We are all well aware of the very different year we have just lived and worked through as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t have to tell you that there were not procedures written for how to handle clinical education during a pandemic, but I do want to summarize briefly how we have responded and shifted. It is a very odd place to “be” as academic clinical educators – each of our clinical education team members are active clinicians and active academicians. We understand what has been happening on the healthcare frontlines. We also work with students who faced uncertainty in March along with the rest of the world. Being on both ends, yet in the middle, is just a different place. It has required constant mindfulness of the strain on the healthcare system including healthcare professionals as well as recognition that students and the educational system are under strain as well. It also requires mindfulness that clinical healthcare education is presently a strain on the healthcare system, but a pause in educating healthcare professionals may likely offer additional future strain on the system.
All of the students in the Class of 2020, with the guidance from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), graduated either on time or within 2 months of their original graduation date. CAPTE issued a revision of the number of clinical weeks required for students impacted by COVID-19; however, they maintained the requirements for meeting competency and depth and breadth of clinical experiences. We revised our curriculum schedule for the Class of 2021 and 2022, which did result in the cancellation of the May-June 2020 6-week clinical experience for our new 2nd year students. Those students will participate in that missed clinical this summer – thanks to our clinical partners who provided us with enough offers for this year’s May-June 2021 clinical experiences. The class of 2021, presently in their final clinical rotations, appears on target for graduation as well (with some adjustments for a handful we hope will successfully occur, allowable by CAPTE, to secure the depth and breadth of experiences that are still required). 
In addition to CAPTE, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) has adopted changes that allow for students to sit for examination for licensure within windows of the fixed test dates and has worked with Prometric, the company that administers the tests at testing centers around the country, to make in-person testing requirements still available. Initially, this was a challenge and many were frustrated. Last summer, a webinar from the FSBPT, provided significant insight into the challenges that both agencies were facing. They extended great efforts to “normalize” the process as much as possible in what now seems like an impressive time frame.  

Nationally and locally, the various academies and special interest groups for physical therapy education have met regularly in meetings, webinars, and in town hall meetings to collaborate and work through challenges. The Program Directors of all of the DPT programs in Michigan met regularly, as have the Directors of Clinical Education to identify challenges local to Michigan.  Most recently ACAPTE issued a “Statement Regarding Students in Physical Therapy Working with Patients with COVID-19” (Feb 2021).  We are providing this article to you.  

To say that much activity has occurred discussing the difficult choices related to student physical therapy education – particularly clinical education – would be an understatement. However, the discussions that are occurring in healthcare agencies around the country, are likely as complex, if not more, when it comes to balancing the safety and care of employees and patients while trying to ensure that there are future healthcare providers in the pipelines. This is not lost on our program faculty at all and our clinical education team is certainly aware of the challenging conversations that clinical faculty have had with their administration teams about continuing to support clinical experiences for DPT students. We feel a huge debt of gratitude to all of you – Site Coordinators of Clinical Education, Clinical Instructors, and anyone in your organization who has been instrumental in pausing clinical education for only a brief time, before re-grouping, and thinking outside of the box to resume clinical experiences. I am not sure there is a hug big enough or a thank you sincere enough to express what you have done for all physical therapy students but in particular our Central Michigan University Doctor of Physical Therapy Students!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, and kudos to infinity! 
For those Clinical Instructors who supported our students for excellent educational experiences this past fall, we asked students to collect some information and a selfie, if the Clinical Instructor was agreeable. Please click on the attached link to see what these HEROS! have done for our students: LINK

This video will also be shared on CMU social media outlets – we want everyone to know about the fantastic clinical faculty and the amazing ways in which support is provided to our CMU DPT students!

Our entire faculty and university have immense respect and gratitude for what all of you do to support our profession and the continued education of future physical therapists!

Fire Up to all of you!