Virus forces distance learning on Argentine student doctors

The doctor brings his smartphone closer to the coronavirus patient lying on the hospital bed. On the other end of the video call, medical students pose their questions and make their prognoses from afar — it’s as close as they can come during Argentina’s lengthy confinement.

Instead of touring the wards with his students at this teaching hospital outside Buenos Aires, Professor Mario Grossmann is filming with his phone and talking to his students via WhatsApp.

“I pass them the radiological plates by WhatsApp. I film myself making incisions and I show them how I do a biopsy,” he says.

For his fourth and fifth-year medical students, an image on a phone is as close as they can get for now to a real live patient.

Hands-on training for student doctors has been put on hold as Argentina’s lockdown continues, meaning graduations for many will be delayed by at least a year.

“These students have never touched a patient, they have never placed a stethoscope on a lung or a heart.

“Touching, seeing, smelling is very important on a semiological level,” says Grossmann, a specialist in emergency medicine and nephrology at Buenos Aires University (UBA) and head of internal medicine at Inter-American Open University.

“I can send them a video or an audio, but it is not the same thing,” said Grossmann.

Distance learning doctors

With more than 10,000 deaths and half a million infections, Argentina is one of South America’s worst-affected countries by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of students from the faculty of medicine of the University of Buenos Aires are studying virtually since educational institutions were shut down in Argentina in March.

Grossman trains them from the Interzonal hospital in Ezeiza, on the outskirts of the capital, which has more than 80 percent of the country’s coronavirus infections.

Although the distance learning classes are far from ideal, Grossmann considers it imperative to the training of new doctors given the current restrictions. (AFP | Ariel Timy Torres and Sonia Avalos)