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Shaping Your Hematology and Academic Training in the Virtual Learning Era

As the world engages in discussions on providing safe but rigorous education for children, post-graduate medical trainees and post-docs are facing their own struggles in obtaining a complete education as well as clinical and research experience. While this time of year is often an exciting period for new fellows, many trainees’ abilities to connect with peers, network, and engage in interactive learning have been significantly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online and virtual conferences have, to a large extent, replaced traditional conferences at many institutions, especially those with larger programs. While these new modalities challenge our traditional learning mindset, they also present unique opportunities. In this article, we will discuss some educational resources for trainees, categorized by their specific purpose: board review, clinical knowledge, research training, and new study results.

Board review. ASH recently started a 13-week series of online board review lectures and subsequent board-style question-answer sessions on malignant and nonmalignant hematology. Experts from renowned institutions worldwide have volunteered to prepare talks that focus on board review but also give a nuanced perspective on management of these diseases through the eyes of a specialist. Lectures occur on Mondays and related board-style questions from the ASH Self-Assessment Program are discussed by content experts on Friday afternoons, between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time; both are later made available on the ASH Hematology Review Series website. Attending the Friday discussion live is ideal though, and these sessions have been very well attended so far with more than 1,000 registrants. The seventh edition of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) clinical knowledge book ASCO-SEP® is available for programs to purchase for fellows. Lastly, the European Hematology Association (EHA) provides an online hematology curriculum that is free of charge to guests and members. For those who learn best by answering questions, Hematology Oncology question bank is a comprehensive source for questions; if price is prohibitive, discuss with your program options to obtain this resource for all fellows. ASCO also has a free Self-Evaluation app, and MD Anderson Cancer Center has an annual Comprehensive Boards Review Hematology and Medical Oncology course that was offered virtually this year.

Clinical knowledge. Keeping up with clinical practical knowledge can be a challenge, especially during the pandemic. The value of different resources will depend on your preferred approach to learning, so it may be helpful to ask yourself what methods of processing information work best for you. Some may prefer reading while others enjoy listening to podcasts and watching videos. Interactive or teaching sessions may also be beneficial. There are available resources for most of these approaches. Blood has a special written section on “How I Treat,” which usually centers around practical diagnosis and management of a variety of hematologic conditions. The journal also has a new podcast that discusses recent articles or provides comprehensive information on how a hematologist would tackle specific hematologic disorders. ASH and Blood Advances have also published specific clinical practice guidelines for certain hematologic disorders that can be reviewed online. In his podcast “Oncology Today,” Dr. Neil Love uses an integrated approach to educate on oncology. For more practice with peripheral smears and hematopathology, check out two mobile apps, CellAtlas and Hematology Outlines Atlas. Additional resources can be found on HemeOnc.org.

Research training. As researchers and academic hematologists, there are certain core requirements for basic research training, including research ethics, the Collaborative Institutional Training Initative program, biostatistics (Harvard Chan Bioinformatics Core, edX, and CodeCademy), and more specific topics directly related to our area of focus. However, at a time when most courses adopt virtual learning, it is a great moment to take care of some of these core requirements or dig into a new field that could be incorporated into your current research. EHA provides additional online-learning resources and the European Molecular Biology Organization offers an array of research courses and workshops. You can also find courses on Coursera.

New Study Results. With most conferences adopting a virtual format, ASH has started posting talks from ASH meetings online allowing individuals to attend remotely. The American Association for Cancer Research also recently held a virtual clinical and translational meeting that could be accessed via membership. Furthermore, there have been several online seminars with the purpose of bringing the scientific community together. One of these is the “Blood and Bone Seminar Series” organized by Dr. Kellie Machlus at Harvard Medical School, which has been a fantastic ongoing international seminar series covering topics from platelet and megakaryocyte biology to hematopoietic stem cells and the bone marrow niche, and featuring a special “trainee hour” once a week. For those of us interested in oncology, Dana-Farber and Harvard Cancer Center have recorded lecture series and posted them on their website. The Society of Immunotherapy and Cancer has recorded lectures on immunotherapy and oncology that could be accessed with a membership. PracticeUpdate is a free website that will curate and provide succinct summaries of the major articles within a field of interest and send summaries to your inbox on a regular basis. Additionally, attending and presenting at journal clubs is a good way to stay current and teach yourself by teaching others. Some trainees may find it helpful to create their own mini-journal clubs, in which a handful of fellows or post-docs can meet every couple of weeks to discuss new and relevant studies in an informal manner. For those who prefer interactive online media for learning, a monthly Twitter Hematology/Oncology journal club is currently open to all. Guest experts are often utilized to add to the discussion, and it is a good way to connect with peers and faculty from different parts of the world. Lastly, we recommend a great article on how to keep up with the literature as the rate of publication has increased significantly during quarantine.

ASH has specific resources for trainees (including COVID-related resources) as we navigate the beginning of this academic year during the pandemic.

No one should be expected to use all resources listed; most trainees will rely on a combination. However, considering the number of online learning resources in hematology has significantly increased since the start of COVID-19, trainees who are still working on their own learning style and want to hear from experts from different parts of the world should keep an open mind. Additionally, trying to maintain a mix of resources with different purposes (i.e., board review, practical clinical knowledge, basic science, and research updates) will help you form a well-rounded educational experience during these unusual times.