Posted on March 18, 2020

As the full implications of the global coronavirus pandemic became clear and public institutions began to close, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) faculty, administrators and ITS specialists convened to start migrating the college’s pre-medical and medical curricula to online platforms.

“It was imperative that our transition to online teaching should take place quickly and as seamlessly as possible,” explained Dr. Marco Ameduri, Senior Associate Dean for Premedical Education and Education City Collaborative Curricular Affairs. “Our programs require the students to master a great deal of complex material and the workload is high. We needed to get the curriculum online as quickly as possible, in order to keep the students engaged and support their continued learning.”

Multi-disciplinary teams were rapidly formed and tasked with tailoring content usually delivered face-to-face to suit the online environment. Students were quickly informed about the new arrangements and began taking all of their classes online from Tuesday, March 10, the day after the college suspended all in-person instruction. WCM-Q offers a two-year premedical curriculum and a four-year medical curriculum, which together form the integrated WCM-Q Six-Year Medical Program. The college also offers a one-year Foundation Program that provides intensive tuition in the basic sciences, math and English to prepare students for the rigors of the premedical and medical curricula.

In making the leap to virtual classrooms, WCM-Q had a head-start, since it already delivers parts of its programs via online platforms and is equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and advanced computing capabilities. As standard practice, most lectures are recorded and made available via a third-party online video hosting platform, and students are in constant contact with faculty via phone, email and video conferencing to ask questions about difficult material and receive feedback on their work. Since WCM-Q opened in 2002, the vast majority of its library has been online, with only a small physical collection kept at the college.

Dr. Thurayya Arayssi, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Continuing Professional Development, said: “Like most colleges, WCM-Q has a well-established digital teaching strategy that has proved extremely effective and which is also very popular with students. They can pause, fast-forward and rewind every lecture and through our Distributed eLibrary they can access hundreds of thousands of medical texts, journals, databases, catalogs and other electronic resources. So we have essentially just intensified, deepened and broadened our digital offering. The early signs are that the students have adapted to the new circumstances extremely well.”

Nevertheless, there are certain parts of the curriculum that simply cannot be delivered online, such as anatomy classes and skills mastery sessions that take place in the WCM-Q Clinical Skills and Simulation Lab, which utilizes hi-tech learning aids such as medical manikins and anatomically accurate models. To take account of this, the order in which the curriculum is delivered has been adjusted so that courses which require in-person instruction or access to physical learning resources can take place at a later date when the college reopens.

In addition to reorganizing the curriculum, WCM-Q is also ensuring all students are aware of the support services available to them from the college’s student counselors in the Division of Student Affairs. “We are working hard to ensure that students who are concerned about their studies or need support with personal difficulties arising from the current situation or any other issue are able to access the services they need,” said Dr. Ravinder Mamtani, Vice Dean for Student Affairs-Admissions, Population Health, and Lifestyle Medicine. “This is a trying time but we are determined to ensure that our students continue to receive the services they require to excel academically and also take care of their own health and wellness.”

Dr. Javaid Sheikh, Dean of WCM-Q, said: “WCM-Q faculty, students and administrative staff have shown great agility and resourcefulness as we rapidly migrated teaching activities to online platforms, and teams across WCM-Q have demonstrated impressive flexibility to quickly set up new working arrangements. Our healthcare and research professionals have been offering their expertise to government agencies and speaking to media channels to provide guidance and reassurance to the public. Each of us has a part to play and I am grateful that my colleagues have responded with such admirable consideration for one another and the wider community.”