Pandemic disrupts surgeons’ training, forces new ways of teaching
Hospitals’ abrupt cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures last spring due to COVID-19 posed a problem for new doctors attempting to complete their training at these hospitals, according to local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Myers.
In the hospital system, a resident is a doctor who has already graduated from medical school and earned a medical doctorate and now is completing his or her training in a specific field, such as internal medicine or general surgery. Fellows are doctors who have completed their residencies and are training to be a specific type of doctor, such as a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon. Myers, who specializes in total hip and knee replacements, teaches aspiring orthopedic surgeons through his role as an assistant professor in the University of Rochester’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation.
Prior to last March, Myers’ fellows typically gained much of their instruction by observing and participating in the operating room. When elective surgeries were cancelled due to COVID-19-related concerns, most joint replacements were cancelled, with the exception of joints that had become infected or posed an immediate threat to patients, Myers said. This meant that surgical fellows in such fields as orthopedic surgery missed out on crucial months of training, he added.
However, the pandemic also forced the doctors responsible for teaching these fellows to devise new ways to teach their students, he noted.
“Missing time in the OR is never a good thing, but … there are some good things that came out of it that otherwise wouldn’t,” Myers said. “Prior to COVID, we didn’t really have a condensed or focused curriculum. “It kind of gave us all time to sit back and think about how we could standardize the educational process for fellows.”
Surgeons explored ways to use Zoom or other online videoconferencing platforms to hold simultaneous lectures for students from different institutions, for example. Through such videoconferences, these surgeons could share cases with each other and their students, learn from each other and talk about how they worked through challenging cases, Myers said.
Hands-on experience in the operating room is ideal, he said, but such conversations can be equally valuable.
“Actually having to cut the bone isn’t necessarily the most important part,” he said. “The most important part is simulating the experience of how do you approach a difficult situation. We still had a lot of interaction, even if it’s just talking through cases, which is a form of simulation.”