The unexpected moment is always sweeter
Nearly 18 months ago, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic completely upended our lives, and altered the ways we teach and learn, deliver healthcare, and interact with one another on a daily basis. In the dark times and the long months when we wondered how we would get through this, we stumbled upon unexpected innovations, creative solutions, and serendipitous discoveries. Romance novelist Julia Quinn describes this phenomenon by noting that “the unexpected moment is always sweeter.”
As we return to campus this fall, looking for the path towards our new normal, I want to share a few unexpected moments we had – many of which led to interesting outcomes and meaningful collaborations. They aren’t all momentous achievements, but I hope that in reading about the work of your colleagues, you’ll share my pride in being a part of the FHS community.
Let’s start with the Human Body Donor Program which accepts donations of cadavers and body parts on behalf of FHS and makes them available to our programs. The program serves as an important educational tool for students across medicine, nursing, and rehabilitation therapy, allowing learners to practice on real cadavers and develop expertise well before they work with patients. At the start of the pandemic, the prevalence of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals posed a potential barrier to accepting donations. By implementing stringent testing measures that ensured that donations were safe, the program only closed temporarily at the beginning of the pandemic. After a short closure, the Human Body Donor Program at Queen’s was the first program of its kind to resume operations in Ontario, and its reopening was fortuitous. Closures elsewhere caused a surplus of donations across the province that, for a time, couldn’t be accepted by anyone but Queen’s. The Human Body Donor Program was able to alleviate the surplus of donations by accepting an increased volume of cadavers during the pandemic. This small act of collaboration with other institutions meant that for many donors, their final wishes could be fulfilled despite the unexpected forces of a global pandemic.
COVID-19 took a toll on clinical care and research across Ontario. Kingston, Queen’s University, with our partners including the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Providence Care Hospital, was no exception. When the Queen’s CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU) reopened in April 2020, only a month after closing, it played a major role in reducing the waitlists for echocardiography at KHSC, a service that the QCPU facility provides to 1,750 patients annually. The team at QCPU has now implemented plans to increase its clinical capacity to alleviate patient wait lists for this important diagnostic test. In addition to being a KHSC satellite clinic providing patient care, QCPU is a state-of-the-art translational research centre. The unit’s quick reopening of its research operations led to some unexpected collaborations. At a time when many researchers were putting their projects on hold due to limited lab capacity, QCPU supported dozens of researchers in continuing their work. Even as research projects and labs resumed their normal operations, the relationships built in the early days of the pandemic have continued through ongoing collaborations.
One of the most acute challenges that we faced in FHS was the rapid transition of all programs to virtual or hybrid models. In the School of Nursing, the Summer Work Experience Program students who had been hired to support projects at the school did a complete pivot. Their original projects were set aside, and the team worked diligently to provide faculty with online teaching support they needed. Similarly, the Office of Professional Development & Educational Scholarship (OPDES) shifted all of its programs to virtual delivery. Seeing an unexpected growth in enrollments during the pandemic, OPDES doubled down. They expanded their offerings and have developed some of their most comprehensive, responsive, and agile programming yet - all built with accessibility as a key priority.
The pandemic has also been the catalyst for the creation of new clinical placements in FHS. When the School of Rehabilitation Therapy found that there was a sudden shortage of placements for their PT students, they came up with an innovative solution. Health Hub, which launched in January 2021, is a clinic that serves Kingston community members with musculoskeletal disorders who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access physiotherapy. The unexpected need to find new placements led to a community service that is creating incredible learning opportunities for students and is benefitting people in the community who are now able to get the care they need.
Of course, we can’t forget how the unexpected nature of the pandemic inspired FHS students to take action. From the very beginning, they volunteered to assist seniors in the Kingston community and have printed 3D masks for our frontline healthcare providers. In the spring of 2021, students supported the vaccine rollout in Kingston and beyond. Over 200 medical students helped administer thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations in Kingston, and several interdisciplinary teams of FHS learners travelled to the James Bay region as part of Operation Remote Immunity.
This is a small snapshot of the ways in which our faculty adapted. There are many more stories to tell. As we start a new chapter in the pandemic, one with more in-person interaction, I have no doubt we will continue to find unexpected successes that make our faculty a sweeter place to be.
I would love to hear how your team or unit has adapted over the last 18 months. Share your unexpected wins, collaborations, or kudos to others by commenting below.