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Lowana Lee on a Zoom call with Melanie Rodriguez on the screen.
Occupational therapist Lowana Lee and McMaster University student Melanie Rodriguez assessed patients virtually during COVID-19, allowing Rodriguez to complete her final clinical placement before graduation.
October 14, 2020

Virtual student placements offer win-win during COVID-19

When in-person appointments were paused due to the pandemic, Lowana Lee, an occupational therapist at McMaster Children’s Hospital’s (MCH) Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC), was happy to take on a student learner.

“I’m not young,” she laughs. “There’s a lot of technology involved but it’s fun to learn new things.”

Headshot of Lowana Lee

Lowana Lee

Lee works in the Children’s Developmental Rehabilitation program at RJCHC, one of three services at the centre offering clinical placements virtually during the pandemic. Appointments are scheduled through Zoom Healthcare so the healthcare provider, family, and student can log on remotely. For those without access to technology, coaching over the phone is also a possibility.

MCH’s partnership with McMaster University’s School of Rehabilitation and Mohawk College’s Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program allows students to pair up with a preceptor — or instructor — so they can gain experience before graduation. The hospital’s commitment to students continues through COVID-19, as a testament to the strong relationship with our education partners.

A “collaboration win”

McMaster University Occupational Therapy student Melanie Rodriguez completed her last clinical placement virtually at RJCHC. She began her placement with Lee in July and had a caseload of eight families to assess throughout her eight weeks. She was also involved in a group program for teens where they covered topics ranging from social media and time management to healthy eating and exercise. During her placement, she shadowed Lee and participated in online appointments with families. She also assisted with getting presentations and resources online for families to access.

Lindsay Bray, clinical leader of the Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation (DPR) program, says having students lend their tech savvy is a “collaboration win.”

“DPR was able to offer a clinical placement for an occupational therapy student from McMaster School of Rehabilitation and our program was able to benefit from her technical abilities while we learned to use virtual platforms to meet rehabilitation needs of children,” says Bray.

Sharpening observational skills

A virtual placement encouraged Rodriguez to develop skills in a different way.

“Being virtual truly tested my observational skills, creativity, and resourcefulness. It taught me how to think and act on the spot and how to work with basic tools and materials that a family would have in their home,” she says.

Students really learn to sharpen their observational skills in a virtual environment, says Lee, in order to determine what developmental stage the child is at. Since Lee and Rodrigues weren’t working in close proximity like they normally would, they scheduled time together every day to debrief.

“My preceptor planned daily meetings at the end of the work day that were crucial to my success,” says Rodriguez. “This time set aside each day gave us an opportunity to discuss all of the clients we had seen that day and prepare for the clients we would be seeing the following day.”

Rodriguez was able to complete the last three weeks of her placement in person. This allowed her to experience checking a child’s range of motion and face-to-face assessments for children with difficulties eating and swallowing.

But virtual assessments do have their benefits.

“I got to see the home environment and what is actually happening in the home,” says Lee. “Occupational therapy is concerned with participation and accessibility. The family has the chance to show me what the set-up is like, what the bathroom is like.”

A new graduate

After the successful completion of her placement, Rodriguez will have her graduation ceremony in November where she will receive a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy. She’s grateful for the mentoring from her preceptor.

“Lowana is not only a great occupational therapist but also a great teacher and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity – it truly helped solidify my passion for working in the pediatric field,” she says.

Lee has been mentoring students since she started with MCH in 1988.

“I have a passion for making sure our young graduates are able to learn,” says Lee. “I will retire one day, and if we don’t have students or therapists that can take over, then people wouldn’t have occupational therapy. That’s why I offered this virtual placement to the school — to make sure they could graduate in time.”