Chiropractic schools, students, faculty must work together in managing how to survive COVID

Chiropractic institutions must establish trust to bounce back from the pandemic in tackling how to survive COVID

For as long as this pandemic has been around, we have gone up and down between periods of rising tension due to surges in infections punctuated by periods of hopefulness in which the worst appears to finally be over. The most recent of these latter periods came in October, as cases and deaths dropped throughout the country and higher education institutions began pondering the question of how to survive COVID and effectively bounce back from all the adversity of the past two years.

Now, however, with the spread of another new variant and cases rising once again, chiropractic and health care education institutions are yet again steeling themselves and grappling with the question of what to do. Some are considering going back to online classes, and a few have already done so.

While a widespread return to fully remote learning is conceivable, we can largely avoid this and also bounce back from the last two years at the same time. We can do this by keeping a handful of principles in mind and putting them into practice.

How to survive COVID: addressing student needs and concerns

It’s important to remember that we should approach this issue from two perspectives simultaneously, that of the students and that of the faculty and staff. Let’s start with the students.

There have been many shifts and pivots throughout the entire pandemic, but there’s been one concern that has remained fairly consistent for students. That is the concern of whether or not they are going to get a quality education. It was a huge concern in the spring of 2020 when schools went fully remote, it remained a concern in the fall of 2020 when many schools adopted a hybrid approach, and it continued to be a concern when many schools returned to fully in-person classes in the spring of 2021. Despite a gradual return to more normalcy, each stage of this pandemic has brought new uncertainties with it.

And now we have another new uncertainty. One of the most important tasks for higher education institutions will therefore be to continually find ways to reassure the students of both their safety and their quality of education.

A big part of reassuring students simply comes down to covering, or continuing to cover, all the basic safety precautions with respect to how to survive COVID: masking, vaccinations, sanitation, social distancing and class capacity. Controversies over vaccinations and mandates will probably continue, so it is up to each institution to decide what’s best for themselves and their students depending on their own unique situations and which states they are located in. But with or without mandates, there are things other than the aforementioned basics that schools can do to increase safety and prevent the need for more shutdowns. Examples of these include temperature screening and/or frequent testing as well as campus contact tracing.

Student mental well-being

Aside from objective safety measures, there is also the matter of students’ comfort level and mental well-being, which is another way in which the pandemic has disrupted learning.

Faculty and staff can help be on the lookout for warning signs that signal a student may be in need of campus mental health services. Many students may continue to have differing degrees of comfort levels with in-person learning, and so schools need to consider what measures are in place to accommodate them so that their learning isn’t hampered. Toward this end, the potential of hybrid arrangements have not been fully tapped into, and institutions should be thinking about this as well, especially since the COVID-19 Omicron variant is a new variable.

With so many institutions having fully resumed in-person learning, what will happen to students who may have to quarantine after getting infected? They should be able to rest easy knowing that their learning will not have to be interrupted. Having hybrid measures ready or in place will ensure minimal interruptions to learning in the event of further variants or even other pandemics that emerge in future years.

Managing staff and faculty needs and concerns

Hopefully, it goes without saying that a higher ed. institution is not just its student body. It is also its faculty and staff.

For this reason, bouncing back from the effects of this pandemic, and staying strong in the face of future setbacks, requires that administrations also equally prioritize the needs of their faculties and staff. In the face of going back and forth between in-person and remote learning, do instructors have what they need to manage and keep track of their students’ situations? How do they stay connected with students who are quarantining or preferring to learn remotely out of precaution or discomfort?

It’s easy to forget, for example, that many instructors are older and may still be struggling somewhat with all the technology the pandemic has forced us to rely on — both with the technology in general and also the constant pivoting from one set of circumstances to another as the pandemic has evolved. When you add to this the digital divide in higher ed and how many students may also be technologically disadvantaged with limited access to equipment or broadband, it becomes a lot for any one faculty member to stay on top of.

Also, just like with students, faculty and staff as well may also feel varying levels of discomfort with in-person teaching during the pandemic’s periodic surges, such as now, to the degree that many have shown themselves out the door for good. A higher education institution cannot function without its most precious resource. Without faculty and staff, it is simply impossible to bounce back.

The bottom line here is that administrations need to provide faculty and staff with the resources they need when it comes to how to survive COVID, be it through providing more equipment, additional training and upskilling, or by hiring instructional designers, educational technologists, and student liaisons who can help to mitigate and deal with student concerns. Freeing up some of that mental bandwidth for the faculty and staff can help keep them resilient.

Important reminders to face whatever may come

While this latest surge, and the uncertainties surrounding the Omicron variant in general, may stir up fresh feelings of anxiety, it’s helpful to remember that if the past two years are proof of anything, it’s that we can do this.

We have already done it and we can continue doing it, come what may: to bend and pivot with each new wave, apply all the lessons we’ve learned and the new tools we’ve acquired, and adequately address the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff so that they can all remain strong no matter what happens from here on out. And two extra benefits come with doing this. One is that we’ll also be ready for anything that may appear on the horizon, be it yet another variant, another pandemic or whatever else. Two is that institutions will have developed trust.

Trust is an age-old principle that’s key to any service or industry. Trust is essential between the person or institution providing the service and the person or group receiving the service. In higher education, students trust that they are going to get the quality education they need to succeed.

Without trust, or if the trust dwindles, students will either disconnect or drop out. If that happens, schools lose their competitive advantage. Trust, therefore, is the key to continuously bouncing back from everything this pandemic throws at us today and in the months ahead. Fortunately, there’s no mystery to trust. When you provide students, faculty and staff with what they need, they will trust you.

FERRAHS ABDELBASET, DC, is an assistant professor and program coordinator for the online Master of Medical Science program at Ponce Health Sciences University. For more info visit stlouis.psm.edu/programs/msms/faculty.



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