The effectiveness of an online, distance-learning Master’s in Surgical Sciences programme in Malawi
Background. Postgraduate surgical training is limited in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, and doctors who pursue further training abroad may fail to return. One solution is to deliver education online, allowing trainees to complement their in-the-workplace learning.
Objective. To evaluate the perceived effectiveness of an online MSc in Surgical Sciences programme for trainees continuing to train and work full time in their Malawian clinical environment.
Methods. Twenty-four Malawian surgical trainees enrolled on the programme since 2010. Students’ perspectives regarding the MSc were explored by questionnaires, and Malawian student performance was measured using a variety of metrics and compared with that of other students in their year. Training programme supervisors in Malawi were surveyed on their opinions of the effectiveness of the programme.
Results. Feedback revealed that students valued the structured presentation of the basic sciences integrated into interactive virtual patients, the access to e-journals and the opportunity for discussion with international surgical colleagues. Academic performance of Malawian trainees was comparable with that of the cohort average in the first 2 years of the programme. Attitudes of students and supervisors regarding the educational benefits of the programme were positive.
Conclusions. The MSc in Surgical Sciences provides a culture of studying and sharing knowledge with peers and mentors globally, and has increased the academic support network for Malawian trainees from a few dedicated surgeons in the country to an international network. This innovative approach can serve as a model in other developing countries with critical shortages of healthcare workers.