Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons

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Remote Student-Transplant Patient Interactions due to COVID-19 Improves Communication Skills and Promotes Discussion about Organ Donation: A Pilot Study
Taylor M. Coe, MD, Trevor J. McBroom, BS, Karen Regan, BA, Stephen Bartels, MD, MS, Noelle Saillant, MD, Heidi Yeh, MD, Emil Petrusa, PhD, Leigh Anne Dageforde, MD, MPH
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

Background: Given patient care restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we paired students with transplant patients for structured, virtual encounters and studied the impact on student communication practices and attitudes related to organ donation.

Methods: In May 2020, medical students conducted virtual visits with transplant patients or donors via telephone or video conferencing. A discussion guide focused the conversation on the patientís personal experience. Seven students completed the post-experience survey, and a focus group was conducted with six students. The survey responses and focus group were analyzed using inductive content analysis.

Results: All interactions lasted longer than 30 minutes, with 56% greater than one hour. Qualitative analysis revealed that students were motivated to participate by a desire to interact with patients and an interest in surgery, transplant medicine or immunology. Students described how this non-medical interaction with patients affected their attitude toward transplant and organ donation, including a deeper understanding of the relationship between transplant recipients, organ donors and donor families; the multidisciplinary nature of transplant care; and the emotional complexity of receiving a transplant or donating an organ. Students agreed that this interaction created an opportunity to practice navigating complex conversations and influenced how they intend to counsel friends and patients on organ donation in the future.

Conclusion: Utilizing virtual visits between medical students and transplant patients is a feasible, well-received and effective method for students to learn about the multidisciplinary nature of transplantation, practice patient-centered communication skills and develop their perspective related to organ donation.

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