For Dr. Jane Fowke and her husband, Dr. Ian Macdonald, virtual continuing professional development is nothing new.
The couple have been attending the Rural Virtual Conference Series put on by the University of Calgary’s (UCalgary) Office of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development (CME&PD) since 1985.
They started participating in the series while working in Hanna. After moving to Banff three years later, they’ve continued to participate in the series for more than 30 years.
“Going to [a] teleconference once a week [is] a very current way to keep up to date with all the topics,” said Dr. Fowke. “It gives you enthusiasm … [it] improves your energy and that definitely improves the care with your patients.”
She also enjoys the camaraderie and support of other health professionals in both rural and urban environments that she has gained through participating in the Rural Virtual Conference Series.
“You don’t get stuck in your old ways,” said Dr. Fowke. “It is one of the easiest [means to] access … [continuing medical education].”
Although retired for over a year, Dr. Macdonald still tunes into the weekly Rural Virtual Conference session.
“We want to invite every health-care practitioner and their whole team to be part of future curriculum design.”
– Sheila Sun, CME&PD education consultant
“The quality of the speakers is very high,” said Dr. Macdonald. “[And] the question period is always useful … because you often learn more from the questions than you do from the lectures.”
Their peer in Cochrane, Dr. Bill Hanlon, said virtual learning helps retain physicians in rural areas, because it gives them more connectivity to urban secondary and tertiary-care centres.
“It’s very important not to feel isolated from your colleagues,” said Dr. Hanlon. “[The Virtual Conference Series] gives you better feedback [from] your colleagues, and a sense of how you’re doing.”
At the other end of the career spectrum, Kristin Walters, an international medical graduate student from Calgary who is currently finishing her education in Croatia, started attending the virtual sessions in January to learn, network, and familiarize herself with the health-care system in which she wants to work.
“I’ve gained a lot of information, because the topics are so broad,” said Walters. “Each topic has had something really powerful in it.”
With her Masters in Business Administration and a background as a contracts manager in supply chain management with Alberta Health Services, Walters is applying for her family medicine residency with the eventual goal of returning to Alberta to specialize in geriatric and rural family medicine.
Walters found two sessions particularly interesting: Evaluation of Evidence 101 with Dr. Tina Korownyk and Chronic Diarrhea vs. IBS-D (irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea): How primary care pathways can support your management with Dr. Kerri Novak.
“[The session on Chronic Diarrhea Versus IBS-D] was interesting for me, just because there was a lot of discussion about testing in a rural setting,” added Walters. “There’s a bit of a disconnect between what the science says to be used as tests and … what is actually available for rural physicians.”
The session also addressed current solutions and various initiatives for gaining access to better testing in rural areas.
For Walters, the training sessions have been invaluable.
“It’s a missed opportunity if people don’t attend,” she added.
To help shape a curriculum that continues to support health-care providers moving forward, UCalgary’s CME&PD has developed a survey with a Learner-centred Inquiry Approach.
The survey focuses on getting feedback about future course offerings, learning how individuals prefer their continued professional development to be structured, and what education and resources health professionals find most useful.
“We want to invite every health-care practitioner and their whole team to be part of future curriculum design,” said Sheila Sun, CME&PD education consultant and the lead of the biennial survey.
Health professionals can take part in the survey until Monday, April 5.