1. Loweke, Rachel SPT

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As a second year, Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student, COVID-19 hit my world hard. Just weeks from taking some of my most difficult practical examinations, my university was closed for all face-to-face education. This hit my cohort of 36 hardworking DPT students like a shockwave. My classmates and I had our schedules for the next 18 months planned down to the hour. Weddings, family planning, and student loan repayments were hanging in the balance. Although the DPT program leaders were fantastic at communicating with us, there simply were not answers as to what the future would be. I was stuck inside my home for over a month, like everyone else, with little human interaction and minimal exercise-knowing how important activity and socialization are to health. Full of anxiety, and a bit of poorly channeled rage, I finished up the content that could feasibly be moved online through the remainder of the semester.


The approaching Summer 2020 semester was to be an 8-week clinical-something I had looked forward to for several months. My classmates and I knew outpatient clinics were closing. We eagerly awaited any communication that would offer guidance and insight as to what would happen. To prepare for the in-person clinical, I was assigned to watch hours of COVID-19 educational modules, followed by several telehealth modules to prepare me for my "hands-on" profession.


Coincidentally, I had my first personal telehealth appointment right around the same time. It was just a brief appointment to ask some last-minute questions before an upcoming surgical procedure. I thought to myself, how in the world will I provide my skill via a computer camera? Initially, the idea seemed absurd to me. I had just spent 3 months in online classes struggling to visualize what I would have typically felt on my classmates, instructors, and patients. I was barely able to remember what high tone felt like, the difference between a normal joint and a stiff joint, and how important it is that I stand near my patients as a safety precaution.


The telehealth education resulted in a surprisingly positive outcome. The final "mock telehealth visit" was a very rewarding experience. It was designed similar to a practical exam (normally a very stressful experience), but it ended up being quite fun. After months of reading textbooks, PowerPoints and listening to modules, I was finally able to act as a DPT student again. I was able to conduct my own visit from start to finish, utilizing all the knowledge I had learned over the last 2 years combined with my newly acquired telehealth skill set. It also offered the opportunity to conduct an in-home visit, something I had not yet done. The passion I have for my chosen field began to flourish again. The telehealth experience challenged my previous paradigm of clinical methods, opened my mind to reaching new populations unable to make it to clinics, and to be innovative and resourceful with what was available in a patient's home.


I also reflect on how my professional growth in the program had readied me for this pandemic. I searched for evidence-based resources and screened credible news sources for the various issues related to the pandemic. I realized that I could stay stagnant and wait for this virus to disappear or I could adapt; I choose to begin thinking and acting like a therapist. As a practitioner, it will be my professional responsibility to stay current and informed when threats like COVID-19 arise. I was called upon to be forgiving of myself and others, selfless, uncomfortable, creative, attentive in distracting environments, and flexible. I have developed resilience that will serve me in the future as a practice PT.