Taking a Leap of Faith: A Study of Abruptly Transitioning an Undergraduate Medical Education Program to Distance-Learning Owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic

JMIR Med Educ. 2021 Jul 23;7(3):e27010. doi: 10.2196/27010.


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities worldwide to immediately transition to distance-learning. Although numerous studies have investigated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on universities in the Middle East, none have reflected on the process through which medical education programs for health professions underwent this transition. This study aimed to elucidate the rapid transition to distance-learning of an undergraduate medical program at the College of Medicine, Mohammad Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. An action research approach constituted the foundation of this collaborative effort that involved investigations, reflections, and improvements of practice, through ongoing cycles of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting. Efforts of transitioning to distance-learning were grouped into four interrelated aspects: supporting faculty members in delivering the program content, managing curriculum changes, engaging with the students to facilitate distance-learning experiences, and conducting web-based assessments. Challenges included the high perceived uncertainty, need for making ad hoc decisions, lack of experiential learning and testing of clinical skills, and blurring of work-life boundaries. Our preliminary findings show the successful generation of a strong existing digital base, future prospects for innovation, and a cohesive team that was key to agility, rapid decision-making, and program implementation.

Keywords: COVID-19; action research; change management; curriculum content; curriculum delivery; distance-learning; learning; medical education; pandemic; teaching.