During the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face teaching was halted to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Medical students across the UK were thrust into the virtual learning environment. Focus groups with final year medical students and junior doctors identified that despite high demand, near-peer led teaching had fallen by the wayside.
Medical students like me find near-peer teaching invaluable as we benefit from the experience of junior doctors who were in our situation only recently. Being able to ask questions to foundation doctors, who we will be stepping into the shoes of very soon, is an essential learning experience.
New teaching opportunities during the pandemic
Like all clinical year medical students across the UK, almost six months of my clinical placements were cancelled and moved online. This posed new challenges as we were no longer seeing patients or receiving bedside teaching in a clinical environment. Can you really learn how to pass a speculum over Zoom?
As the summer approached and we watched the pandemic unfold, the final years graduated early and became interim foundation doctors. It was unclear when life would be returning to normal or when placement would resume.
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In my final year of medical school at King’s College London, we returned to placements in August. I was grateful to return to clinical practice and keen to make up for the time lost but near-peer teaching opportunities were curtailed by social distancing restrictions. University students across the UK faced these same difficulties and as a result, The 6PM Series was born of necessity.
What is the 6PM Series?
The 6PM Series came from small beginnings, initially to provide Bristol medical students online near-peer teaching from junior doctors working in the Somerset area. This then expanded to students from Exeter and King’s College London. We recognised there was a gap for students who were missing interacting with juniors, so James, Shaheer, Ayuub (junior doctors working in the South-West) and I set out to explore an alternative.
Being able to ask foundation doctors questions, who we will be stepping into the shoes of very soon, is an essential learning experience.
In November, the four of us co-founded The 6PM Series. The aim was to provide free sessions on Zoom, run by UK-based junior doctors, to clinical-year students, every day at 6pm. At first, up to 50 students were logging on, where we use interactive multiple choice questions (MCQs) to cover high yield topics and prepare for finals. Through the powers of social media and our incredible ambassadors, this increased to 100 students, 500, 1000 and is still growing.
Fast forward three months and we are in our second series. Students log on every evening at 6pm and a junior doctor provides information on the topic of the day. One of our co-founders hosts the session, providing the continuity of a familiar face. The session provider asks a series of MCQs which participants can answer anonymously on our interactive poll feature. These results are then shared on screen for participants to see while the provider goes through the explanation.
Photo credit: The 6PM Series
This format allows the presenting doctor to focus on the content of the session while the doctor co-hosting can answer any queries in the chat. We have found students benefit from learning with their peers, sharing information and insights from different medical schools. This interaction has created the 6PM community.
Learning built from the ground up
The content of the sessions is powered by requests from The 6PM community. After each session, participants are invited to fill in a feedback form to receive the session’s slides. This also generates a certificate of attendance for students.
Our ambassador scheme has helped us reach many students across the UK and provides us valuable feedback about how we can improve the series. The content of the curriculum is curated to prepare students for finals, using session feedback, our ambassadors and the 6PM community to decide session topics and troubleshoot any issues. We were able to make changes and switch up our sessions and content to respond to what the community wanted based on the regular feedback.
In a recent 40 day series, we covered topics such as:
- pharmacology in anaesthetics
- venous blood gases
- acute cardiology
- key fractures
For the second series, we have engaged with over 5000 medical students and our particularly popular five-part Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA) mini-series had 1000 participants each session. We have learned a lot since we first started and with the help of our community, we have adapted aspects to ensure students get the most out of our doctor-led sessions.
We have found that students like the continuity of the sessions, forming a habit of logging on every day at 6pm, and having a familiar face to personally answer queries in the chat. Students have reported that the anonymity when answering the polls gives them the confidence to attempt more challenging MCQs.
The future of The 6PM Series
We have many ideas about the future for The 6PM Series, including an SJT series, an anatomy series and an Ask To See a Patient (ATSP) series. We are passionate about bridging this gap in near-peer learning that the pandemic has created. Using student feedback, we’ve been able to cover many topics in demand and actively learn remotely – with every opportunity to ask questions to the junior doctors during the session.
To any students whose placements have been cancelled and near-peer contact has been curtailed, my advice is: don’t fret. Take advantage of online resources and new learning opportunities, there are many doctor-led options available and join us at 6pm for our next session!