AETC Interprofessional Education Training: Shifting Gears in the Time of COVID-19


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At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northeast/Caribbean (NECA) AIDS Education & Training Center (AETC) found itself in need of a massive shift in its training methods. Within a matter of days, we were faced with shifting all of our in-person learning sessions to an entirely virtual format.

One of the projects immediately impacted was our HIV InterProfessional Education (IPE) program. IPE is an opportunity for faculty or students from two or more professions to learn with, among, and about one another to simultaneously improve interprofessional collaboration and the quality of care and services provided to patients.

There are currently two IPE programs in the Northeast/Caribbean region – one with our SUNY Downstate partner site, and the other in Puerto Rico at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Participants in the program include faculty from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy of each participating IPE site, and a select group of students from each of the schools.

The UPR IPE program includes several large-scale in-person events with over 200 students that feature panel discussions, small group breakouts and student presentations. These sessions were scheduled for March, April, and May, 2020, just as our region found itself in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinics were forced to shut down their services with the exception of emergency care and schools closed in-person learning.

We didn’t want to sacrifice the positive impact of the IPE program when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and made the decision to continue with the project, employing the help of technology. Marianna Breytman, the Educational Technologist at NECA worked closely with our Regional Partner at UPR’s Medical Campus in Puerto Rico, to transition all of the IPE sessions to the Zoom platform. While we had been utilizing the platform for some time, this undertaking was going to be a challenge for all. This meant hosting over 200 students for a case-based IPE panel discussion followed by 18 small group breakouts and then a final large group report back and discussion. After several planning meetings with faculty and practice runs with some volunteer students, we braced ourselves for the first session in March.

The sessions included an HIV IPE case-based panel discussion, during which students heard from professors and leaders in the HIV field, and were given the opportunity to ask questions. Additionally, behind the scenes, each of the 200 students’ names was changed to include a group number. When the time came, students were sent into 18 virtual breakout rooms for a timed group session. There, students engaged in case-based discussions. They were able to share their screens to share their PowerPoint slides during their presentations. Students then selected one person from each group to present their conclusions once they were brought back into the main virtual room. The group reconvened in the main room and student report back went smoothly.

As a result, we were able to continue the IPE sessions. Medical, pharmacy, dental, and nursing students participated, along with residents from the School of Psychiatry. Students and residents had the opportunity to collaborate with experts from the field of HIV, committed healthcare providers, and leaders in health and education. We used clinical vignettes and discussed management of interprofessional education in every one of the presented scenarios. As a result, the students benefitted from the expertise of healthcare professionals with significant experience in the field of HIV.

We learned so much from this experience:

  • Familiarizing ourselves with Zoom’s features and utilizing those relevant to our learners’ needs was helpful to afford an interactive experience. These included the Waiting Room, screen sharing, the Raise Hand feature, break-out rooms, in addition to moderating questions sent through the Chat function. All of these allowed for a seamless virtual event that mimicked in-person interactions as much as possible.
  • Practice, practice, practice. We made sure to have regular prep sessions in advance of the actual live events to ensure that each person on our team knew their role and felt comfortable using their assigned features for the day. If someone was responsible for letting people in from the waiting room, for example, we practiced entering the meeting and waiting to be admitted. Taking the time to practice these types of things in advance eliminated a lot of potential issues that may have arisen the day of the events.
  • Most important of all, we had the group spirit and faculty willingness, led by Dr. Belinda Beauchamp, to adapt new technology to meet this challenge head-on. Even though this was all new, faculty at UPR were ready to work directly with Marianna at NECA to learn the ins and outs of the Zoom platform and transform these in-person events into live virtual learning sessions.

Given the experience of past distance-based programs and now the expanded success of our IPE sessions, we are exploring integrating these virtual learning opportunities beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in ways we have not utilized them before.

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