This post was inspired by a recent assignment I completed as part of the Harvard Macy Program for Educators in the Health Professions. We were asked to write about a “silver lining” that transpired from the COVID-19 pandemic. I struggled with thinking of something positive when I was surrounded by so much loss, including parents of my patients struggling with employment and food insecurity, and even death. However, I challenged myself to recognize my privilege and, in my reflection, I was able to consider how my professional life had actually improved in a very noticeable way.
A new educational approach that should be retained in the future after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides is virtual mentoring. Pre- pandemic, a large part of my day was spent commuting between various locations around Boston, because my office, clinic, and the medical school are in separate locations and require the use of public transit or driving between sites. This resulted in stressful commutes because of the time of day, traffic, and parking. This travel was necessary for at least three in-person student mentoring meetings weekly. I did it because it allowed me to connect with medical students, something that brought me great job satisfaction. However, during the pandemic, I was able to attend those mentorship meetings from the comfort of my home office. In the time saved from my commute, I was able to add one opening per week to meet with an additional student. This change to the virtual world also allowed me to explore the concept of group mentoring where I meet with two or three students at the same time, all who are often at similar stages in their medical career. They are able to ask individual questions, learn from each other, and motivate each other. In turn, I can connect with all of them and save transit time. Finally, the student’s physical location is not a barrier since meeting virtually allows us to meet from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
The stakeholders involved in this endeavor included my phenomenal administrative team which made it possible for students to sign up for meetings times through a program called Acuity. This program can be directly linked to my calendar allowing it to synchronize in real time once a student signs up for a meeting time. Additionally, it directly sends both the student and myself a Zoom meeting invite which saves another step I used to do myself, manually. Another crucial set of stakeholders have been the students who have provided positive feedback. They love engaging in virtual mentoring with their peers (as it makes it “less awkward”) and having easy access to my schedule!
The organizational strategies that supported the successful implementation of this effort were clear communication from our Dean of Students who allowed us to work from home. They also provided us both Acuity and Zoom accounts, which charge a fee.
Like many things in life, this approach has downsides. Although video is more intimate than telephone alone, it is not the same as an in-person encounter as it is missing that warm connection that is hard to replicate virtually. Also, virtual mentoring can be exhausting especially with multiple back-to-back meetings where “transition time” is not accounted for. However, despite these challenges, the necessity of remaining socially distanced coupled with the convenience brought by the virtual world likely means that meeting virtually will remain with us for some time. Post COVID-19, I will likely offer students the option to meet virtually or in person. I look forward to learning more of the capabilities of virtual mentoring as it allows me to continue meeting with students who bring much joy to my work.
What has been your “silver lining” through this pandemic? Comment below and join the conversation.
Did you know that the Harvard Macy Institute Community Blog has had more than 255 posts? Previous blog posts have explored topics including engaging students virtually, the HyFlex option, and being together, when apart.
Carlos G Torres
Carlos Torres, MD, (Educators ’20), is a medical educator and a pediatrician. Carlos currently holds a position as Faculty Advisor in Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs (ORMA) at Harvard Medical School and Associate Director of Diversity and Equity at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Carlos’ area of professional interest include cross-cultural care, working with underserved communities, and fostering resiliency. Carlos can be contacted via email.