Telemedicine as an enabler of success: revisiting the undergraduate medical curriculum

Neel Mistry,¹ Paul Rooprai,¹ Stefan de Laplante,¹

¹Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Telemedicine has grown substantially since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. As global cases surged in March 2020, hospitals and primary care clinics quickly turned to telemedicine – the provision of medical care using telecommunication technology over a virtual platform – to increase access to safe and effective patient care.1 Among US medical schools, an increase in telemedicine training in clerkship has been reported over the last five years.2,3 In contrast, only one medical school in Canada includes a formal telemedicine program in the undergraduate medical curriculum.4 As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, the need for medical trainees to achieve competence in telemedicine is crucial. In this paper, we provide an overview of the benefits and challenges of formalizing telemedicine training and discuss steps that Canadian medical schools can take to successfully implement this change.

The future of healthcare

Telemedicine is not yet formalized in the undergraduate curriculum at most Canadian medical schools and very few include it in post-graduate training. In stark contrast, over 25% of US medical schools include telemedicine training in pre-clerkship, and nearly half offer mandatory sessions in clerkship.2 Recently, Wayne State University conducted a pilot study in which third-year medical students were introduced to telemedicine during their core internal medicine rotation.2 The results were encouraging, with 95% of clerks acknowledging the importance of virtual care services and more than 80% considering it to significantly affect their future practice.2 Similar findings were reported at Harvard Medical School, which instigated telemedicine training in clerkship at the start of this pandemic.5 Why, then, is Canada lagging behind when there are just as many reasons, if not more, to promote virtual care as there are south of the border?

An early introduction to telemedicine and virtual care provides multiple educational advantages to medical trainees. Aside from contributing to core competencies in patient care, clinical knowledge, and practice-based learning, it also fosters a greater sense of familiarity, preparing students for a practice where telemedicine is used and may be growing. This can be done in multiple ways. First, asynchronous learning can occur by creating videos that demonstrate how to perform physical exams virtually and allowing clerks to shadow their attending physician via video. Second, visiting electives that were originally suspended for the 2020-2021 cycle can still take place in a virtual format. This would allow students to diversify their clinical experience and, at the same time, help them decide which institution they would like to attend for post-graduate training. Finally, telemedicine can be included in core clerkship rotations such as family medicine, internal medicine, and surgery. Doing so would provide students with opportunities for independent practice while experiencing an array of topics including ethical dilemma, telemedicine-based cases, teleassessments, and procedural skills.

A call to action

The COVID-19 pandemic has instigated unprecedented change across healthcare settings. With hospitals and clinics rapidly shifting to virtual care, a few undergraduate medical programs have begun to implement virtual care; however, training must be formalized across all Canadian medical schools. An early introduction to virtual care offers numerous benefits to trainees as the use of telemedicine grows. This can be done in three main ways: (1) incorporating virtual shadowing opportunities, (2) re-instituting visiting electives via a virtual format, and (3) integrating students into virtual patient consults during clinical rotations. With COVID-19 accelerating the adoption of telemedicine, the need to prepare future doctors to deliver care virtually has never been greater.


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  5. The Harvard Gazette. The mother of invention, 2020 [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed December 30, 2020].