Today marks the first day of classes back at UNC. Selecting which mask I should wear for my first day of class was not the way I imagined starting my second year of graduate school. As I begin the process of adjusting to a primarily virtual semester and put the finishing touches on my practicum deliverables, I have begun to reflect on how I can utilize the lessons I’ve learned working remotely the past few months to engage in meaningful learning in the “classroom” this year.
Working with the Anova Health Institute located in South Africa has both positively impacted and challenged me in ways I could never have anticipated. My practicum pushed me to strengthen my communication skills to better engage in collaborative work despite the thousands of miles between my kitchen table office and my colleagues in Johannesburg. As part of further developing my communication skills, I worked on practicing active listening to absorb as much as I could from what my team was sharing in the short time of a Zoom meeting. Not only do I seek to better integrate this mindset into my personal life, but I also believe it will be a valuable tool as I tackle the challenges of learning in a virtual setting.
Working next to my best friend, Tallulah!
Many of us likely feel the added pressure of being involved in public health work during this crisis. For me, I am feeling the urgency to equip myself with as many public health tools as I can, making this semester feel more important than ever. The professional and personal development I have gained during my remote practicum experience has helped me to realize how impactful a virtual opportunity can be. Rather than dwelling on what I will miss from being in a traditional classroom, I am reinvigorated by the knowledge that I have started to develop tools this summer to make the most of my public health education. As I wind down from my first day of class and think about what tomorrow’s will bring, I am hopeful that the lessons of collaborative communication and self-care that I began developing during my summer practicum will help me to have my best semester yet.
While in danger of sounding repetitive, my summer practicum experience was not exactly what I had originally imagined. To be honest, I felt a sense of disappointment not being able to spend the summer in Johannesburg, South Africa working directly with the amazing team at the Anova Health Institute and their peers at Wits University. However, as soon as I began my practicum my attitude completely changed, and I couldn’t help but feel such appreciation to still be included in the incredible work that Anova is doing for their community. The fact the Anova was still willing to invest time and energy into my professional and personal development in such unprecedented circumstances was humbling.
The project I am currently working on is part of the UNC-Wits University Implementation Science partnership. As part of this program, I am working with the Anova Health Institute, a leading organization in the implementation of HIV care in South Africa. Currently, I am analyzing data from patient file audits in order to identify gaps in care, especially in regard to a new HIV treatment protocol that was rolled out across South Africa in December 2019. The goal of this project is for Anova to develop recommendations for quality improvement within their partnering facilities in order to be able to best support the health of the patients they serve.
Finishing up a Zoom meeting with some of the amazing staff at the Anova Health Institute.
Although I’m completing this practicum remotely, the team at Anova has made me feel included even thousands of miles away. For example, last week I was sitting in on a staff meeting where each person took the time to welcome me and explain the projects they were working on so that I could follow along with their conversations. This small gesture highlighted how global connectedness can transcend great physical distances. I am overwhelmingly grateful to still be able to engage in this important work in the face of such difficult circumstances for many across the world. Quality HIV care is especially vital during this pandemic. I am honored to be growing and learning from incredible professionals in the field who are committed to improving the health and well-being of those living with HIV.