PT School in the Midst of a Pandemic

Beth Trinker, SPT ’23

COVID-19 has made its presence acutely aware across the world, affecting every corner of daily life from the way one grocery shops to how one goes to work. This is particularly true at universities and has personally impacted my graduate studies here at Pitt. As a first year student in the DPT program, my experience has been nothing like I’d expected — majority online class instruction, limited interaction with my fellow classmates and faculty, and balancing the stresses of being a grad student during a pandemic. But living in “these unprecedented times” comes with a level of understanding and adapting, two skills that are imperative to being a healthcare practitioner.

          The Doctor of Physical Therapy program has an innately physical course load, one that unfortunately does not translate well to an online platform. Whether it be through asynchronous lectures or real-time online learning with your cohort, there is just no parallel to getting the hands-on experience so necessary to being an effective physical therapist. Luckily, the first years have had the opportunity to attend certain labs and classes at Bridgeside Point II, requiring the proper PPE and designated classrooms/pods. Even though gloves, goggles, and masks can be burdensome to wear, being in the classroom can yield immense rewards for those students whose learning styles just don’t coincide with an at-home study environment. In an article focusing on the effects of online learning, “Researchers are increasingly attending to the fact that online learning may be more beneficial for some types of students compared to others” (Francis, Wormington & Hulleman 2019). It should also be noted that studying for exams while learning through a screen after learning all day through a screen can be draining, something to consider for classes to come if more hybrid learning were to be incorporated. In my experience, learning through Zoom and testing on Canvas has not greatly impacted my performance thus far, but it is truly not for everyone.

          While Pitt has done its best, there are still some aspects of attending school during a pandemic that just can’t be helped. I had always heard that getting close with your cohort is important and creates a much needed support system. I think we can all understand that “getting close” is not an option at this time. Interaction between pod members is permitted, but it is hard to feel part of a community when you have only met ⅓ of its members. Yet, the times that I’m with my classmates and instructors reconfirms that I’m not alone through this journey, a feeling that some students might have during the online portion (Driscoll et. al, 2012). While the present situation doesn’t lend towards much collaboration not only with my fellow students but also with faculty members, I’m hopeful that we will learn much from this experience and continue to adapt if such a time were to occur in the future.

          Overall, I think the biggest take-away from the past few months is that it is possible for the DPT program to function under a hybrid learning style with a combination of in-person and at-home instruction. I truly believe that I’m getting the proper preparation to be the best physical therapist despite the conditions we are under. I give a lot of credit to the faculty for the adjustments they’ve made for instruction, knowing how I’ve had to adjust. And as I go forward, I’ll use what I’ve learned from this presented challenge in my practices as I become a physical therapist. Hopefully, we all can.

Driscoll, A., Jicha, K., Hunt, A. N., Tichavsky, L., & Thompson, G. (2012). Can                               Online Courses Deliver In-class Results? Teaching Sociology, 40(4), 312–331.                      ×12446624

Francis, M. K., Wormington, S. V., & Hulleman, C. (2019, September 10). The Costs of Online Learning: Examining Differences in Motivation and Academic Outcomes in Online and Face-to-Face Community College Developmental Mathematics Courses. Frontiers in psychology.