COVID-19 urged universities world-wide to quickly transform their curriculum into online formats. The impact on medical education was even more significant as patient contact and the availability of non-COVID-19 related patients was very limited and we experienced a 10-fold increased usage and demand for virtual patients (VPs) from different countries within and outside Europe [Hege et al. 2020]. VPs are interactive, case-based learning activities suitable to promote problem- solving and clinical reasoning, which are important abilities medical students have to master to become professionals.
Discussions with educators and faculty staff and responses from students during the summer term 2020 showed a clear desire for a continued use of the VPs after the return to face to-face teaching, the covering of additional symptoms and diseases, and varied presentations to prepare students for patient encounters in a safe and adaptive learning environment that facilitates Deliberate Practice.
Our primary objective is to provide a high-quality multilingual VP collection for medical students and young professionals. The collection will provide adaptive and deliberate practice of clinical reasoning in different contexts and complexities and support mobility activities and language training of medical students and young professionals.
Our second objective is to raise awareness about VPs and their curricular integration among educators and faculty staff. And, our third objective is to sustain our partnership after the funding period and establish a strong collaboration to further develop the VP collection and support others in integrating VPs into their curriculum. Our interdisciplinary consortium includes six partners from France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, and Spain, which enables us to incorporate a broad perspective from different countries and healthcare and educational systems. The project participants have all required skills and experiences to tackle this challenge and address the need with broad expertises in education and didactics, medicine and healthcare, IT, research, and administration.
The results of our project include:
- A collection of 200 VPs in French, English, German, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish, which will be based on a competency framework based on national and international standards and requirements and complementing already existing VPs.
- A guideline for educators and faculty staff on how to integrate the VP collection into a curriculum in different virtual and blended-learning scenarios based on a qualitative literature review.
- Evaluation results and learning analytics data from a pilot implementation of the VP collection at partner institutions.
- A joint research study on further investigating the integration of VPs based on the results of the pilot implementations.
- A variety of dissemination material, such as a website, social media posts, conference presentations, scientific publications, or training material from the multiplier events.
To achieve these results all partners will engage in the related activities, such as developing and discussing the underlying framework, creation, review, and translation of VPs, providing input and discussing the integration guideline, implementing the pilot studies and analyzing the results, contributing to the research proposal, and dissemination activities
including presentations, multiplier events and social media postings.
Deliberate practice with the VP collection by students and young professionals and a meaningful integration by educators and schools will increase motivation and competency in clinical reasoning. The international and interdisciplinary character of the project will help to better prepare learners for studying or working abroad or caring for international patients.
Medical schools can improve their study program by offering more flexible and modern learning opportunities to their students. This will help them to better adapt to challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, but also meet the increasing demand and requirements for digital and blended teaching. We anticipate that these changes will take place first on a local and regional level and through our dissemination and networking activities will also have an impact on a national, and international level.