Covid-19 has changed many habits and made uncertain what we once took for granted. Within the world of medicine, one of the more sensitive points is education and training. This has largely been put on hold over the last few months – something we never thought would happen. In the world of sexual medicine, the ESSM congress in 2020 was spared from the pandemic because of the timing of the year. Meanwhile, notable occurrences have included postponement of the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine and of the annual ESSM school. This is naturally detrimental for the development of our field. However, the turmoil has also opened our eyes to innovative possibilities. As in-person training has become difficult, the need for improvement has not subsided and new options has become apparent. Most professionals have become acquainted with the applications Skype and Zoom for online meetings. These applications have also shown potential for online lectures with the possibility of interaction. A very interesting example to keep notice of is the 2020 edition of the EAU will be offered online this summer. Likewise, the ESSM has contributed with web-seminars on our consensus statements directed by our past president Cobi Reisman and current educational chairman, Giovanni Corona. These started in May with the session on e-health and sexual health by Evie Kirana and have become a weekly event with high interest within the sexual medicine community. The online educational efforts will continue through the year with potential targets being the ESSM school of Sexual Medicine and our next congress. We are also contemplating to offer webinars corresponding to our traditional conference workshops in the spring of 2021.
Meanwhile, our association was already moving toward more web-based educational options even before the pandemic. The most important initiative to mention in this regard is the ESSM academy of genital surgery. The ultimate aim of the academy is to improve knowledge, technical and communicative skills of surgeons and to confirm that they master the novel operation techniques in genital surgery, according to the high European standards of education prior to performing them on their patients. This process will include validation of surgical training and assessment methods, dispersion throughout Europe of uniform training pathways and implementation of an accreditation system for genital surgeons. Naturally, the process cannot be completed without in-person training. But from the beginning an online platform with the potential to reach a large audience has been the cornerstone of the project. This includes basic videos on erectile dysfunction, which are already available online for ESSM members on our website. In addition, we are in the final stages of providing a surgical video library on penile implantation with multiple “skin to skin” and step-by-step surgery videos showing operation techniques, including assisting nurse support and device preparation, which will be available on the website soon. This process is being completed by the academy director Koenraad van Renterghem and academy rector Cobi Reisman along with the ESSM educational committee. It receives support and collaboration from Orsi Academy, The Multidisciplinary Joint Committee of Sexual Medicine (MJCSM), as well as relevant industry collaborators. Personally, I have great hopes for the concept combining online and in-person learning. Thus, education on the online platform will be supplemented by training on 3-D models and in cadaver labs and for some there will also be the possibility to complete actual fellowships on genital surgery in recognized centers of excellence. This allows for much of the learning to be completed before physical attendance is required and offers an unprecedented level of flexibility. In addition, those who are not able to go through the in-person training will still be able to learn online at their own discretion and to use the surgical videos as an ongoing reference point. This means that the knowledge contained by the experts within our association will be shared with an increasing audience to the benefit of patients worldwide. We describe the academy in more detail on the ESSM website.
At this point, it has become clear that the covid-19 situation is likely to accelerate the move to online platforms. Rather than only regret the situation we need to embrace this as an opportunity to create lasting improvements in our educational efforts. In spite of the disadvantages online courses might have in terms of personal interaction and a lack of networking opportunities, there are also significant advantages. The most obvious of these include convenience for the participants, a potential for a broader audience and a reduction in resources spent on travel and accommodation. This is of importance as it is becoming increasingly difficult for busy clinicians to find time and money for participation in physical meetings and congresses. Online webinars offers the possibility to stay updated while attending to one’s normal duties. From here, the challenge remains to create interactive participation in the online education. Naturally, this is difficult in cases of recorded videos as in the Academy of Genital Surgery. However, our available platforms does offer the possibility to ask questions and engage with the speakers. For introverted audience members, this may even be easier than during sessions with physical attendance.
As our world will start to normalize and as our traditional teaching tools become available again, we should be mindful to retain and expand on the lessons we learn during this difficult time. One can imagine that future meetings and congresses may become hybrids of our previous meeting forms and online based learning. This would offer all the benefits of personal interaction while not completely excluding those clinicians and scientists who are not able to travel. One can also imagine that some sessions could be opened up even wider to include the public with patients and policy makers in the virtual audience. For the ESSM it will be important to be innovative and to move forward with such ideas to strengthen our organization and the field of sexual medicine going into the future.