It’s hard to believe that my practicum experience is almost over and that the summer’s almost gone! I keep asking myself where all the time went. For my practicum experience, I have been working with UNC Gillings Zambia on the ARCH study. The goal of the ARCH study is to optimize birth outcomes in low-resources settings, by using household surveillance to gain a better understanding of the social and clinical factors that may affect pregnancy outcomes in women of reproductive age. I think that one of the best parts of the study is that it allows the study team to follow women of reproductive age, from preconception to at least one year after the end of their pregnancy, in the event that they become pregnant during the course of the study. In addition, the study also follows children under the age of 2, to gain a better understanding about factors that impact the health of young children. Thus far, I have learned quite a bit from the study, mostly related to the implementation of such a large-scale study.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned so far has been the importance of flexibility and being willing to adapt to a new situation. At the beginning of my practicum, my preceptor and I thought that it would be most helpful if I worked on developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for various aspects of the study. As time progressed, it became clear that there were other aspects of study implementation that would be a better fit. As such, we have pivoted from working on SOPs to developing recruitment and training materials. It has been an interesting learning experience, thinking about how best to simplify the language from protocols, written for technical experts, to informationals that can be understood by study participants. I’ve also learned a lot about the seemingly small aspects of study implementation that I had only briefly thought about. As I’ve been charged with drafting some of the training materials and schedules, I find myself thinking about the most pertinent parts of the study protocols and how to engage study staff when they might have days’ worth of training in their future. All in all, it’s been a truly educational experience.

It might not come as a surprise that one of the most challenging aspects of the practicum experience has been my inability to meet most of the people that I’m working with in person. I have tried to keep in touch via email. My preceptor has also been wonderful, as we decided to meet on a weekly basis, just to touch bases. I think that the weekly meetings have been helpful and have provided more opportunity for direct feedback. At this point, we have talked about extending my practicum, but I still don’t think that I will be able to see the actual start of the ARCH study. That said, I plan to follow the study closely and look forward to learning more about the results of the survey.

Lastly, I’m looking forward to enjoying the last weeks of summer, prior to the beginning of the semester. I’m very excited about starting the second year and can’t wait to meet in person!

– ‘Desola