Pediatric Neurocritical Care Educational Series Goes Global

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—and with modest expectations for attendance—Dennis Simon, MD and two colleagues launched the monthly Pediatric Neurocritical Care Educational Series (PNCCES) in July 2021. The aim was to create a virtual program to foster advanced understanding of the nascent field of pediatric neurocritical care. After eight months, each educational event has attracted a broader audience than the previous event. The January 2022 lecture drew 200 pediatric neuro-intensivists and others based at more than 50 international locations, from Afghanistan and Argentina to Switzerland and South Africa.

“We thought we were catering to a small community of US critical care fellows in-training who wanted to learn more about caring for these very challenging patients. It turns out the audience is worldwide and much, much larger than we expected,” said Dennis Simon, MD, who is an assistant professor of Critical Care Medicine and director of Pediatric Neurocritical Care at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “We’ve really tapped into an unmet need among pediatric neuro-intensivists across the globe.”

One of the guiding principles in pediatric neurocritical care is the tremendous diversity in the patient population in terms of age and diagnoses. Caring for these children is difficult since patient numbers are relatively low at any one research center and the age spectrum runs from neonates to young adults. This factor had prompted collaborative research to generate standardization and evidence-based care. Similarly, collaborations like the PNCCES meet a demand for educational programming that offers a rigorous assessment of current models of care and new neuromonitoring techniques.

Dr. Simon along with Jenny Erklauer, MD at Texas Children’s Hospital at Baylor University, Sue Hong Routson, MD at Northwestern Feinburg School of Medicine, and a small committee of pediatric neuro-intensivists developed a novel educational format that captures expertise across many institutions. For each topic, an international expert delivers a grand rounds-level lecture in month 1 and then moderates a case-based panel discussion in month 2. The panel is a deliberate mix of senior and junior pediatric neuro-intensivists who are recognized for educational excellence while also bringing differing clinical experiences to the discussion.

In explaining the rationale for the double months for each topic, Dr. Simon said, “For a lot of these topics, a single lecture wouldn’t be sufficient. It’s similar to the management of pediatric neurocritical care in that the best approach for a particular child is often determined through discussion with other experts. The same applies to the educational series where we have a panel of experts who weigh in with differing perspectives.”

The first four topics presented from July 2021 to February 2022 were:

The genesis of PNCCES began several years ago when experts at the University of Pittsburgh and other centers across the country developed their own educational materials and created Pediatric Neurocritical Care fellowship programs. Discussions then grew around ways to share these training opportunities between centers. Just as planning was underway to structure PNCCES for a wider US audience, the coronavirus pandemic forced a virtual format on the organizers. Then marketing via social media had an unanticipated multiplying effect around the world. The first lecture had 170 attendees and caught the attention of many international physicians.

“Without COVID-19 I’m not sure we would have launched the program as a live virtual event,” posited Dr. Simon. “We’ve seen a lot of different CME-educational opportunities during the pandemic but haven’t seen the lecture/panel format that we use.”

Each lecture and panel discussion are certified for continuing medical education credit. Evaluations and feedback have been universally positive and shown that the program draws a diverse audience beyond pediatric neuro-intensivists. Nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and medical students from large academic medical centers to hospitals in resource-limited settings around the world number among the more than 400 who register for each event.

For Dr. Simon and his colleagues, the task now is to grow sustainably with programming that includes speakers and panelists from other countries, that resonates with non-intensivist audiences, and that keeps the time commitment manageable to ensure the PNCCES remains a no-fee educational event.

“The success of the series has been very unexpected. The one-topic/two-month format has really grabbed the attention of a global neurocritical care audience and shown that there’s a tremendous hunger for learning and advancing the field,” said Dr. Simon.