Jun 9, 2021

Job Shadowing Goes Virtual for Mississauga MD Program

By Blake Eligh

When you can’t go to a job shadowing opportunity at the hospital, can the opportunity come to you?

That’s the question posed by one enterprising learner who created a unique initiative for MD students at Temerty Medicine.

Max Solish is a second-year student in the Mississauga Academy of Medicine (MAM). Solish and his classmates planned to observe different medical specialties through shadowing, but COVID-19 safety protocols kept early-year students on the sidelines. 

Undaunted, Solish reached out to Trillium Health Partners (THP) with a novel solution – a virtual shadowing opportunity that would grant MAM learners the chance to watch live surgical procedures by videoconference.

In the third year of the program, MD students begin formal clinical rotations to gain experience with different medical specialties. The process, known as clerkship, helps students determine which fields they want to specialize in after they complete their medical degrees. 

But it’s never too early to start the process, which is why Solish and his second-year classmates were anxious to seize any opportunity to learn more about the various medical specialties open to them. 

Solish connected with Bryan Abankwah, THP’s manager of education, and Michael Weinberg, (MD ’90, PGME ’95), an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery and physician education lead in THP’s plastic surgery division. Abankwah and Weinberg were enthusiastic about the idea.

“Exposure to specialties in a pre-med environment is important,” says Weinberg. “Learners must make a crucial decision about specialization very early, and that can be tough when the pandemic prohibits them from being there in person.”

The virtual shadowing initiative is a first for both THP and MAM.

With a secure videoconference platform and careful attention to patient privacy protocols, the team was ready to pilot the first-ever virtual visit.

In early May, six second-year MAM students tuned in to watch Weinberg perform a series of on-camera procedures, including hand surgery, mole removal and a skin cancer lesion excision. The outpatient surgeries, which Weinberg deems the “bread-and-butter” of his specialty, are performed relatively quickly and under local anaesthetic. Two-way communication throughout ensured student learners could ask questions throughout the process and join Weinberg for an informal chat afterwards.

“It was an opportunity to see what it’s all about, and get a feel for the work,” says Weinberg. “I hope I demystified it and we gave the learners some exposure in a collaborative environment they couldn’t have gotten otherwise.” 

Based on the success of the pilot project, a second session took place with a new group of learners on June 1. Solish hopes to schedule more virtual opportunities over the coming months so all interested MAM learners can participate. 

According to Abankwah, there is growing enthusiasm for the project.

“We’ve had positive inquiries from other faculty members who want to participate,” he says.“We’re exploring the possibility of expanding the scope as we look at future virtual learning opportunities for students.”

While the demonstrations are open only to MAM learners affiliated with THP, Solish hopes other hospital partners will take notice and offer similar opportunities to students across Temerty Medicine’s four academies.

“Ultimately, you need more than a two-hour video experience, but virtual shadowing is a gateway to learn more about that specialty,” Solish says.

For his part, Weinberg looks forward to welcoming the next group of virtual observers. 

“In unpredictable times, when we’re challenged on every level, we can be resourceful and find innovative and fun new ways to teach.”