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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 177-181

Undergraduate medical education in India during COVID-19 pandemic

1 Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad, Telangana, India
2 Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, India

Date of Submission06-Apr-2022
Date of Decision15-May-2022
Date of Acceptance26-May-2022
Date of Web Publication01-Aug-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sirshendu Chaudhuri
Indian Institute of Public Health, ANV Arcade, Hyderabad - 500 033, Telangana
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cmi.cmi_38_22

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Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic led to the disruption of medical teaching nation-wide and pushed the institutions to explore the probable role of online teaching methods. The aim of this review is to identify the untested perspectives and help in strategizing based on evidence generation for the preparation for future. Methods: We followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic and Meta-Analysis guidelines for reporting the present review. We searched PubMed, Scopus, and Embase databases for the articles published between April 2020 and October 2021 for studies on online medical education in India during the COVID-19 pandemic. Results: We initially screened a total number of 1412 articles and finally recruited 45 articles for the analysis. Majority of the articles were from single institution, and reported the experience of the students and teachers on online teaching. The common teaching platform used such as Zoom and Google Meet were enumerated. Internet connectivity was the most reported challenge of online teaching. None of the selected articles reported on ethical issues related to online teaching. Conclusion: Even though there were some strong points reported for the successful implementation of e-learning, a more sustainable and well-informed plan should be devised for the future on online teaching.

Keywords: Continuing medical education, medical education, pandemics, teaching methods, undergraduate

How to cite this article:
Nirupama A Y, Chaudhuri S, Chittooru CS, Vani K Y, Chittem SD. Undergraduate medical education in India during COVID-19 pandemic. Curr Med Issues 2022;20:177-81

How to cite this URL:
Nirupama A Y, Chaudhuri S, Chittooru CS, Vani K Y, Chittem SD. Undergraduate medical education in India during COVID-19 pandemic. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 9];20:177-81. Available from: https://www.cmijournal.org/text.asp?2022/20/3/177/352977

  Introduction Top

The undergraduate (UG) medical education program according to the National Medical Commission (NMC) aims to create an “Indian Medical Graduate” (IMG) who can function effectively as first contact physician of the community by virtue of the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, and responsiveness imparted during the course.[1] This was conventionally done in India by classroom teaching, clinical postings, laboratory postings, field postings, etc.[2] With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical education in the country molded itself by employing various methods of online education keeping in mind the safety of the teachers and the students.[3] The peculiar circumstances faced by medical students place them as a totally different demographic since they are equally prone to be hosts (when uninfected) and vectors (when infected) for SARS-COV-2 during their mandated clinical learning sessions with patients.[4] The fear of the unknown led to the disruption of medical teaching nation-wide and pushed the institutions to explore the probable role of online teaching methods such as online lectures, web-based simulations, online chat rooms, and webcasting.[5] Even though the pandemic is outwardly the main reason for the sudden boom in online learning, the fact that even before the pandemic online teaching and learning has been coming in vogue in many of the countries cannot be overlooked.[4]

Existing literature suggests that even with traditional methods of teaching involving patient contact and face-to-face learning, the medical students feel inadequate and lack confidence when faced with preparedness for residency, particularly in terms of skill and clinical experience.[6] The development of clinical skills and patient communication play a key role in the development of future doctors. It is at this point, while observing student–patient interactions, that faculty are often able to guide the students toward improvements needed on technical deficits and other competency domains.[7] These are time tested features of the traditional methods of clinical teaching. The question now arises whether the newer methods of online teaching are competent enough to substitute these outcomes expected from traditional methods of teaching. The current scenario is proving to be a challenge for the various stakeholders in medical education right from the students and their guardians to the institutions and regulatory boards in education.[8] Lack of technical skills, management of time, lack of appropriate infrastructure/adequate resources, poor communication between various levels of stakeholders, a generally negative mindset toward the unknown and problems in student engagement seemed to be some of the few challenges that online medical education was faced with.[4]

There is only limited literature which evaluate the effectiveness of online teaching methods from the point of challenges faced by the various stakeholders such as the extra costs incurred, need for shifting to a specific e-learning curriculum, need for change in teaching methods, or burden of increased screen time. The ethical issues related to patient confidentiality and copyrights of sharing online material also need to be explored. The evidence to understand the equitable distribution of education by e-learning methods and to justify moving to a hybrid mode taking into consideration the marginalized communities is lacking. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that the online/hybrid teaching-learning process is effective in substituting the traditional methods of teaching. In this review, we have summarized the current evidence on online UG medical teaching in India during COVID-19 pandemic. We have also identified the key areas on online mode of teaching where evidence is required to decide on the mode of learning in the medical UG curriculum in the country.

  Methods Top

We followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic and Meta-Analysis guidelines for reporting the present review and depicted the flow in [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Preferred reporting items for systematic review search strategy flow diagram.

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Search strategy

We searched PubMed, Scopus, and Embase databases for the articles published between April 2020 and October 2021 for studies on online medical education in India during COVID-19 pandemic. The search consisted of MeSH terms and keywords related to online teaching such as – “medical education,” “e-learning,” “online learning,” “UG teaching” “UG medical education,” combined with terms like “India” using Boolean operators like – AND, OR.

In this review, we included all fully published articles on online medical education for the MBBS UGs done in the Indian settings. We excluded the articles from other UG medical education such as dental, nursing, and allied sciences. We created a Google Form for data extraction. Three reviewers (CC, NAY, and SC) independently extracted data from the title and abstracts of all the articles to screen the eligibility of the articles [Figure 1]. We examined the full text of screened articles to extract the information on: title, authors' name, year of publication, type of article, study design, sample size, objectives, and primary outcome or finding of the study. For articles that are not based on a primary study, for example, opinion paper, we extracted the major opinions instead of the outcomes. Two reviewers independently extracted the data in the data abstraction form. We resolved all discrepancies by consensus among all the authors.

Data analysis

Considering the variability in reporting the finding, we only considered descriptive statistics. We classified the study finding in relation to curriculum, teachers' perspective, institutional infrastructure, students' perspective, assessment, and ethical issues. Based on the finding, we also proposed the potential areas where more studies are required to develop informed evidence toward online teaching for the medical UGs.

  Results Top

We initially screened a total number of 1412 articles and finally recruited 45 articles for the analysis [Figure 1] and [Supplementary Table 1]. There were 26 research articles and the rests were opinion-based. Majority of the articles were from single institutions, and reported the experience of the students and teachers on online teaching. Fifteen articles were specific to subjects such as Forensic Medicine, Ophthalmology, Anatomy, Biochemistry, Surgery, Laboratory-related subjects, Psychiatry, and Physiology.

Teaching platform and methods

The common teaching platform used were Zoom, Google Meet, WhatsApp, YouTube, Telegram, Skype Meet Now, G-Suite, TUSK platform, EDUSTAT, Telemedicine software, Google Groups, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15] Large multi-centric studies revealed that PowerPoint presentations, didactic lectures, case-based learning, online teaching and diagrams, quizzes, virtual models in classes, interactive sessions, recorded lectures, and video-based learning were commonly used for online teaching methods for the medical UGs.[16] For demonstrating slides in Pathology, Mukhopadhyay et al. used live streaming from microscope mount camera (Olympus BX43) using the PractoRes Software.[17] They also used the SNAPPS model for case-based learning. In opinion-based articles, the educators suggested the include-flipped classroom, case-based discussions, journal clubs, webcasts, webinars, videoconferencing, digital libraries, virtual simulations, and game-based learning platforms as online teaching methods.[12],[18],[19] Any specific platform or tools used. The students commonly used laptops, smartphones, and desktops to attend online classes.[20]

Benefits and challenges of online teaching

To list a few – Can be attended from comfortable environment, fulfillment of the learning objective, access of the recorded lectures or written material anytime, development of digital expertise, efficient use of time, promotion of deep and superficial learning, minimal disturbance from fellow students, adequate opportunity to ask questions, safe in regard to COVID-19.[9],[20],[21],[22]

Internet connectivity was the most reported challenge of online teaching.[9] Other challenges reported were lack of interactions with teachers, teacher-centered approach, the teacher not technology-friendly, overemphasis on factual learning, distractions at home, lack of adequate devices, etc.[9],[23] Some articles reported that a few aspects such as Internet connectivity, interaction with the teachers, and clearing doubts of online teaching were felt as advantageous for some students, whereas the same was challenging for few students.[20],[24],[25],[26] Reportedly, practical training and skill development were substantially affected.[23]

Institutional infrastructure and cost

We did not find any paper estimating the cost of arranging or developing infrastructure from institutional perspective. Dash et al. described the features of common online platforms such as the operational system required, participants and duration of the meeting, features provided, and the cost.[27]

Teachers' training

In a cross-sectional study, the educators expressed that they have minimal experience and expertise in e-learning and lack of training leads to difficulties like – organizing classes and managing participants – as reported.[15] Capacity building e-learning is crucial in terms of technical competency, managerial competency, pedagogical competency, and social competency.[28] Bhat et al. opined that online teachers' training programs should be initiated besides work from home and free access to paid e-learning platforms.[29]


We could not find any research article on the modification of curriculum. Opinion-based papers suggested that educators can jointly discuss with the students to customize the curriculum and prioritize the topics.[30] Online teaching and learning should be aligned with the delivery of the curriculum and objectives.[28]

Health effects of students/teachers

The various health effects of the students reported were loss of concentration, back pain, sleep disturbance, eye strain, neck pain, stress, and anxiety.[16]

Cost of students/teachers

We could not identify any research article estimating the direct and indirect cost of the teachers or students (and family) in respect to online teaching. However, one paper reported that family income and availability of dedicated spaces are important factors toward successful online classes.[16] In one study (Kapasia et al.), the students reported that they had to hire gadgets from family members or neighbors to attend online classes.[31]

Ethical issues

None of the selected articles reported on ethical issues related to online teaching.


We identified papers that reported various online assessments like-verbal open-book method, viva-voce, image-based assessment, and online objective structured practical examination (OSPE).[32],[33],[34] The different challenges reported in the online assessment were-poor internet connectivity, and distracting environment at home.[34],[35] Overall, students had a mixed opinion on the difficulty of online assessment compared to the physical examination.[33],[34] In a review article, Mahajan et al. suggested that the competency of the UGs can be assessed through several ways such as multiple-choice questions, online objective structured clinical examinations, the introduction of virtual patients, e-logbooks, and e-portfolios, and discussing team project works.[36] One cross-sectional study estimated that 92% of scores in OSPE and e-OSPE were in the agreeable limit in the Bland Altman Plot.[33] The article also concluded that the facilitators and learners were in unanimity that e-OSPE is a good substitute for assessment (0.67 and 0.82) and had a good experience (0.72 and 0.92) in e-OSPE.

  Discussion Top

In this paper, we summarized the findings from the published literatures related to online medical education for UGs in India. A substantial amount of the articles are opinion-based (viewpoints, opinion papers, letters to editor, etc.), but we found a handful of research articles (57.8%) on online teaching [Table 1]. Most of the available studies have evaluated the perspective of students on online teaching. However, it is important to realize that students are not the only stakeholders in medical education.
Table 1: Characteristics of the study titles

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The transition from classroom teaching to online platforms has impacted the educators, institutions, and parents as well. Noticeably, we identified only a limited number of studies that explored evidence related to these angles of medical education. Precisely, the present evidence is inadequate in identifying the institutional level preparation on the efficiency of online teaching in delivering the required competencies in the Indian standard. “Competency-Based Training Programme” of the IMG as per NMC includes skill development and attitude change in the IMGs by implementing a curriculum focused on a desirable ability in real-life situations.[1] Patient examinations, dissections, and laboratory examinations span the years of medical education right from the first to the final year. The effectiveness of using online platforms for skill-based learning is yet to be proven. There is plenty of literature introducing us to the various online teaching platforms used in online medical education.[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15] What is lacking are studies “fitting the platform to the subject.” For example, the use of live streaming from microscope mount camera in teaching pathology.[17]

There are a handful of studies on the subject-specific challenges in online medical education such as virtual cadaveric dissection, virtual microscopy, and virtual clinics. done globally but not so much in India.[37],[38],[39] The availability of numerous online platforms is an advantage, but each of these come with their own advantages and disadvantages. “Which platform can deliver what?”– is the question to be further explored to generate reliable evidence comparing the different platforms fit for subject-specific medical teaching. The need for training of educators and students to make maximum use of the features offered by the platform is also a need of the hour. In this aspect, we can propose a hybrid learning atmosphere where skill-based teaching can be done offline and cognitive learning can be continued online.

Even though there is no research identified which evaluates the additional cost incurred with online classes, there are a few cost-related challenges that are identified. For example, the mention of borrowing gadgets to attend online classes shows a clear obstacle in achieving education via online mediums.[31] Obstacles may be the affordability of high-end gadgets, availability of good network, etc., This clearly poses a challenge to the Right to education as declared by the United Nations Universal declaration of human rights (Article 26); which clearly provides for the general availability of professional education and merit-based equality in access to higher education.[40]

Our primary objective is to identify the areas requiring further research to give an evidence base to the concept of online medical education [Table 2]. Highest priority for research, especially when using online platforms in medical education, should be given to the ethical challenges involved in the same. Medical education requires clinical experience and patient-based teaching, ethical issues involved with sharing patient information, videos, etc., through online teaching platforms need to be meticulously scrutinized. More evidence is required on the health effects of online education in the Indian context.
Table 2: Areas where studies are needed (methods: Brainstorming among the authors)

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The review was based on a limited search; however the findings and implications are not expected to change.

  Conclusion Top

In short inputs, process and output-related indicators were lacking in the existing literature. All these evidence are necessary to strategize whether health educators can plan for blended program or online education will be sustainable or not. Even though there were some strong points reported for the successful implementation of e-learning, a more sustainable and well-informed plan should be devised for the future on online teaching.


Strong evidence needs to be generated on faculty development, cost, institutional perspective, short- and long-term impact of the educational program for the planning of the future of online teaching in medical education in India.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  Supplementary Table Top

  References Top

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