Professor Ivan Ivanov, MD, Ph.D., Vice-Rector of Quality Management, on the constant pursuit of improvement
The quality of healthcare is deeply related to education at the University, where students acquire not only knowledge and practical skills, but the right attitude and professional ethics. The Medical University of Plovdiv has invested a lot in keeping standards high and quality uncompromised, even during the period of remote learning. Prof.Ivan Ivanov, MD, Ph.D., a pediatrics and child neurology specialist and Vice-Rector of Quality Management, talks about the constant improvement of methods and processes and the great importance of feedback and benchmarking in medical education.
Prof. Ivanov, how did the pandemic reflect on the academic activities of Medical University of Plovdiv?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a challenge to all structures of society. It had been a shock for the Medical University of Plovdiv as well, but it also helped us prove that we are a flexible system that can quickly reformat its methods and rules while keeping its function. In March 2020 during the lockdown, we were forced to cancel student training for a period of two weeks. In that time, however, we managed to prepare education resources containing the whole information which the students needed. Although they couldn’t be in contact with patients, they were provided with clinical history, exam data, images, and lab results of real cases, thus performing a virtual practical tuition. All of that led to the creation of a wonderful training material, which we are still using, no matter that we now have practical classes in a real environment. We are working with the Office 365 software products and all students have access to a huge number of virtual resources. Exams are also conducted in this medium.
How did you compensate for the fact that the virtual environment does not provide the same experience as physical practice?
It is true that a virtual environment cannot replace the real one, no matter how hard we try to imitate it. Aiming to compensate for the deficit that emerged in student practical skills, we made certain changes. One of them is the optimisation of summer internships, which we increased by one week in 2021. We also created a special programme in which we divided the skills, thatmust be acquired into surgical and therapeutic practice and introduced an exam at the end of each practice. That changed the whole paradigm, making students motivated to learn and be taught, so they can acquire the necessary skills and pass the exam. This change certainly made internships more efficient, and now we are going on with other improvements. We have also adopted the requirements of the General Medical Council of UK, so that students' skills and knowledge after graduation to be compatible with the criteria in Great Britain, France, Germany and will meet world quality standards.
You have also changed the examination model?
Before the pandemic exams used to start with an entry test then came writing an essay of some questions from the syllabus and finally – a practical exam. Now many departments prefer the theoretical exam to be a test on all topics of syllabus held in a digital medium. The advantage of this system is that it covers all the material and students can’t rely on luck, having studied only part of the questions. The assessment is objective for every student. We do have the problem with the risk of fraud here, but it has a solution, which we are already implementing. The tests can be done in a controlled environment, where each student has access to only one computer, connected to our university MS Ofiice 365 cloud. Another thing we have implemented is that last-year students now must work on and present cases in front of a medical collegium and the final result adds to their grade in the state examination.
What other methods have you implemented to keep the high quality of education in Medical University Plovdiv?
We have made serious improvements to receive feedback. It is very significant that knowledge does not have only one direction, being transmitted from a professor to a student. We should also be aware of what students have learned, what questions they have and how the answers to these questions will consolidate their knowledge. We should know what to activate in order to meet students' needs. We perform regular surveys after each semester about the course of tuition and another on examination sessions. We have also created a very important electronic procedure for missed practicals or lectures, through which students can report in real time via their virtual accounts about lectures and classes that have failed. The information is sent automatically to the head of the corresponding department, the vice-dean, and the vice-rector of quality management. This is a way to control the regularity of lectures and classes and react timely before a systematic problem arises. We have also introduced controls for poor grades, as many poor grades indicate that knowledge is insufficient, and/or the exam is inadequate. So, each year calculations are made to find deviations from the average values of each faculty. When we have the results and see a problem, the relevant department is encouraged to take steps to improve teaching. So far, we are seeing a positive outcome from this technique. When we identify a systematic problem somewhere, we try to solve it before it becomes a problem that leads to negatives en masse.
How do you promote a good example?
We have implemented a benchmarking model – the best performance should be shared and transferred to others, who are encouraged to follow a good example. In this regard, we are making a survey after each semester about the best lecturer, best tutor on practicals, and best department. Between 1,200 and 1,500 students take part in the survey and the people who have received the most votes are awarded a diploma in the relevant category. We have about 30 categories in the various faculties and education languages.
We encourage students in a similar way through a special new procedure of choosing the best student. In the criteria of the competition exam grades comprise half of the final points, and scientific, social, sports and cultural activities, foreign languages, etc. are taken into account. Four of our students have already been awarded the Best Student prize on our last Ceremonial Academic Council.
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