View from the ground, by Dr Emily Tyer and Dr Safian Younas


Dr Safian Younas

Having finished our professional exams as part of the GP training programme, we turned our gaze to the plethora of career options that lay before us. To this end, we took the initiative to organise a vocational training scheme (VTS) careers day for the ST3 trainees. We were quickly overwhelmed by how many GPs from various backgrounds were willing to give up their time to share their career journeys with us to help inspire and guide tomorrow’s GPs. A vibrant day was all set including inviting local practices interested in recruiting.

Then came COVID-19. At the drop of a hat, weekly VTS training days and in-house education time were cancelled as GP trainees were asked to devote this time to help out in practice, and trainers weren’t to be distracted from service provision.

But adversity breeds innovation; as the digital world boomed, we also saw the use of technology accelerate in general practice. From using video consults, to text messages and video conference meetings: GP practices were finally entering the twenty-first century apace. It was with this momentum we thought to resist the cancellations and push ahead with the careers event as an online Zoom webinar.

Fortunately, many of the speakers were still happy to give up their time (arguably it was a lot less time given they could attend from their living rooms!) and we devised a two-and-a-half hour programme with seven speakers. Participants were asked to register before the event and could send in pre-written questions to the speakers if they wished. The Zoom invitation was then sent out to all participants and speakers. Two facilitators co-ordinated the webinar ensuring that each speaker kept to time and the sharing of slides and videos ran smoothly, and then fielded pre-written questions as well as live questions that participants sent in via the Zoom chat.

We were thrilled to see 45 participants joining us from the beginning to the end of the webinar and remaining engaged and interactive throughout—perhaps the greatest number of trainees that have attended a teaching session at one time! This enthusiasm was apparent from the excellent feedback we received:

  • It was great to focus back on our careers and talk something other than Covid’
  • ‘Great to have shifted to webinar format, it worked very well and look forward to hopefully having more sessions’
  • Despite my initial hesitations, the webinar won me over and I don’t think I’d have gained anything more in real life.’

The trainees expressed how they had clearly been missing education time and had a number of suggestions for future sessions over the internet, and some commented that the use of the live chat for asking questions allowed them to ask much more than they would have done if the event was in its traditional format; a success in its own right, facilitating the inclusion of ‘quieter’ learners. 

To lose medical education would be a tragic casualty of this pandemic. Arguably it is needed even more in times of crisis—think about the benefit of granting trainees their protected time with trainers to learn best practice on remote consulting, effective safety netting, critically appraising national and local guidelines, to name but a few invaluable learning outcomes. Stopping education is also a myopic stance; the crisis will come and go and trainees still need to be prepared to ensure they are ready to deal with the workload that will undoubtedly come in its wake. While we know some of this learning is still happening by committed trainers and trainees alike, it is the responsibility of medical education leadership to champion this and ensure dedicated spaces for it.

Looking ahead, we are excited by how we can build on this momentum for online learning where there is no central provision. Apps such as Zoom have functionality for ‘breakout rooms’ to allow small group interaction between facilitators and students, and online software (such as Mentimeter) allows live quizzes and participation in presentations. A lot of these functionalities aren’t new, but their true potential is only just being realised in many educational contexts.

Dr Emily Tyer and Dr Safian Younas

GP registrars

Buckinghamshire VTS Programme, Thames Valley Deanery