A positive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been bringing neurosurgical education to the virtual space.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused radical changes in every aspect of our lives and medical education has not been spared. As learners, we have been sidelined and left with uncertainty about our future. Clinical rotations and research opportunities have been suspended ─ indefinitely in many cases. All match day celebrations were cancelled and graduation ceremonies are being conducted virtually, if at all. Our generation of learners and trainees will harbor a starkly dichotomous view of the world with Covid-19 serving as the fulcrum.
However, not all of the changes brought about by this modern plague have been negative for medical students. For those of us who have been watching from the sidelines, it is evident that the neurosurgical community has embraced the online delivery of educational content rapidly, and with a prowess becoming of the most innovative field in medicine.
Whether due to meticulous design, or the sheer resolve and ingenuity of neurosurgeons (we suspect the latter), the pandemic has stimulated a virtual renaissance of high quality educational offerings that have allowed learners of all levels to engage with high-value neurosurgical content in meaningful ways. From virtual conferences, lecture series, and research presentations, to detailed operative anatomy lessons, and the upcoming CNS-sponsored residency program spotlight, the neurosurgical community has unquestionably delivered on the virtual education front.
In fact, there have been far more virtual opportunities available than one could meaningfully engage with. As medical students thirsty for high-quality neurosurgical content and educational opportunities, we could not be more grateful to the community-at-large for adapting with such vigor.
For medical students interested in neurosurgery, the pre-pandemic virtual educational sphere was robust in quantity and quality but primarily consisted of pre-recorded content. Outside of dedicated neurosurgery rotations during the clinical years of medical school, opportunities for medical students to access live dynamic content, complete with interactive Q&As and lively discussions, were limited to attending local departmental grand rounds and visiting professor lecture series, or traveling to national conferences and in-person training courses.
Though invaluable, even the most accessible of these experiences are limited to those of us fortunate enough to attend an institution with a home neurosurgical training program, isolating a significant portion of students interested in exploring neurosurgery but lacking institutional support and mentorship.
Moreover, at least anecdotally, the virtual space has imparted a stimulating effect on the dynamic of the educational conversation whereby the forum is far more balanced for session participants. As we have collectively accepted our new identities as floating heads and names across the top of a dark screen, traditional barriers of in-person communication, especially those felt acutely by medical students with minimal exposure to the field, have dissolved and been replaced by productive methods of communication that encourage thoughtful discussion and free expression of ideas from all participants.
This letter is not meant to serve as merely a "look at the bright side" commentary as we recognize and share in the disappointment of canceled and postponed annual meetings, lost opportunities to participate in away rotations, and the inability to travel for in-person residency interviews. There will never be a wholly adequate substitute for the hands-on and in-person experience, especially in a field as demanding as neurosurgery. Nonetheless, in our opinion, the response to this crisis by the leaders in neurosurgical education has been inspiring. At each step of this unprecedented journey, they have carefully considered the educational experience of medical students and current trainees and have elegantly adapted to our new global circumstances.
Expanded access and equity of educational opportunities, even if created out of necessity by a global pandemic, is a positive outcome. When the world goes back to normal, we recognize that there will be limitations and constraints to the delivery of all of these newly available educational opportunities. Still, we hope that the expansion of neurosurgical education into the virtual space remains a robust complement to in-person training.
And to the leaders in neurosurgical education, thank you for working tirelessly to bolster and secure the future of neurosurgical education during these trying times ─ your efforts have not gone unnoticed and will make a lasting impact for years to come.
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