The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the medical education platform for students in the United States of America (USA). In that light, medical schools had to rapidly rearrange the dynamics of their educational curricula from the traditional platforms, to incorporate telemedicine. The telemedicine platform is supported in many specialties, allowing students various options to continue their education without interruption during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond. Telemedicine platforms are projected to grow exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing a segue for medical schools to modify their curricula by incorporating telemedicine programs. These distant-, e-learning (tele-education) programs align with the recommendations and guidelines for practicing social distancing. In this article, we surveyed fourth-year medical students to better understand their views on multiple aspects of e-learning, and its impact on their medical education during the COVID-19 pandemic. We assessed the medical students' experiences, satisfaction, insight and knowledge with e-learning, tele-education, telehealth, and their related modalities during COVID-19. We provide an organized overview and analysis of the main factors that influence medical education during the COVID-19 pandemic, while bringing forth the main challenges, limitations, and emerging approaches in the field of telemedicine and its application as it relates to medical education and e-learning across medical specialties. We outline the main themes and ideas that the medical students voiced, as to how their medical education is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they will incorporate telemedicine and tele-education in their future career. A cross-sectional, mixed-method survey was developed and distributed via Google Surveys to 181 University at Buffalo, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, United States of America, 4th year medical students, in December 2020. Results were compiled and analyzed after a 6-day open period for responses to be submitted. The survey instrument consisted of questions that inquire about the students' perspectives as it relates to their rapid switch from their traditional method of learning to the on-line version of medical education during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 65 students responded to the survey, of which 63 completed the survey. More than half of the students (n = 63, 57%) indicated that both their specialty of interest, and (n = 21, 33%) their sub-internships were impacted by the temporary lockdown, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also indicated that the top three specialties that were affected included surgery, internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology. When the students were asked if they were satisfied with the use of aquifer for their health care e-learning, only 35% of the students were satisfied. The students expressed that the school's administration team did a good job in developing the new tele-education curriculum for those in clinical training. In addition, responses indicated that students were open to case-based video learning and readings, when combined with the abbreviated clinical exposure during the make-up "clinical immersions periods" allowed for adequate learning. Overall, the survey responses show that more than half, approximately 54% of the medical students utilized telemedicine platforms during their clerkships that were impacted by COVID-19. The 4th-year medical students did not find tele-education and e-learning to be as effective as traditional medical education that combines in-person didactic classroom instructions and in-person face-to-face in hospital clerkships. Students felt that the telemedicine program that was rapidly set up due to the COVID-19 'lockdown' was fragmented, since it was not a formal integration of a telemedicine E-learning program. Students would have preferred more 'real' cases to follow, instead of the ready-made, aquifer type of cases. Telemedicine has significant potential to address many of the challenges facing the medical education environment today. We believe now that people have become comfortable with this method of teaching, that even after the pandemic ends, we will continue to see tele-education used as a platform for medical education.
Keywords: COVID-19; E-learning; medical education; novel coronavirus disease 2019; tele-education; telehealth; telemedicine.