Lessons learned from adapting a remote area health placement from physical to virtual: a COVID-19-driven innovation
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Objectives: To investigate the acceptability and the effectiveness of a virtual adaptation of a well-established, mandatory, community-based pre-clinical remote area health placement in which medical students learn about the social and environmental determinants of health in remote Australia; and make recommendations to guide the delivery of future learning experiences.
Methods: A mixed-methods convergent design was used. All 99 students, 36 placement hosts and 10 staff were invited to complete an online survey and 27(27%), 12(33%) and 10(100%), respectively, contributed data. Qualitative data were collected via semi-structured interviews from four students, four hosts and six staff. Survey data were analysed using descriptive statistics (frequency and percentage) and open-ended responses summarised to provide supporting contextual evidence. Interview transcripts were analysed and coded independently, then corroborated to identify and summarise common themes using thematic analysis.
Results: Survey and interview data indicated that the virtual placement was acceptable to students and hosts and enabled students to achieve intended learning objectives. Virtual activities enabled students and hosts to develop authentic, genuine interpersonal relationships, which in turn were facilitated when hosts and students had practiced videoconferencing beforehand with good high-speed internet connections via mobile devices. Pastoral care and access to IT support were essential.
Conclusions: Virtual placements can be used in combination with and are an option for students and hosts who cannot attend/courses that cannot fund physical placements. Careful design and further research is required to ensure that virtual placements enable "head, heart and hands" learning and do not create/reinforce inequities.
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