Venturing Into the Unknown: The Heights and Plights of Medical School in Hybrid Learning
May 30, 2022
By: Charlene Divine M. Catral, UPCM 2027
An unexpected turn of events has led us to a crossroad. What happens next? The adventitious arrival of the pandemic brought about uncertainty as people tried to salvage bits and pieces of normalcy. Time seemed to have stopped these past two years, yet everyone knew that life must go on to prevent the worst of things. In education, continuing the mission to cultivate young minds for tomorrow was at a standstill—lockdowns prompted suspension of classes and learning. In the pursuit of a new normal that included social distancing, wearing personal protective equipment, and following numerous precautions against COVID-19, the shift to a digital platform for the everyday began.
Access to numerous digital resources allowed for easy transition to an alternate mode of learning for most students and teachers. However, one cannot turn a blind eye to those without access to the internet or the resources (i.e., laptops, smartphones) required to accomplish online tasks. Both public and private institutions attempted to bridge that gap by providing such resources to those who require them; however, there was still one out of five students who faced difficulty in acquiring a computer . Similar statistics were found for those utilizing prepaid mobile data services to access the internet. Furthermore, this new learning environment involves tasks different from the previous mode of learning. Household chores, school works, and other responsibilities combine in an online setup, requiring a student to balance multiple aspects all at once. It takes extra effort to conduct activities designed for online learning since adequate preparation is needed. There is an increase in the academic papers required of students, video recording of reports of students or lectures by professors also take a lot of time, and many find it difficult to grasp concepts using a purely online setup, consequently requiring double effort to understand their lessons. Luckily, most have adjusted, yet some anxiety persists on the quality of learning one has acquired.
Students who learned clinical concepts and principles at patients’ bedsides had to grow accustomed to the virtual setting, far from human touch.
The online set-up had its respective advantages and disadvantages amongst medical students; those who entered during the pandemic have yet to experience face-to-face lectures and patient encounters.
Despite advances in controlling the pandemic, there is still a lot of work to be done. Existing drugs are said to be effective against the virus; however, some are not yet FDA approved, solely reserved for emergency situations. Numerous hospitals continue to cater to patients experiencing severe complications brought by COVID-19. Many are yet to be vaccinated, however, the growing numbers towards herd immunity has helped decrease the alert level in the country. Thankfully, people are now roaming freely in the streets, within the walls of malls and supermarkets, as well as working and studying in the office and universities. Cases have started to decrease, with more and more hospital staff catching a glimpse of rest after a grueling two years. While this is not a complete reversion to pre-pandemic times, it is a good compromise, showing the potential for technology to enmesh in our daily lives.
As of March 2022, the Commision on Higher Education reported approximately 313 colleges and universities already engaging in the minimum face-to-face classes, with about 1000+ degree programs in participation . Of course, proper health precautions and protocols remain in place to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases, which is why some universities have adopted a hybrid mode of learning to maximize the students' learning experience. Forty four UPCM students participated in a survey released by UPCM InSPIRE last March 27 to May 12, 2022 regarding the ongoing shift from a completely online mode of learning to a hybrid form.
Mornings in the OPD are usually bustling with patients and new students navigating their way with patient interactions and consultations.
Of the respondents 79.5% found the possible shift from online learning to a hybrid setup to be agreeable. On the other hand, 13.6% remained undecided while 6.8% did not agree. Reservations stemmed from issues affecting their preparedness to shift back to face-to-face classes, such as financial constraints which may hinder finding housing, as well as logistic considerations such as travel time from the provinces to Manila. Others were also hesitant due to the increased risk of contracting COVID-19. When asked what emotions surfaced when considering the shift to hybrid learning, the majority were excited (70.5%) and happy (68.2%). Despite this, about half were scared (47.7%) and others reluctant (36.4%) because of some fear in not knowing what the clinics are like. Eight individuals (18.2%) were also stressed, while one respondent had mixed and unsure emotions.
When asked if they believed that the current online learning setup has been effective, 43.2% answered “maybe” while another 43.2% stated it was ineffective. Only 13.6% found the online setup effective, brought by their experiences of having more time to read primary source materials and allowing them to exercise their independence and time management skills. Many have cited that certain household responsibilities limited their time and ability to concentrate on their studies, and others had difficulties due to the increased workload. One of the students expressed that the online learning setup exposed technological disadvantages, pertaining to the difficulties in internet connectivity and lack of adequate resources. In hindsight, some believed that over time, people were able to get used to the online set-up and learned to manage their academic and extracurricular affairs. However, there are certain classes that require skills honed through hands-on training such as laboratory courses in chemistry and biology, dissections in anatomy, clinical practice, hospital rotations, and fieldworks, thereby putting the online setup at a disadvantage. Insights were also gathered from students who have recently experienced face-to-face classes alongside online classes. They discussed that some difficulties experienced were due to overlaps between online and face-to-face requirements. While they were juggling previous workloads required of them from the online set-up such as Zoom classes, academic papers, and online exams, they were also actively conducting laboratory experiments on-site. Although it was a fun and exhilarating experience to finally get some hands-on learning done, juggling two different kinds of work proved to be a challenge they hope can be improved in the future. To adjust to this transition, they actively communicated with their professors, especially in cases of schedule adjustments. Furthermore, comfort from their peers has helped in making hybrid classes more meaningful. For future plans, they suggest a more fleshed out scheduling of online and face-to-face classes, where both are done in separate days or periods of the semester to prevent any overlaps in the schedules.
Students were anxious but eager to return to the face-to-face setting after 2 years of learning on the online setting.
Students have their patients to thank for the hands-on learnings and experiences that weren’t accessible with the online set-up.
Other students also shared suggestions on what can help them in the transition from an online to a hybrid set-up. From some in the provinces and those requiring financial assistance, provision of assistance for accommodation (i.e., housing, transportation), consideration for travel time to Manila and time to canvas for houses, and relaying updates on the concrete plans to be implemented during the semester are of utmost importance. These measures would reassure and strengthen their excitement to rejoin the college in Manila.
As we venture to discover the best educational approach to address both the limitations of the pandemic and the standards for quality education, the health of all remains a priority. Regardless of the current circumstances, the University considers the safest options for its students, faculty, and staff. Although it is unknown how long the virus will be here to stay, the growing pool of scientific knowledge and medical breakthroughs will soon find a way to ease us out of our four walls.
The students of the UP College of Medicine are part of the community of learners—young minds that will be the hope of the future. Hand in hand, the bustling streets of Manila will be greeted by the energy of students. The buildings will come alive again with the thriving minds of future doctors, cultivated beyond the screens and through the lenses of their eyes. Until that day, we must continue paving the road towards our envisioned future. The collision of the digital and physical worlds will maximize the discovered benefits of online learning and the provision of a new perspective on practicing medicine. Partnered with hands-on classes for laboratory work and clinical rotations, we will be able to harness the best of our potential to learn the skills a six-star physician must have.
 Baticulon RE, Sy JJ, Alberto NR, Baron MB, Mabulay RE, Rizada LG, et al. Barriers to online learning in the time of COVID-19: A national survey of medical students in the Philippines. Medical Science Educator. 2021;31(2):615–26.
 Cruz K. 300 colleges, universities resume in-person classes. The Manila Times. 2022 Mar 14. Retrieved 2022 Apr 24 from www.manilatimes.net/2022/03/14/news/300-colleges-universities-resume-in-person-classes.