A Budding Physical Therapist Finds Adaptation Is Key in the Age of COVID

September 21, 2020

By John "Jack" Fant

I was never the biggest fan of Jeopardy. Nothing against it, I just never felt the same sense of reverence my friends and family had toward the quiz show. And, I always got the questions wrong… Then, with the onset of quarantine, I figured a few episodes might keep my mind sharp. Three binged “Tournament of Champions” later, and you might say that I have caught the Jeopardy bug. After diving into the “College Championships” collection, I got to thinking: If the first three quarters of 2020 were an elaborate Jeopardy clue, chock full of the twists and turns we found ourselves navigating these last eight months, I believe the most fitting answer would be: “What is adaptation?” COVID-19 is forcing our hand and pressuring us to change in ways that we would not have imagined.

As a physical therapy student, I have an unconventional education model, with clinical rotations interspersed between didactic semesters. The pandemic pushed the final semester of lecture material to remote instruction, so learning a profession centered on touch and human connection, became one of solitary clicks and a computer screen. Not ideal!

I had to adapt. Lab material was pre-recorded and roommates became mock-patients, graciously allowing me to work through each case, perform relevant tests and measures, and arrive at a diagnosis. Group work was a hodgepodge of Zoom breakout sessions, FaceTime calls, Google Docs and extensive text threads. The material had not changed, but the Columbia experience I had grown accustomed to, certainly had. Mingling on the medical campus with the future leaders in medicine, public health, dentistry, nursing, and therapy was one of my favorite perks of attending Columbia, and not remotely possible to facilitate in a physically distanced world. There were also several small, seemingly insignificant changes that required me to adapt. My prized library nook was exchanged for a cramped bedroom, and the coffee cart on the walk to campus became a French press filled with too many grounds.

As the summer break drew to a close, I prepared to enter my second of four clinical rotations, where I would implement what I had learned through lecture and lab into clinical practice. But this too, is not free of adaptation. There is COVID testing, respirator fitting, and safety training, that for all intents and purposes, will be the new “normal” until a vaccine is widely available.

Outside of the “classroom,” my social activities have been geared toward exploring the city by foot and socially distanced hangouts at various parks and green spaces. Citi Bikes have replaced the subway, while jogging and YouTube HIIT workouts have replaced the gym. In many ways, these have been some of the more positive changes in my life, as these new activities are refreshing and push me to be just a bit better than the day before. But the strawberry shortcake popsicles from the ice cream truck parked at the end of my street are a temptation that I have yet to conquer.  

With the sudden onset of the pandemic, and a summer where time seems to be paradoxically stagnant and swift, it is important to note that the changes we’ve made for this new school year are temporary. They are adaptations, that when performed with intent and selflessness, allow us to return to a Columbia experience that we are familiar with.

Hopefully, this is an answer Alex Trebek would be happy with.

It is a time to be excited. It is a time to be compassionate. And it is a time to adapt.

Go, Lions.

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