Jan 20, 2021

A simulated teaching environment years in the making gives students a COVID-safe space to learn

COVID-19, Programs: MHSc Lab Medicine, Equity and wellness, Programs: Graduate
A group of students talking in a laboratory

The Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology (LMP) recently launched a new professional masters program with the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (OBGYN) in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

The MHSc in Laboratory Medicine trains future Pathologists’ Assistants and Clinical Embryologists and is in the final stages of preparing a new simulated clinical laboratory to teach the embryology students: the Clinical Embryology Skills Development Laboratory (CESDL).

Dr. Heather Shapiro, Associate Professor, and Dr. Ted Brown, Professor in LMP and Obstetrics & Gynaecology approached LMP with the idea of creating a clinical environment where the students could safely and confidently learn skills before being exposed to patients.

“What we needed to make our program unique was the ability to train people in a controlled environment.” Says Dr. Shapiro. “Clinical embryology labs are not necessarily geared up to teach students in a dedicated manner that is safe for both the students and the patients.”

Clinical Embryologists are laboratory medicine professionals, and as a graduate department LMP could enable OBGYN to run the course, so the partnership made sense.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” explains Nelson Cabral, Business Manager in LMP, “We were keen to explore alternative revenue streams through offering continuing professional development courses and equipment demonstrations which this space allows us to do. It also allowed us to offer a MHSc to broaden our offering to the laboratory medicine community.”

Planned to open in the Fall of 2021, the CESDL will mimic a functional clinical embryology laboratory.

This means students do not need to enter a clinical setting to learn. “This provides students with a fantastic learning opportunity. They get to develop their skills in a safe space where it’s ok to make mistakes. Once the students complete their studies and move into patient-facing care, they are as well trained and prepared as they can possibly be,” explains Dr. Shapiro.

A simulated teaching environment is also timely considering the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“It protects our students and avoids any interruption to their studies, but it also protects patients and laboratory staff from any exposure to COVID-19 and other pathogens, and issues around social distancing in their labs.” adds Shapiro, “it also means that teaching staff are concentrating on the students and dedicated to their needs, not trying to run their own lab at the same time.”

Dr. Danielle Bentley, Assistant Professor in LMP and the Division of Anatomy commented, “This is such a great development for students at U of T. There is so much potential to integrate embryology into undergraduate and medical education and for different levels of learners to get real experience of what a clinical embryology lab looks like in a safe way.”

Made possible by a generous donation of equipment from EMD Serono, Diego Ezcurra, Head of Global Customer Engagement commented, “Supporting the generation of a Masters Program in Clinical Embryology at the University of Toronto is a huge advancement to fulfill an unmet need in this part of the world. By ensuring a quality education for clinical embryologists, we are supporting improvement in the quality of care for patients. U of T was a perfect fit due its strong international reputation and its ability to provide a unique educational model in the simulation laboratory.”

The hope is to train people from across Canada and internationally in the future so many can benefit from the facility.

There is also potential to use the space for a variety of teaching opportunities from professional development to giving a space for industry sponsored training and courses run by the Canadian Fertility & Andrology Society (CFAS).

“We’re very proud to be able to offer this teaching environment for our students,” comments Dr. Rita Kandel, Department Chair in LMP, “Especially in light of a renewed focus on safety and infection control, it couldn’t come at a better time. This way we can ensure our learners the best level of uninterrupted teaching."

Applications are open for the MHSc in Laboratory Medicine until 24 March 2022.