OT School During a Global Pandemic…Not Ideal, But It’s Reality.
“I could not imagine being in school right now,” or “I am so glad I finished school before all of this.” These are two things I have heard countless times this year. If you had told me 10 months ago, I would finish the majority of my MOT coursework in the spare bedroom of my home, I would have said the same thing. And yet, that has been my reality since March 12, 2020 and is exactly what happened.
Within the first week, my 6-year old computer crashed and Apple had just closed their stores so I had to buy a new a laptop. Not ideal, but if I was going to be taking classes via Zoom the last thing I wanted was to add technology issues. Little did I know I would have Internet issues over the next 8 months. Before, I was commuting to East LA three days a week with my carpool buddy. Our days were long with LA traffic and 7 hours on campus. Ditching this commute for Zoom classes was great at first. But as the spring semester came to an end and we discovered the program had to reorganize our curriculum, the novelty wore off. Our Level II fieldwork would be moved from Summer 2020 to Spring 2021 and our summer would be spent taking 4 classes in an expedited 12-week semester. Our fall semester would also be shortened…aka 18 units in 13 weeks instead of 16 weeks. Again, not ideal, but it was reality.
Almost 9 months straight on Zoom. Almost every day sitting at my desk in my family’s spare bedroom attempting to focus on all the information presented to me. Zoom fatigue is real and yet it was so hard to step away from my computer after class. “I’m focused right now, I should try and get this assignment done, or study for this exam.” Those were thoughts that constantly crossed my mind after I had sat on my computer for 3-7 hours at a time. I look back now and can appreciate how occupational therapy is actually what got me through this tough time. I hope at least one person reading this can take something away from my experience and how I managed to finish my MOT coursework via Zoom, during a global pandemic.
Anyone who knows anything about occupational therapy understands how beneficial meaningful occupations are for our well-being. This became my focus. I analyzed my own life to determine what occupations I enjoyed and helped me relieve stress and which occupations increased my stress. This pandemic proved to be the perfect time to fix the occupational balance in my own life. I established a routine. I worked out every morning before classes and tried to take my dog on a walk after classes to decompress. I utilized my planner to create to-do lists which prioritized what assignments and tasks I needed done first. Thanks to my Health Promotion and Wellness course at USC, I began journaling every night. I reflected on the events and feelings of my days and set goals for the next. From April to September, I also spent a lot of time outside while studying or working on assignments. Sitting in the warm sun was the perfect escape and provided me with a change in scenery.
When I was in class or inside working on assignments, I needed to create a comfortable space. My best piece of advice is to separate your sleeping area from your workspace. This is easier said than done, but basically, if possible, do not sit in bed while in class or studying. It will make sleeping harder. I also revamped my desk space. I added a plant, a stool for my feet, padding for my wrists, and raised my laptop so it was eye level. Ergonomics 101, everything should be 90 degrees right? I have discovered I benefit from candles and music. I went through 5 five candles in the last 5 months and am constantly discovering new playlists that keep me motivated when working on schoolwork. But classical is always my go-to when studying for exams.
Who you surround yourself with is also essential. Talk to the faculty at your school. They understand you are surviving and not thriving. They want you to succeed and will be there when you need them. Keep in contact with your friends, plan Zoom Happy Hours or socially distanced hangouts. Especially, talk to your classmates. No one else understands what you are going through better than them. You are in this together. We each have our own struggles, but this is one struggle you share. The constant anxiety and fear of, “Will I be ready for fieldwork?” “Will anyone want to hire us?” “Will there be any jobs available to us?” And so on. Vent. Cry. Yell. Do what you need to, but do not do it alone. Lean on those around you.
If you are a current OT student, I hope you can relate to some of this. I hope you are able to take something away from my experience. I left a lot out, but wanted to touch on the basic, but important lessons I learned. And if you are an OT currently in the workforce I hope I could provide you with some insight into what your future colleagues have faced during their schooling. And to our future fieldwork educators, please be patient with us.
For ease, here are my suggestions in a shortened bullet-point list.
· Find your meaningful occupations
· Update your WiFi. It’s worth the investment. Trust me.
· Establish a routine to promote occupational balance
· Planners, to-do lists, etc. so helpful when school and Zoom has turned our brains to mush
· Find an outlet, journal, therapy, dance, something that allows you to express your thoughts.
· Ask for help, lean on those around you (teachers, friends, family, classmates)
· Appease your sensory systems
· And most importantly. STAY AS POSITIVE AS YOU CAN. You’ll have low points, but if you can get through this, you will be okay.
-Written by: Delaney Smith, OTD Student at USC