View from a pandemic

The excerpt below was pulled from the Summer 2021 edition of the Public Health and Health Professions News e-magazine.

Clinical placement scramble

Natacha Miller picking flowers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Tending to her flower garden has helped Natacha Miller cope with stress over the past year.

When COVID-19 upended spring and summer 2020 clinical placements for Doctor of Physical Therapy students, Natacha Miller, the clinical placement operations and analytics administrator for clinical education in the Department of Physical Therapy, set a personal objective to achieve the department’s goal of making sure all the students for the affected class would be able to graduate on time.

Natacha and her team had what seemed to be an impossible task: find new clinical placements for 140 first- and second-year students that would start in fall 2020 and spring 2021. She approaches her role with clinical facilities as a partnership and it’s important to her that she understands their needs. At that time, many physical therapy practices were struggling. Therapists were furloughed, facilities lacked the personnel to supervise students and there wasn’t enough PPE to go around. In addition, Natacha needed to learn and understand changing COVID-19 protocols for both the UF academic health center and the many placement sites.

To help manage all the details, Natacha drew upon her 15 years of customer service experience, MBA degree training, and affinity for Excel.

“The tracking for this position is just surreal,” she said. “I love the whole data management aspect of my job. I don’t get to use the analytical parts of Excel a lot here, but I do love any time I can pull those tricks out of my sleeve.”

At the same time Natacha was managing confirmations, cancellations, and tracking, she was dealing with the stress of working from home for the first time.

“There is that internal thought process where you think ‘I’m here and I’m accountable, but what is my manager thinking? I want to be sure that she knows that I’m here and I’m here for her,’” said Natacha, who eventually learned it was ok to get up from her computer from time to time.

After many, many phone calls, emails, and logistical management, Natacha is proud to say her team secured the necessary placements so that all the DPT students will be able to complete the full four clinical rotations built into the program, a feat that many other DPT programs were not able to achieve. And she had a few realizations along the way.

“I learned that I need to be kinder to myself,” Natacha said. “I have really high expectations of everything that I do. It’s ok not to have a clean kitchen. It’s ok to sit down for a couple of minutes and take a mental break. I didn’t realize how hard I was on myself until this whole thing happened. I learned how to be more understanding and communicate better.”