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Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student experiences during rural placements in Australia: findings from a national multi-centre survey
journal contributionposted on 2023-02-13, 00:52 authored by Priya Martin, Matthew McGrail, Jordan Fox, Remo Ostini, Zelda Doyle, Denese Playford, Jessica BeattieJessica Beattie, Vivian Isaac, Lara FullerLara Fuller, Penny Allen, Srinivas Kondalsamy-Chennakesavan
Abstract Background The aim of this national study was to explore the learning experiences of Australia’s medical students who trained rurally during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Methods A cross-sectional, national multi-centre survey was conducted in 2020, through the Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators (FRAME). Participants were medical students who had completed an extended Rural Clinical School (RCS) training placement (≥ 12 months). A bespoke set of COVID-19 impact questions were incorporated into the annual FRAME survey, to capture COVID-19-related student experiences in 2020. Pre-pandemic (2019 FRAME survey data) comparisons were also explored. Results FRAME survey data were obtained from 464 students in 2020 (51.7% response rate), compared with available data from 668 students in 2019 (75.6% response rate). Most students expressed concern regarding the pandemic’s impact on the quality of their learning (80%) or missed clinical learning (58%); however, students reported being well-supported by the various learning and support strategies implemented by the RCSs across Australia. Notably, comparisons to pre-pandemic (2019) participants of the general RCS experience found higher levels of student support (strongly agree 58.9% vs 42.4%, p < 0.001) and wellbeing (strongly agree 49.6% vs 42.4%, p = 0.008) amongst the 2020 participants. Students with more than one year of RCS experience compared to one RCS year felt better supported with clinical skills learning opportunities (p = 0.015) and less affected by COVID-19 in their exam performance (p = 0.009). Conclusions This study has provided evidence of both the level of concern relating to learning quality as well as the positive impact of the various learning and support strategies implemented by the RCSs during the pandemic in 2020. RCSs should further evaluate the strategies implemented to identify those that are worth sustaining into the post-pandemic period.