When the world took a turn with Covid-19, we were ready to think on our feet and adapt to our conditions in order to be successful. In PT programs across the nation, we saw adaptations such as reduced class size, hybrid learning, reduced lab hours, full PPE in labs, and limited lab partners in PT classes. Not only did we make rapid accommodations, we did so in a way where we remained confident that students were clinic ready. This resilience in the face of adversity is a testament to what we are capable of as a profession.
Covid-19 is not the first situation in which this resilience has been warranted; however, it is perhaps the first situation where it was necessary. For various religious or cultural reasons, people have requested accommodations. Sadly, many have been treated as though their accommodations were impractical or a hindrance to learning. Today we might see those barriers as largely self-imposed. As an observant Muslim woman, I have firsthand experience with this. I requested religious accommodations in PT school, which included having a privacy screen and not having the men in my class work on me during lab. I made sure to be clear about these accommodations from the first day of class. I have never been hesitant to speak up, and I have advocated for the accommodation of Muslim students at the state and national levels. Despite going in with a message of clarity regarding my religious accommodations, I realized quickly that I could not lose vigilance in the advocacy for my rights. To me, my situation was simple. To others, it was a hassle that was at most tolerated. One memorable event occurred in class, when I realized I was mistakenly paired with a male partner. I switched partners with the person next to me and proceeded with my learning. An instructor noticed and called me out after class. I was told that I was unprofessional in my conduct and that my behavior was burdensome to the class. The instructor’s words weighed on me. I felt tolerated, not embraced or appreciated for my differences. Reengaging with learning is always difficult after such situations, and this was just one of many I have faced in school and in clinics. Asking for help becomes harder and finding the motivation to continue facing the same situation each day feels impossible. Covid-19 is a testament to how much we are capable of and how much better we can do. How many students were in situations like my own? How many did we inadvertently deter from becoming PTs due to the perception that we were not eager to accommodate them? How many hesitated to speak up about cultural, religious, or other accommodations because it did not seem the profession valued them enough? I am not speaking in hypotheticals. I was that student, and I have met these students. Most recently, I was asked by a new student if requesting an accommodation would “rock the boat” too much and impact her professional career.
Let us not underestimate ourselves in the future. While we hope Covid-19 ends sooner rather than later, this newly discovered creative ability should be something that is continued long after this virus is gone. It should continue as an essential element of our profession and should be applied to better treat, accommodate, and foster the success of minority students. It is a strength we should embrace today and in the future.