Lifelong learning is at the heart of what it means to have a career in medicine or education and even during a pandemic, faculty and staff at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar ensure they are staying abreast of the latest advances in their field.

Conferences are just one of the ways in which information can be shared but are vital for clinicians and researchers, allowing them to discuss their findings and hear firsthand about the work of others, providing opportunities for questions, answers and collaborations.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing lockdowns across the world, conference venues have been closed, but many of the conferences themselves have migrated online and WCM-Q faculty and staff have been keen to embrace virtual learning.

WCM-Q FACULTYDr Ameed Raoof, associate professor of anatomy in radiology, and Dr Mange Manyama, assistant professor of anatomy in radiology, were both scheduled to present their research to the American Association of Clinical Anatomists on 15 June.

Dr Manyama presented two posters about online learning: ‘Teaching Functional Neuroanatomy Using Computer‐Aided Learning at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar’ and ‘Origin of the Deep Femoral and Circumflex Femoral Arteries: A Case Report’. According to him, the biggest challenge he came across was recording an audio narrative of the poster, that was capped at just five minutes. He said:

It was a challenge to include all the important information and the fact that we’re limited to recording our narratives on our posters in a limited time, it eliminated the ‘live’ interaction with conference attendees that usually occurs as the interaction is an opportunity to provide more description of the work. The positive aspect, though, was the decision by the organisers to proceed with the virtual conference instead of cancelling it altogether. This provided the opportunity for more people to attend, since no traveling was required.

Dr Raoof also submitted two research posters about e-learning and said the main problem with the experience was the lack of interaction with other delegates, but that otherwise it was an excellent event.

Deema Al-Sheikhly, director of medical education and continuing professional development, was invited to deliver an online presentation to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education’s annual conference. Presenting as part of a panel discussion, Al-Sheikhly spoke on the subject ‘Achieving Accreditation with Commendation: Embracing Life-long Learning Together’.

Addressing an online global audience that is sitting at home in front of a computer screen, she had to adapt her presentation skills, ensuring the presentation was short and concise, and providing targeted, relevant information that held the online delegates’ attention.

But the presentation was very well-received, as she discussed how WCM-Q had received accreditation with commendation as a provider of continuing medical education and answered questions on the subject through an online moderator. She said:

The main limitation of an on-line conference is the need to reduce the number and the length of sessions to ensure engagement of the audience and reduce the level of fatigue from sitting in front of the screen for too long. Furthermore, the opportunity to network as per the normal practice in conferences is limited. However, going online created opportunities for innovation in medical education and alternative strategies for engagement with the participants.

Dr Amal Khidir, associate professor of pediatrics at WCM-Q, was due to deliver two workshops at the Ottawa 2020 conference in Malaysia: ‘Cultural Challenges in Clinical Teaching, Learning and Assessment’ and ‘Motivational Design To Discuss and Assess Professionalism Dilemmas for Pre-Clerkships Students: An Innovative Approach’, but instead had to deliver them virtually. This is a collaborative effort and presentation with Drs Mai Mahmoud, Aicha Hind Rifai, Magda Wagdy, Ahmed Alhammadi, Marcellina Mian, and Sa’ad Laws.

She also said the greatest challenges were technological ones, ensuring that the audio/visual equipment was correctly installed and working, but that the presentation and post-event discussion were actually easier to moderate online and the workshops, too, were a great success. Dr Khidir added:

The participants were really pleased and gave the workshops high marks in their evaluation and the organisers were very pleased that we were able to deliver our workshops at short notice. The main limitation was that you don’t get the same one-to-one interactions as you do when you are physically at the venue but the whole event triggered a great discussion and we were thankful that we were able to disseminate our scholarly work.

With large gatherings prohibited in most countries around the world, online conferences are likely to continue into 2021. While having some disadvantages, they are proving to be a viable and successful alternative, offering opportunities for innovation, and ensuring that professionals from all fields can continue embracing the concept of life-long learning.

Dr Thurayya Arayssi, senior associate dean for medical education and continuing professional development noted:

School, college and university are only the first stages of our education and if we are to grow as professionals and as individuals it is imperative that we remain inquisitive and take responsibility for self-improvement. It is therefore heartening to see faculty and staff at WCM-Q continue to strive for knowledge acquisition and dissemination, even during the coronavirus pandemic.