How to prevent the next healthcare crisis - with education

By Stephanie West
Stephanie West, Head of the School of Health and Care Management at the UK's Arden University , discusses training students to prevent a future pandemic

The start of the pandemic threw us into a situation that strangely resembled a dystopian novel. The streets were quiet, we were told to stay isolated at home, and only leave when we needed the bare necessities.

We all witnessed what happened: the hospitals were on the verge of collapse, thousands were gravely ill, the death count was rapidly rising and a select few were fighting over the last packet of loo roll on the supermarket shelves.

It was unlike anything we had seen before. Amid all this havoc, there were healthcare professionals, government bodies, and citizens across the globe asking: ‘how did this even happen?'

With tech advancements occurring at an extraordinary pace, many began to question how chaos ensued almost overnight. We’ve all seen at least one horror movie injected with an over-exaggerated zombie apocalypse where things go a little haywire and the world feels isolated and scary. So perhaps many assumed the human race’s overactive imagination would mean we would be better prepared.

Perhaps governments across the globe hadn’t actually thought about such a devastating pandemic ever truly arising. Either way, preparation was key for an epidemic to not spread into a pandemic, but globally we were ultimately caught short.

There is a problem with the past

Hindsight is a beautiful thing; many lessons have been learnt over the past 18 months and it is vital the current and next generation of healthcare experts are well-equipped to prevent another pandemic.

Currently, we are seeing aspiring healthcare professionals being taught using previous case studies. While the case study method has been seen as a very successful way of learning, it does have its drawbacks, notably if cases are too old, they will no longer be relevant. 

Examples that are older than 10 years shouldn't be used especially if the industry has progressed - you wouldn’t get business students to observe case studies prior to the introduction of the internet. 

Similarly, you shouldn’t get healthcare students to look at case studies prior to the pandemic. A lot has changed, and the system that was once in place has undergone many alterations. Our students, for example, look at current real-life problems – and exploring how to solve them gives them the confidence to lead and resolve issues proactively.

Whether that is looking at how care homes can better look after senior citizens during an epidemic or how to prevent the next pandemic, this hands-on learning experience will teach them skills that will be relevant to their job, whilst simultaneously giving them confidence and grit in the workplace.
Using current case studies will also put them in good stead for their future career, giving them the digital and leadership skills they require. 

Digital simulations

Digital simulations that allow students to witness what a real-life role will be like will not only give students confidence when working but will also equip them with the knowledge to solve the problems they may face. They are free to make mistakes in the simulation, that will bear no detrimental impact but will teach them valuable lessons.

In a simulated world, prevalence, incidence, distribution, intervention, outcome and evaluation of global health issues will be simulated to resemble real-life scenarios, allowing students to have hands-on experience, similar to what they may be required to work with in practice. For the health and care sector, simulation can be invaluable. It can throw them into a pandemic without actually being in one in real life. From there, students can decide how best to handle such a catastrophic situation. 

This method provides students with the confidence they need when making those all-important decisions throughout their careers. Healthcare courses can teach all the theoretical know-how of how to approach a viral outbreak, but in practice, it can be very different.

The role of education

University courses must ensure students can meet the demands of their future job. Delivering programmes undertaken through digital and blended learning will ensure they are confident with how the professional world now operates.

Over the past 18 months, technology has been a vital tool for universities. It has allowed educational institutions to keep things turning for students when they haven’t been able to be present at workshops and lectures. It can now assist the healthcare professionals of tomorrow to not make the same mistakes that were unfortunately made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the health and care sector specifically, organisations are training current staff in digital technologies and innovative practices as they are introduced, but graduates need to be entering the workplace with these skills under their belts,  able to use them to drive innovation and further development.

By allowing students to observe current, ongoing case studies via simulated real-life situations,  we could see the next generation of healthcare professionals making the decisions that will prevent another healthcare crisis escalating the way COVID-19 did. And who knows, maybe we would then have a better chance of survival if a zombie apocalypse ever did happen. 

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