Novel coronavirus COVID-19 may have much of American life on indefinite pause, but the training of next generation doctors continues at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.
Coronavirus outbreak forces OUWB medical students to embrace ‘new normal’ in learning
OUWB and the New Normal
One OUWB official called the current learning environment for medical students “unprecedented.” By nature of systems put in place by OUWB long ago, however, the school wasn’t entirely caught off its feet.

Novel coronavirus COVID-19 may have much of American life on indefinite pause, but the training of next generation doctors continues at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

That doesn’t mean learning is happening in a traditional sense, however.

Clinical assignments for third- and fourth-year medical students have been temporarily suspended, for example, prompting faculty and medical students to work together to develop substitute learning activities.

First- and second-year medical students are learning remotely through the use of tech, relying, in part, on recordings from the school’s significant archive of recorded classes.

In short, COVID-19 may be keeping current medical students out of lecture halls or hospitals, but that doesn’t mean they are on sort of “break” from their respective educational experiences.

“We don’t offer instruction just for the sake of giving instruction,” said David Thomas, Ph.D., associate professor and interim dean for Pre-Clinical Medical Education, OUWB. “There’s value and purpose in what we’re delivering.

“To outright cancel all sessions would eliminate experiences that students need to meet the competencies necessary to become an OUWB physician,” he added.

‘Value and purpose’

Technically speaking, the virus is SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated COVID-19).

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the first four cases of the COVID-19 were reported on Dec. 29, 2019. It’s believed the cases were linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.

It didn’t take long for it to spread.

On Jan. 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” A day later, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the U.S. to aid the nation’s health care community in responding to COVID-19.






On March 11, WHO publicly characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

That same day, Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D. sent a message to the OU community that, among other things, suspended in-person instruction. Hours later, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first two presumed positive cases had been identified in the state, and she declared a state of emergency.

On March 12, OUWB Stephan Sharf Interim Dean Duane Mezwa, M.D., announced several temporary operational changes specific to OU’s medical school.

Mezwa said OUWB administrators had an “extraordinarily busy week” as they worked to “decide on how we continue to operate our school following the actions taken by Oakland University to protect and maintain the safety and health of our community.”

Immediate changes included suspension of all clinical observerships and shadowing for first- and second-year medical students and cancellation of seven events.

As the outbreak worsened, more changes were made including suspension of clinical assignments for third- and fourth-year medical students — a move made before AAMC announced it “strongly supports our member medical schools in placing, at minimum, a two-week suspension on their medical student’s participation in any activities that involve patient contact.”

Other events were cancelled, too, such as the Match Day celebration previously set for March 20. (It’s important to note that the match process did go on for fourth-year medical students. More details can be found here.)

On March 23, Whitmer issued a “stay at home” order for Michigan that went into effect almost immediately. That prompted further changes at OUWB.

Throughout the myriad changes/cancellations, however, Thomas said halting the educational process for OUWB medical students hasn’t been part of the discussion.


Thomas called the current learning environment for medical students “unprecedented.”

By nature of systems put in place by OUWB long ago, however, the school wasn’t entirely caught off its feet.

That’s because for years many instructional sessions have been recorded using a system called Panopto.

The system, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, records lectures and associated assets like videos, and stores them in a secure, searchable video platform. That means current second-year medical students can essentially access the same lecture last year’s second-year medical students had at this time — without having to physically attend a class.

“Having captured historical educational materials has served us well,” said Thomas.

“I don’t think anyone could have fully prepared for what this pandemic has caused, but the fact that we did capture and archive historical instructional sessions has really benefited us.”

In addition to the lectures archived via Panopto, OUWB faculty also has the option of using WebEx to interact directly with current students. Developed by Cisco, WebEx is a platform often used for video conferencing, online meetings, webinars, and more, that allows all participants to see the same screen from their respective computers.

“In Medical Humanities and Clinical Bioethics, for example, if Dr. (Jason) Wasserman (of OUWB) wants to engage with the class instead of posting a previously recorded session, he can present his material alone using WebEx, allowing students to interact remotely with questions and comments.”

By utilizing Panopto and WebEx, Thomas said, faculty can provide the necessary instruction. Subsequent exams will assess competency and allow medical students to continue on to the next phase of their training.

What’s next?

Thomas said OUWB officials currently are having phone conferences daily to assess the scope of the current coronavirus outbreak and its impact. The team considers information available from various sources, such as Beaumont Health, AAMC, and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).  

Thomas recommended students pay close attention to their emails and to the OUWB website for updates as they become available, with hopes that things will return to normal sooner rather than later.

Due to the fluidity of the situation, the school is continually updating its Coronavirus information for the OUWB web page.

“We need to keep the students informed,” he added. “Otherwise they’re in an information vacuum not knowing what’s going on here — and that compounds the stress they’re already experiencing.”

OUWB medical students said they have mixed feelings about the “new normal.”

Second-year medical student Nathan Parry said he prefers online learning to in-class.

“For me, personally, it’s working out really well because my preferred style is to go at my own pace,” he said. “But I know from talking to some of my colleagues that they like being around other classmates because it kind of motivates them.”

First-year medical student Mo Hijazi is among those who prefers the traditional style of education.

“I feel more unproductive (with the temporary changes),” he said.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how class performance suffers or improves because we don’t have class,” said Hijazi

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at [email protected]

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