This edition, we connected with Judi Schack-Dugre, PT, DPT, MBA, EdD, director of Clinical Education, to learn how things are progressing with clinical experiences. Below, Dr. Schack explains how her team overcame adversities once COVID hit, and how they are keeping our UF DPT students on track for graduation.
As I approach the end of my first year as the Director of Clinical Education for the UF DPT program, I cannot help but reflect on the incredible year that the Clinical Education team has undergone. Our team consists of three core faculty and an academic assistant. As I transitioned into my current role, we immediately conducted a search to fill the vacancy left by my promotion and hired Rachelle Studer-Byrnes, PT, DPT, NCS, clinical assistant professor and now assistant director of Clinical Education, to join our team. The Clinical Education team now consists of Natacha Miller, MBA, academic assistant; Kevin MacPherson, PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, assistant director and clinical lecturer; Dr. Studer-Byrnes, and myself.
As our team had just been secured, the outbreak of COVID-19 occurred. Our students had just entered their first clinical experience. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, we had to make the difficult decision to remove the students from their clinical placements until more was known about the virus.
We were not alone – most DPT programs had students on clinical experiences and made similar decisions. Following this, many clinical sites began canceling future placements for students in response to mandates to keep patients and staff safe until the impact of the virus was better understood. We found ourselves in need of a plan as these cancelations were going to impact student graduation timelines. Our goal was to do the best we could to normalize clinical progression and keep students on track to graduate on time.
As the new director, I certainly had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, the Clinical Education team was ready for the challenge! I met with multiple clinical education stakeholders to better understand the emerging climate from their perspective. Following these meetings, we proposed several models of student reentry plans to clinical placements with a consideration for the impact this would have on all stakeholders: students, clinical sites, patients, our DPT faculty and the Clinical Education team.
We decided to wait until August 2020 to resume clinical placements regardless if clinical sites could take our students before then. We wanted to maintain as consistent as possible to our normalized clinical education schedule to minimize confusion and to give deference to clinical sites’ needs for their staff and the challenges they were managing, as well as to their patients and patients’ perceptions of comfort with student presence in this unique environment.
This timeline has to-date worked well. As knowledge of COVID-19 management evolved, the Clinical Education team strategically worked to secure placements for each of the four full-time required clinical experiences, concentrating on securing all students for each rotation before focusing on the next.
We had to reach out to many of our partners to negotiate and secure new opportunities. During this time, all other DPT programs were reaching out to the same clinical sites. With steadfast commitment and organization, we were able to secure a committed placement for each student to keep them on track for graduation. Many thanks to our clinical partners who continue to navigate a unique evolving environment amid COVID-19 who put in place policies and strategies to allow for the resumption of clinical education in a relatively short period of time!
The clinical environment is still volatile, and I have to say that our students have been extraordinary in their level of adaptation and flexibility. Many were impacted financially when their first clinical was canceled and they were told to return to “home.” Many lost their housing deposits. Others had housing organized for future placements that had now been canceled. It was and continues to be a stressful time.
Our Class of 2021, however, has continued to persevere. It is this true Gator grit coupled with passion and adaptability that our students display that keeps our clinical education team motivated to ensure that each student will have a secured clinical placement to continue their learning and the honing of their professional and clinical skills.
Our team is new, and we were cast into a scenario where we had to become highly functioning in a short period of time. We rose to that challenge. While it has been a demanding year, the positive nature of our team and what we have accomplished together lends itself to having me acknowledge the satisfaction I have leading such a committed group of professionals. They are fantastic and our students are truly fortunate to have this team in place; each of us equally vital! We are committed to our students and our clinical partners, without which we could not develop the amazing clinicians that graduate each year who will guide the future of our profession.
COVID-19 continues to impact our student placement opportunities in various ways: cancellations due to facility policies, staffing furloughs, clinician fatigue, physical distancing reducing the number of individuals permitted in clinical sites, reduced caseloads, etc. We expect the spring to be the busiest semester yet managing COVID response issues.
Despite where we find ourselves, we remain optimistic and continue to look forward to the future. We are continuing to identify prospects for improving opportunities for students and our clinical partners. We have accomplished much and look forward to working together to continue to offer the best clinical experiences available to our DPT students.
We are not done yet! We are looking forward to 2021. Please stay tuned and look for our updates in this newsletter with some exciting reports on our students who are participating in some unique clinical experiences we are piloting! Please feel free to reach me if you have any questions – my email is firstname.lastname@example.org Go Gators!