A Small Step for Med Students, A Big LEAP for Juan

A Small Step for Med Students, A Big LEAP for Juan

October 22, 2021

By Joseph Romeo Paner, UPCM 2026

Last July 16, the Learning Enhancement in Anatomy Program (LEAP) took off as 151 Class 2025 students finally set foot in the halls of the UP College of Medicine for the first time since the pandemic started. This optional bridging program offered the students a chance to demonstrate and reinforce what they had learned about human anatomy throughout the online academic year. To circumvent the limitations presented by the pandemic, the UPCM administration and faculty devised LEAP and implemented the program during the midyear.

Scalpel please! UPCM Class of 2025 underwent the face-to-face Learning Enhancement in Anatomy Program (LEAP), last July 14-30, 2021. This opportunity was implemented by the UPCM Administration and the faculty and staff of the Department of Anatomy.

Preparing for the Big LEAP

A hands-on anatomy course provides an invaluable learning experience that is absent in a digital dissection. For example, the actual human body exhibits anatomical variations that are not accounted for in on-screen learning. To bridge this gap with LEAP, UPCM wasted no time getting approval for holding limited face-to-face classes from the Commission on Higher Education as mandated in the CHED-DOH Joint Memorandum Circular 2021-001.

Several students were filled with excitement upon hearing the news of the program’s approval. Apart from learning anatomy with actual cadavers, it was also an opportunity to finally engage with their professors and fellow students in person. Led by Ms. Arlyn Adlawan as their president, the Class of 2025 pitched the idea of a bridging program to the Dean and the Dean’s Management Team during the College Town Hall Meeting last November 2020. The class then took part in the planning of LEAP by giving their insights, feedback, and concerns regarding the proposed program. The efforts of the Class 2025 Council Officers were critical for information gathering and dissemination as part of the administrative work and decision-making process.

The preparation for the LEAP program was quite a logistical undertaking. First and foremost, participating students had to be fully vaccinated before the start of the program. Coordinating with the Dean and College Secretary, students residing in or near the National Capital Region were given the opportunity to be vaccinated in the Philippine General Hospital or the Sta. Ana Hospital, Manila. For those who were unable to avail of this, the UPCM admin provided a letter of request addressed to concerned LGUs for the vaccination of the endorsed medical students. The National COVID-19 Vaccination Operation Center Advisory No. 29 released last April 12 states that medical students rotating in approved hospitals shall be vaccinated as part of Priority A1.

The shared learnings from #LEAP2025 were insurmountable and effective. This program shows that despite the current conditions of medical education, the desire to learn and to serve has not wavered and will continue to thrive.

Some students also had to straighten out their travel back to NCR as well as living arrangements. Coming from Puerto Princesa, Ms. Jeanine Bianca Lastino had to set her flight schedule and accommodations for the entire program’s duration herself. She also braced herself mentally for the reality in NCR. "I had to condition myself to be mindful of the different risks being in an area with a drastically different COVID profile to where I had been staying at for [the] majority of the pandemic," she said.

Aside from these, Class 2025 also coordinated with the Office of Student Affairs regarding students who needed dormitory accommodations. They even arranged their own daily meals wherein they opened a call to their batchmates who knew food suppliers. After choosing suppliers based on menu and quotation, their class made an order for their preferred weekly food set. Lastly, Class 2025 conducted an internal solicitation drive to raise funds for their classmates who were most affected by the schedule changes. These students included those who needed to rebook their flights and accommodations.

Over and Under the Crossbar

To ensure everyone's safety, the faculty followed safety precautions approved by both CHED and DOH. In partnership with the Department of Anatomy, the PGH Hospital Infection Control Unit conducted a safety protocol orientation and provided copies of the guidelines to the class. Ms. Sheila Ozaeta, the UPM COVID-19 Coordinator, arranged the students' pre- and post-dissection COVID-19 RT-PCR swabs. In compliance with the preexisting safety regulations in Calderon Hall, everyone entering was required to fill out a health declaration form which is conveniently available on the UPCM website.

With LU4 becoming imminent, the journey of this new batch of doctors-in-training continues. Surely, 2025 will storm on, and they will relentlessly #DareToBeXXV.

The faculty also thoroughly planned the physical layout of the program. Stations were divided among all the available rooms of Calderon and access to sanitizing stations was ensured in each room. Every student received their schedules and room assignments beforehand to streamline the workflow. They also acquired COVID-19 kits containing additional face masks and shields.

For the program, which lasted from July 16 to July 30, the faculty split the class into two batches―one for each week. Each batch was further divided into subgroups of five students to control traffic in the stations. The faculty placed the stations in various rooms of Calderon Hall, including those in the second floor up to the third floor.

In stark contrast to the typical dissection experience, the students arrived to cadavers already prosected by the Department of Anatomy. Set-ups were provided for students to practice their clinical skills in doing procedures such as thoracentesis, ophthalmoscopy, and endoscopy. The UPCM faculty unveiled its prowess in medical education technology through Anatomage Table, a table with a touch screen that reconstructs individual structures in accurate 3D, allowing visualization of the human body as they would in a fresh cadaver. Dr. Jose V. Tecson III, an associate professor of the Department of Anatomy, even lent his virtual reality headset to the entire batch for an immersive, three-dimensional dissection. All these set-ups truly enriched the class' understanding of human anatomy.

Class 2025 likewise faced unexpected challenges participating in the program. Considering the welfare of the students, the faculty had to postpone the start of the program due to inclement weather, and students exposed to floodwaters were given prophylaxis for leptospirosis. Most notably, they had to end the program early due to the increasing threat of the new COVID-19 Delta variant which eventually raised the NCR's restriction level to ECQ just a few days after the program ended. Dr. Tecson reported that no faculty, staff, and students developed COVID-19 symptoms during or after the program.

UPCM 2025 pursued all opportunities to get #VaccToSchool! Last July 2021, students of the UPCM Class of 2025 received their COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Sta. Ana Hospital and PGH in Manila.

Looking back at LEAP

Dissection is a memorable milestone in a medical student's journey. Flaunting their newly-bought scrubs and greaseless scalpels, students looked forward to getting a hands-on, deep dive into the human body. However, with the pandemic, the national education system had to make use of whatever’s available and resorted to alternative learning platforms.

LEAP 2025 proves that with proactive planning with health experts and by strictly enforcing guidelines and protocols, it is possible to transition, albeit slowly, from the alternative virtual learning to an ideal face-to-face set-up. It goes without saying that learning through actual, face-to-face encounters is integral for professions dealing with actual people such as medicine. To be a competent physician, one must have a real-world experience in both basic and clinical aspects of medicine. With this, we all can build on the experience of LEAP 2025 as we prepare and hope for the future of medical education.