It all started at the end of Friday, 6 March. At the meeting of the Lisbon Academic University Centre (CAML) that day, it was decided to suspend all activities that involved interaction with patients, including classes, practical assessments, and internships. Classes outside this context would continue, until instructed otherwise.
The following morning, an extraordinary meeting of the Pedagogical Council (CP) was called for. On 8 March, the CP officially took the first steps: the pedagogical recommendations were approved under two scenarios: classroom teaching, without classes with contact with patients, and a second scenario, in the absence of any face-to-face classes.
The first scenario started and ended the following day, Monday, 9 March. In the classes and in the corridors, the buzz about COVID-19 was audible, and the questions were multiple, from what was going to happen, how the practical classes were going to be replaced, what was planned, if and when the faculty would close or not…
Preparing the possible progression to the second scenario, we created during this morning, with the help of our colleagues from the AEFML, the portfolio that today students use daily to register their classes.
During that same day, at 5 pm, and in accordance with the recommendations approved by the Council of Portuguese Medical Schools (CEMP), all FMUL students received a statement from the Director's Office, Professor Fausto Pinto, announcing the suspension of classroom activities at FMUL. It was something that was already anticipated, since FMUL is headquartered in a University Hospital, Santa Maria Hospital, very susceptible to the rapid spread of the virus if the necessary precautions were not taken.
Although the announced suspension did not come as a surprise, the uncertainty of what the coming days would be like was great. Would we continue to take classes? How would contact with clinical practice be ensured? What about the year 6 professional internships? All of these questions began to haunt students' minds, fuelling growing uncertainty.
For the students of the Council of Representatives, which includes one representative for each body elected by the students (AEFML, Pedagogical Council, School Council and Course Commissions of the MIM and the LCN), the day was not over yet. We prepared together an announcement that was sent to the students, systematizing all the necessary information.
In addition, there was an urgent need to design from scratch the new communication and work structure of that day and those to come, the machine that, behind the stage, would help lecturers prepare for this new challenge. In this sense, we received in the AEFML meeting room Professor Joaquim Ferreira, who volunteered to help us, guiding us on what the next steps should be. Also on that day, we visited our colleagues from the Audio-visual Unit, with the details outlined so that, two days from now, the videoconferences would start.
They say that in times of adversity, the most important thing is to be united. The truth is that we saw a Faculty coming together with a common objective: to ensure that students and, above all, their training was not hindered. The Board, the Pedagogical Council, the Year Coordinators, Subject Coordinators and Lecturers from all Disciplinary Areas, Course Commissions, the AEFML Representatives’ Council, and of course, the Audio-visual Team and other non-teaching staff from FMUL. All without exception. And in just 24 hours, we had set up a communication network. Thus, a new teaching paradigm was born at FMUL, which is Teaching based on videoconferences.
There were busy hours, that's for sure. That week, we received hundreds of emails and thousands of message notifications. But it was possible because it was a team effort, a team in which we had the pleasure of actively participating, articulating and interconnecting from the beginning all the points that were being carefully and hopefully designed and built. Being students, and also taking advantage of this new model of classes, we could not feel more fulfilled. It is with great pride that we realize that its implementation has been a success, and that the feedback that our colleagues give us every day is extremely positive.
In a feeling cross-cutting to all students in the FMUL community, we saw and recognized in the lecturers the investment of their time on behalf of the students. A special word to those who are also clinicians and combine, in their limited free time, their academic role with their increasing professional demands. We have seen and we see non-academic staff spending their personal resources to guarantee that all technical issues are corrected, ensuring the best possible teaching. We see students who actively participate in each videoconference and, in the end, thank the speakers for their availability, aware of how privileged they are. The excellent results that we are seeing in the face of this new method would not exist without everyone's collaboration.
Although motivated by the strength of the circumstances, this new pedagogical experience will not be forgotten, and could be the starting point for a future discussion, by opening a new paradigm in Medical Education at FMUL. In a recent article in the JAMA, The Inevitable Reimagining of Medical Education, it is inevitable that online teaching, especially in the preclinical years, becomes essential, and this may be our experimental phase at FMUL.
They say that in times of adversity, the true nature of Humanity shows itself to the world. In times of adversity, we saw a Faculty, which, when put to the test, rose up for its students. The future is uncertain, and the most we can hope for is for the storm to pass, and for everyone to remain healthy. We hope that the Faculty we will return to is a more united Faculty proud of the challenges it has overcome.
The Students’ team of the Pedagogical Council