A covid twist on a traditional assignment

When she reflects on the hardships of being a first-year student in DMU’s physician assistant (PA) program, Emily Delzer concludes, “It’s not about me.”

Delzer made that conclusion in her Humanities in Gross Anatomy (HuGA) project, a requirement for the gross anatomy course. The anatomy faculty created that requirement in 2007 as a way to socialize students to the humanities and to facilitate reflective learning. At the end of the course, students, either individually or as a group, submit a project – a narrative, poem, song, video, etc. – that describes how they had been personally touched by a body donor’s gift and how it contributed to their professional growth and education. 

Because the pandemic prevented the PA students from performing traditional donor dissections this year, Lauren Butaric, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy, decided the traditional implementation of the HuGA project “just didn’t fit.” She still wanted students to have the opportunity to reflect on what they’d learned in the anatomy course, however. 

“I had the students write a short piece to self-reflect on how being a PA student during the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their education and their future careers; they also had the option to discuss the social injustice pandemics, including systemic racism, that are occurring concurrently,” she says. “I encouraged them to see past the negatives – which are often all too easy to focus on – and try to find some of the positive take-away messages. What have they learned during these multiple pandemics that will make them a better PA for their patients?”

Butaric says the project helps reveal the students’ creative side and affirms they are “so much more than the grades they get.” The submissions of two PA students are featured here.

“This year, being able to read their self-reflections – many focused on perseverance, adaptability, advocacy – instilled hope and pride in me for our students,” she adds. “I know that in these trying times, while many would solely lament the change in curriculum or the state of the world, our students are staying focused on what any health care provider should be focused on: the best patient care they can provide.”

My education wasn’t put on hold

Taylor Scott, PA’22, is a first-year physician assistant student from Delavan, WI.

And I am very thankful, truth be told

Although this experience wasn’t ideal

There was much I had to feel

From learning and viewing on a screen

In-person experiences far and few in-between

I’m sure you had so much to give

When I think about the life you lived

The opportunities to learn from you

Are all so very true

The  pathology opens my eye

Often makes me wonder, why?

The gift you gave is more than enough

I think about your family and how this time may be so tough

I hope you lived a beautiful life

Full of love and none of strife

As I sit in my cold, dark basement through yet another Zoom lecture, losing track of the day of the week, it seems as if the world outside these four walls is ending. If somebody had told me I would be completing the majority of my first year of PA school amidst a global pandemic, I would never have believed them. When I first found out we would be entirely online, I admittedly felt a mini-temper tantrum boil inside me: “It’s not fair,” and “Why is this happening now?” It didn’t take me long to stop stomping my feet and put my bottom lip back in its place.

Emily Delzer, PA’22, is a first-year physician assistant student from Rapid City, SD.

It’s not about me anymore. 

Three months before I was set to start PA school, a virus swooped over our lives, setting fire to every best-laid plan we had. People struggled to take their last breaths as it gripped their lungs before anybody even knew what this was. The detrimental effects of this unforgiving disease forced families to say goodbye to their loved ones over the phone, isolated people in nursing homes for months, and stole people’s jobs and savings.

It’s not about me. 

I take a break from studying microbes and biochemical pathways invisible to the naked eye to go online where I witness overt horrific injustices on social media taking place a few hours north of where I am sitting. It’s difficult to focus on seemingly mundane studies when you feel completely worthless in the fight to end the systemic racism affecting your friends and neighbors.

They can’t breathe.

It’s not about me. 

When it seems the only thing brightening my days is the soft glow of my laptop, I reflect on the ways I can better the world around me. While people around the country struggle to breathe, I feel trapped in the clutches of a rigorous professional program. I realize that the ever-changing platform of online schooling has made me adaptable, flexible, and has strengthened my optimism muscle. I know that every aspect of my education will help me be the best provider I can be to make every person who walks through my door feel seen, heard, and valued.

This is not about me. 

It’s about the young girl who comes to the office where I work who has been mistreated and abused based on the color of her skin, struggling to make ends meet. It’s about the elderly man who is unable to say goodbye to his wife of 50 years in person due to contact restrictions in the hospital. It’s about the child whose life is completely changed after suddenly losing his father in a police shooting incident and now has to help raise his younger siblings. I will never be able to understand the pain these people have faced, but I will have the tool kit and empathy to offer support and healing.

It is not about me. 

We are not being trained solely to diagnose a set of symptoms and match that to a pharmaceutical agent to cure them. We are being trained to serve the entirety of the human population, to heal whatever ailments our neighbors – who come from all walks of life – may be facing. 

The unconventional manner in which we are receiving an education during this time is truly not about me anymore. When people around the country are suffering and can’t breathe – I hope that with my education and training, I can use my breath to help them. 

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