To start my story, I am going to take you folks back to the second week of March. I can still remember working with my group on Thursday March 12, just like a normal day at 500 University Avenue (Rehabilitation Sciences Building), without knowing that it would be the last time I will be there for a while. On Friday March 13, I woke up to about twenty emails, many of which were from University of Toronto (U of T) and some from my volunteer commitments. They all had similar content; U of T emails were informing us that we will be virtual starting next week, and other emails were about my volunteer commitments being suspended till further notice. I was not new to online learning as I engaged in online learning in undergraduate studies, but I was concerned about my volunteer commitments getting suspended because I find these opportunities very valuable to supplement what I learn in classes.
At the beginning, I had quite a few hours of free time per day. This is mainly because, if everything goes as planned, I commute for 2 hour and 30 minutes daily. Now, I could wake up at 8:00AM and still have time to have a homemade breakfast and relax before class. We have also finished midterms and projects for the term and there was now more time to engage in leisure activities i.e., Netflix! At this time, I remember feeling that although this is not ideal, I was hopeful that this was going to be temporary and last perhaps 3 months.
One of the biggest adjustments I had to make was working entirely at home. Although I am flexible and have previously adapted well to many unforeseen circumstances, I have always enjoyed being productive at my second home, a library. Since September 2015, which is when I started my undergrad at U of T, I have always studied for exams and worked on assignments behind a cubicle. Now, I needed to make changes at my home to navigate how we can allocate resources to optimize productivity. My work during the pandemic helped me further realize that many were relying on libraries and community organizations for workspaces and uninterrupted internet, and how the unavailability of these resources is impacting their engagement in daily activities.
I truly wanted to continue contributing at the level I used to pre-pandemic. Productivity is my self-care and I felt that my community needed my support now more than ever. I actively seeked out opportunities where I can both contribute and continue applying what I am learning in class.
Steps I have taken to continue contributing virtually
Reflected on how I want to contribute
Brainstormed where and how much I can contribute given COVID-19 restrictions
Made a list of potential opportunities, current and for the future
Prioritized based on current commitments (i.e., school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs)
Started reaching out to organizations/individuals for potential opportunities
Utilized self-assessment to evaluate contribution and professional/personal development
I came across opportunities that I probably would not have been able to participate in if I needed to be physically present. This was mainly due to travel time (i.e., provincial, national and international opportunities) and not being available to fit them into my schedule.
I started my occupational therapy school with wanting to work with patients in a hospital setting. COVID -19 made me explore other areas where occupational therapy services can be beneficial. Virtual connectivity helped me appreciate the new realm of virtual delivery of care to clients. In addition, I have been involved with COVID-19 initiatives where I am often one of the few student occupational therapists/rehabilitation students in predominantly medical focused groups. I found these opportunities rewarding because they helped me pave pathways to address and advocate for how we can incorporate rehabilitation/public health services and understanding of enabling occupations into a predominantly medical focused situation.
While I have found ways to continue participating, one of my meaningful occupations that has been impacted by COVID-19 is celebrating with my friends. It has become a tradition that my friends and I go to relax and celebrate after an exam or after a milestone (i.e., mostly grabbing dumplings at a restaurant). Due to COVID-19, we had to find new ways to stay connected and carry on with the tradition. While I feel that in-person interactions are irreplaceable in this case, we explored a new way to connect with friends; have dinners together virtually. This will be helpful to utilize when we graduate and move to different parts of Canada to enable occupations of our clients.
As a healthcare provider in training, the uncertainty that came along with COVID-19 has impacted many of my occupations. While many of my commitments were suspended, this provided me an opportunity to explore novel ways to continue contributing virtually. Providing support to ensure mental wellbeing was particularly important at this time.
As a student Occupational Therapist, I understand how important human interactions, engagement in meaningful activities and the impact of COVID-19 on these are. I have been contributing to COVID-19 related initiatives since the beginning of the pandemic from securing PPE supplies for frontline workers, to task forces, to ensuring community organizations are providing support to their at-risk clients and also supporting the learning experience of other students. What motivates me to continue supporting is focusing on what I can control instead of what I cannot control. I cannot control the end of the pandemic. I can certainly do my part, but it is difficult to estimate a specific end date. Thus, I focus on finding creative ways to participate in opportunities that are available i.e., virtual Conference Planning Team and mentorship.
I have worked with many inspiring individuals entirely online since March 2020; individuals who I might not have had the chance to collaborate with otherwise. This consolidates the reach of virtual connectivity and navigating ways to address challenges that come with it. Continuing to contribute helps me carry on with my mission to support others and the growth of Occupational Therapy.
As we are looking back at one year in this pandemic, I want to particularly salute the resilience of my peers, colleagues and loved ones to adapt and support each other. I am particularly thankful for the adaptation made by professional associations, regulatory organizations, academic departments/universities, community organizations and student-run initiatives to support students like me during this time.