June 26, 2020

How to help health-care workers prepare during a pandemic

Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development adapts in face of adversity
Dr. Kelly Burak, MD
Dr. Kelly Burak, MD Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Running a traditionally hands-on program in a suddenly hands-off world isn’t easy. For the Cumming School of Medicines Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development (CME&PD), the ability to adapt quickly has made an impact in the fight against COVID-19.

Despite content-delivery challenges created by the global pandemic, the new COVID Corner series and other online offerings have turned into one of the university’s success stories.

Promoting lifelong learning for health-care professionals, CME&PD contributes to excellence in clinical practice and ultimately aims to improve patient health outcomes. They provide face-to-face, online and blended education. At least they did before the pandemic hit.

After March 15, the usual channels for delivery — and their main source of income, through registrations for courses and conferences — were cut off by the need to physically distance to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Associate Dean Dr. Kelly Burak, CSM colleagues and CME&PD staff found ways to creatively revise their content to tackle the most pressing health-care needs, and to share it through innovative online rather than traditional in-person formats.

  • Photo of Kelly Burak, above, by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Acting quickly, they pivoted to equip physicians and other health-care professionals — regardless of their typical scope of practice — with the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to treat COVID-19 patients in various clinical environments. They created weekly COVID-related webinars and an online training module for proper use of personal protective equipment, and learned on the fly how much time and effort was needed to support this new delivery method.

“Never before in history has there been a greater need for CME,” says Burak.

Six months ago, we knew nothing about this virus, and now with millions infected worldwide, the knowledge around the epidemiology, diagnosis and management is growing exponentially.

“I’m grateful for the local experts who volunteer their time to critically review and present this emerging evidence, and for the teams in CME&PD and the Physician Learning Program who helped get this information to front-line health-care workers in an efficient, effective and safe online learning environment,” he adds.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Over these past few months, registrations have poured in for the opportunities CME&PD has been providing physicians and other health-care workers. Webinars have attracted more than 15,000 attendees since February — more than three times what their office typically sees in an entire year, and 10 times the audience they saw during the same time period last year.

COVID Corner

Courtesy of CME&PD

This high level of participation indicates the need and desire for this type of education and training.

However, it comes at a heavy cost. The necessary cancellation of the CME&PDs spring conferences has resulted in $175,000 in lost revenue. To ensure critical education is taking place for front-line workers — many of whom were planning to be redeployed and required additional training — CME&PD’s people continue to produce content without charging registrants. 

Slowly making up for this deficit is another element of the CME&PD success story. They were a popular choice during the UCalgary Giving Day 2020, with community members responding to their innovative efforts with a total of 95 gifts and more than $18,000 for their fund to prepare physicians and health-care professionals to combat COVID-19.

That philanthropic total surpassed $34,000 after receiving the matching funds for certain eligible donations through the universitys annual Giving Day blitz. Their fund received the most gifts from the highest number of donors to CSM during the multi-week period that ended last month. With nearly 100 individual donations, it more than doubled the next most popular choice for community support.

“When we decided to reach out to the community to help with our financial need, we had no idea what to expect,” says Burak.

We were simply blown away by the response to support our COVID-19 programming.

There is still a significant shortfall, something they are working through in a number of different ways while continuing their COVID Corner series through the summer months — although no longer on a weekly basis. The College of Physician and Surgeons of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, Calgary Health Trust and the Alberta College of Family Physicians have all stepped up to help support CME&PD’s response, and co-chairs of the AHS Scientific Advisory Group Dr. Braden Manns, MD, and Dr. Lynora Saxinger, MD, have been sharing the latest Rapid Reviews from their group through the In the Corner with … segments that have kicked off many of the COVID Corner webinars.

“We’ve appreciated the opportunity to engage with clinicians and share some of our reviews, and it's honestly been useful for us to see what questions are topmost for people on the front line,” says Saxinger, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta. “The friendliness and effectiveness of the virtual venue was a pleasant surprise — it has a nice sense of community, and the program quality has always been top notch.”

The dedicated CME&PD fund will remain open indefinitely, allowing members of the community to continue to support them during the pandemic.

Kelly Burak is the associate dean of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development and a professor in the departments of Medicine and Oncology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the CSM and co-lead of Alberta’s Physician Learning Program.

Community support fuels important research and education priorities within the Cumming School of Medicine, including our response to COVID-19 and the core infrastructure that supports this work. Giving can help minimize the consequences of the pandemic in our community and beyond.