Today’s post is written by Karen Powell, private practitioner for infants, toddlers and children and SAISI board member.
“Life is neither static nor unchanging. With no individuality, there can be no change, no adaptation and, in an inherently changing world, any species unable to adapt is also doomed.”
― Jean M. Auel
While 2020 brought immeasurable change to the lives of health care practitioners, it could be argued that it brought even more to the lives of those on the cusp of completing their degrees. If the words “unprecedented” and “uncertain” were appropriate to be used in every news broadcast, then they were surely applicable to the students stuck at home who needed to complete their practical hours so that they could graduate at the end of the year.
Well necessity is the mother of all invention. And when the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved telehealth for use by occupational therapists as a result of the pandemic it opened the door for students to be trained in those same methods. After all, aren’t we preparing them for the real world, the one caught in a pandemic? Aren’t we training them to do what we do, and if we are able to assist families on a virtual platform, then they can too?
Under the guidance of Helga Lister and Stefanie Kruger, the University of Pretoria took on the challenge. As part of their community work hours, students would work under the supervision of therapists in private practice, treating children with a variety of diagnoses on virtual platforms.
I think it is fair to say that everyone was anxious and stressed. While some therapists and families were already quite well-versed in the telehealth processes, others were taking it on for the first time. There were so many things to consider, amongst others:
- Training of lecturers, therapists and students in new methods
- Accessibility to suitable platforms
- Connectivity, transfer speeds and access to data
- Coordinating the timetables of three or four individuals
- Finding quiet and private work space
- Limited access to resources
- Confidentiality and Non-disclosure Agreements
- Sharing of reports and videos
- Building therapeutic relationships over screens, and
- “Handling” children when you can’t use all the tricks you’re used to
There were also many new things to learn, including how to:
- Get and keep a child’s attention when you’re just a face on a screen
- Set up gross motor activities via “remote control”
- Handle printing and material costs
- Involve parents in the therapy, to be your hands on the other side, and
- Use what you’ve got available.
The students were up for the challenge. Thankfully, most of the therapists had been through various training webinars during lock down and had built up a big collection of resources that they were able to share with the students. The recorded SAISI telehealth webinars, as well as resources, activity suggestions and spreadsheets shared on the Whatsapp support groups proved invaluable. Therapists, lecturers and students also met via weekly webinars to train in the use of telehealth and discuss challenges, and a Whatsapp group for the therapists supported them along the way.
The students embarked on a 6-week long practical. Their sessions had to fit around outings to their community placements and they had to adjust to the programmes of the therapists and the children’s families. Not only that, but parents were also juggling changing return-to-school plans and their own work-from-home issues, sick family members and PUI’s in their companies.
Then enter another curveball: load-shedding. Always unpredictable, could be upgraded at any moment, always inconvenient. These students had to have back up activities, back up schedules and back-ups for their back-ups.
I think it’s fair to say that although in feedback they mentioned how stressful it was, they did not show it, always handling themselves professionally and overcoming obstacles with grace and maturity. The students were grateful for the opportunity, and for the most part feedback was upbeat and encouraging.
The first community block ended last week and I would like to commend all involved on a job well done. It struck me while completing the final work habits report that the COVID-19 crisis is not all negative. It has bred a new type of student – a more adaptable, flexible and throw-anything-at-me kind of professional. These young occupational therapists are going to fly through their community service years, knowing that nothing can stand in their way as they pursue their dream career.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein