One of the GMC’s key responsibilities is ensuring education and training in UK medical schools, for undergraduate medical students, and on-site training in hospitals, for postgraduate doctors, is of the highest standard. Much of that work is done by Jamie Field and his colleagues in the Quality Assurance Monitoring and Improvement (QAMI) team. Here, he tells us how they’ve utilised technology to carry out remote ‘visits’ to new medical schools during the pandemic.

Covid-19 has had many repercussions across all our lives, but some things must continue, and one of these is the maintenance of medical education standards as these are vital for patient, student and trainee safety.

In my team, QAMI, we quality assure undergraduate medical students’ education in medical schools, and medics’ postgraduate training, as they move through their specialty education in areas as diverse as paediatrics or cardiology. Because of the pandemic we have had to adapt our ways of working.

Before the pandemic

Pre-pandemic, our QAMI team would undertake highly organised visits to new medical schools.  Running over one or two days, specialised, external consultant and team members would usually stay overnight, meeting with a wide range of individuals from the Dean of the medical school, to teaching staff, and students.

During the pandemic

Now, our assessments are conducted via MS Teams and we have virtually assessed several new medical schools.

Our aim is to gain the assurance we need without putting too much burden on the schools. The virtual visits, which are series of meetings conducted by the external consultants, have been shortened to last around four to five hours, as one to two days is unfeasible for online meetings. We also request more documents beforehand, and we conduct student and supervisor surveys to garner opinion.

After some trial and error, we also took the decision to meet with smaller groups of medical students and supplemented this with surveys to allow us to gain the opinions of a wider range of students.

The virtual meetings themselves focus on areas of known risk, such as a school’s preparations for the incoming cohort or following up on previous areas of concern.

How has it gone?

Of course, there are downsides. We have lost reading body language and atmosphere. Not just in a negative sense, but also picking up on positive body language and a natural flow of conversation. We know that that GMC attendees missed being able to read the atmosphere of a visit and getting a sense of the relationships between various stakeholders and the school.

Although we do not report on this softer intelligence, nor use it to help us make judgements, it does allow us to see how things are running and identify areas for that may need further exploration.

Looking ahead

Given that we may not be able to visit in person for some time yet, we will work to ensure students understand our role and feel comfortable sharing their experiences with us, for example by sending information to students in advance, and utilising MS Teams functions. Also, in response to comments about meeting length, we have increased the time allocated over several half days to allow for more breaks and to limit fatigue.

Overall, we feel that the virtual visits have been effective in giving the assurance we needed. In fact, in a survey we carried out 93% of school respondents and 83% of GMC staff and associates agreed, or strongly agreed, that they were confident that our virtual visits allowed us to gather the evidence needed to make sound judgements.

You can access the GMC’s new medical school reports here.