International collaboration aids innovations in medical education

Published 22 February 2012

An innovative partnership with the University of California, Irvine, is helping to take Australia’s University of New England to the forefront of advances in medical education.

UC Irvine’s School of Medicine was the first in the United States to introduce the use of iPads in the delivery of an undergraduate medical curriculum, and the first to train undergraduates in the use of portable, hand-held ultrasound units (as pictured here). As a result of its partnership with UC Irvine, UNE’s School of Rural Medicine is pioneering the use of iPads and portable ultrasound in undergraduate medical education in Australia.

The international partnership has already linked students at UNE with UC Irvine’s cutting-edge medical training facilities in live, interactive training sessions via the Internet. It is part of UNE’s strategy – through a range of innovative projects – to take full advantage of new opportunities offered by the National Broadband Network.

“The iPad will allow us to use the advantages of the Internet and the NBN to deliver our undergraduate program to our students when on placement in any part of the State, the nation, or the world,” said the Head of UNE’s School of Rural Medicine, Professor Peter McKeown. “And ultrasound has a very important role to play in medical practice – particularly in rural areas. These innovations exemplify UNE’s aspiration, as outlined in its Strategic Plan, to lead the nation in the use of educational technology.”

The leaders of both these teaching innovations at UC Irvine travelled to UNE late last week to participate in a symposium on the use of iPads and live Internet links in medical education, and an intensive course in the use of ultrasound as a diagnostic tool.

“I view this as an opportunity to transform medical education,” said Assistant Professor Warren Wiechmann, Faculty Director of Instructional Technologies in the UC Irvine School of Medicine, talking about the use of iPads and live Internet links. And Professor Christian Fox, UC Irvine’s Director of Instructional Ultrasound, said: “As physicians we owe it to our patients to use any tool that can help us make a more timely and accurate diagnosis.”

“The advantage of ultrasound at the point of care is that it’s portable and hand-held, and can be used at the patient’s bedside,” Professor Fox said. “While ultrasound appears deceptively easy, it’s actually difficult to learn how to use it correctly. If we can equip medical students with the necessary skills during their training, they’ll be able to use it instinctively once they’re in practice.”

Participants in the two-day ultrasound course (Friday 17 and Saturday 18 February) included GPs, emergency room and critical care specialists, and students. The sessions, on various aspects of ultrasound use, were led by Professor Fox, Dr Weichmann, UNE’s Dr Hadi Nojoumian, and Professors Alistair and Colin Royse from the University of Melbourne. The course ended with a practical exercise and discussions.

The symposium on Friday 17 February about the use of the Internet (“iMedEd”) and iPads in the delivery of medical curricula was joined – via the Internet – by medical educators at universities in Argentina, Malaysia, the UK and the United States as well as in Australia.

In his introduction to both these events on Friday, Professor McKeown thanked both UC Irvine and the University of Newcastle for their “generosity that provides us with the capacity to share knowledge”. UNE’s School of Rural Medicine is part of the Joint Medical Program, which is an expansion of the highly successful University of Newcastle medical program in partnership with UNE, Hunter New England Health and Central Coast Health.