Leaders of the MEHP program were looking forward to celebrating the program’s 10th year in person with faculty, fellows, and alumni. But as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, it became clear to program director Toni Ungaretti, PhD, and others that, like many other conferences, it was time to go virtual.
So, using Event Farms’ The Echo platform, a virtual world was customized for the MEHP’s sessions of education workshops and research presentations, even including an exhibit hall for poster presentations. In between sessions, there were opportunities for networking, whether at the beachside concert pavilion, shooting hoops at the basketball court, climbing the lighthouse, or filling the motorboats with MEHP colleagues for a virtual spin around the lake. Nearly 130 fellows, faculty, and friends from 10 countries engaged in the platform, designing their own personal avatars to attend at least one session or event.
“It was a grand experiment to try to approximate being together in person,” Ungaretti says. “It was also an opportunity to create some fun and to do something that was not on Zoom.”
Some attendees became so comfortable with the experience that they would change their avatar’s clothing, from business dress for formal sessions to casual clothes for the closing party on the beach, Ungaretti says.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten was that attendees greatly appreciated the time to do rehearsals and practice in a new format,” she says. “It became an interesting thing for families because the children of people who were attending the conference saw them doing this and got really excited. In many cases, children were playing, moving around in the world, or teaching their parents how to move avatars. There was another layer of impact that we hadn’t even thought about.”
Keynote speakers presented both virtually and on camera. Lorelei Lingard, PhD, a professor in the Department of Medicine and senior scientists at the Centre for Education Research and Innovation at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in Canada, discussed how to write effective research papers. Nehal Khamis, MD, PhD, MHPE, co-chair of the faculty development committee of the American College of Surgeons, presented on international work in competency-based education and offered a global perspective of medical education. Marjorie Jenkins, MD, FACP (MEHP ’15), dean of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, spoke on using the MEHP program to advance careers.
Behind the scenes, program administrator Margaret Shamer and instructional designer Sadik Bulut worked tirelessly to get people registered and ensure that attendees had time for training and rehearsal in the virtual space.
“There were a lot of very successful moments and things that we’ve been very proud of because we were able to make what would have been a live conference work just as well virtually,” Shamer says. “We felt that it was important to continue to be innovative and not skip a year just because we couldn’t have an in-person conference.”
A video recap is available on the MEHP Facebook page. The next conference will be held in July 2023.