Ohio University

Policy course adapted to extend student learning during pandemic

Health Policy Story Label

Dan Skinner, Ph.D., decided to transform his Health Care Management Clerkship course from an in-person class to one offered through distance learning after the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine opened two additional campuses, nearly doubling enrollment. Like the rest of the world, he didn’t know at the time that a new coronavirus would quickly spread around the globe, leading to widespread bans on large gatherings of people, including one in Ohio.

“Obviously, I did not know a pandemic was coming,” said Skinner, an associate professor of health policy at the Heritage College, Dublin. But having the course already available to students via their laptops for the first time seemed a bit of luck when the virus hit, putting a halt to in-person classes for the immediate future.

The two-week course, which has been offered since 2014, is required for fourth-year medical students, but Skinner scrambled to provide the training to third-year students as well, to help ensure that they remain on course to complete their degrees on time while following social distancing guidelines.

Skinner also opened the course to physician assistant students from the Ohio University College of Health Sciences and Professions. “They were also interested in finding opportunities for their students to continue learning,” Skinner noted of CHSP, adding, “I think every aspect of the course will speak to those students.” (Skinner spoke before the beginning of the course, which ran March 30 – April 10 and had an enrollment of 264, including about 30 PA students.)

“I truly appreciate Dan’s quick consideration, assessment and decision-making and his willingness to collaborate at this critical time,” said William Burke, D.O. (’88), dean of the Heritage College’s Dublin campus. “Adding some 30 students to the over 200 already enrolled in the course, Dr. Skinner didn’t hesitate to find a way to make this happen quickly.”

Jody Gerome Zuchowski, D.O. (’05), associate dean for curriculum, said that “flexibility and adaptability has allowed for the college to continue to deliver high-quality, timely education to our students. The Health Care Management Clerkship is a prime example.” She added that she recently spoke with a student “who remarked that participating in the HCMC made her and her classmates realize how much potential impact they could have on the future of health care.”

Skinner dubbed the modified course “Health Care Management Clerkship – Pandemic Edition.” The name reflects not only the extreme circumstances that engendered it, but also his use of both the current health care crisis and the new mix of students as teachable moments. “Our daily discussions are going to be framed by two things that are really unique,” he said – the first being the pandemic, and the second the presence of PA students learning alongside future physicians.

As communities and health care providers mobilize to deal with the virus, Skinner noted, “This is a time of cooperation and collaboration. And I want to emphasize that in the course.”

He described the course as experiential in nature. Each day began and ended with a quiz to compare students’ knowledge coming in with what they learned by the end of class. In between came an educational video, followed by class discussion via a discussion board.

According to the syllabus, the course aims “to increase students’ awareness about the cost and quality of health care, as well as access to and accountability for that care within systems and institutions” – issues highlighted further by a pandemic viral infection.

Noting that the Heritage College was somewhat ahead of the medical education curve in first developing the course, Skinner said he was glad to be able to take it another step forward into online learning. “We were really an early adopter of a course that addressed health policy and management issues,” he said.

He added that he can’t take sole credit for the quick pivot that made the course available to PA students and third-year medical students. Help came from a number of colleagues, he said, including Jessica Makosky, video operations supervisor in Athens; Andrea Brunson, assistant director for student affairs in Dublin; and Kyle Rosenberger, instructional designer with OHIO’s Office of Instructional Innovation.

“Everybody’s pitching in,” he said.