressed with how quickly things moved online. “It is exciting to be a part of the successful transition to purely virtual teaching, which, prior to these times, was a novel platform for medical education.”

“Whilst I was a Melbourne MD student, I had inspiring, knowledgeable and supportive tutors who always fostered excellence, curiosity and resilience,” she said. “I hope to provide a similar experience for students through this program and look forward to supporting the Department of Medical Education to expand this program into the future.”

We are so grateful to those alumni who reached out and participated as tutors over the past few months, one of the most challenging times in recent history, and we look forward to expanding the program over the coming years.