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Reflections of Virtual Hand to Shoulder Fellowship During a Pandemic

Written by:

Susan Romano-Silva MS OTR/L, BCP

Virtual Hand to Shoulder Fellow 2020/2021


I began this journey of applying to Virtual Hand and Shoulder fellowship shortly after the pandemic began. This virtual course couldn't have been recommended at a better time. I was exploring options and different formats for learning about hand therapy and a close colleague of mine highly recommended this course which she began a few months before this second cohort was to begin. We were in communication, comparing information about our interests in hand therapy, and since I am a seasoned therapist, making a change into a different practice area and committing to hand therapy presented challenges to work into my busy schedule. The unknowns of the pandemic, working in a hospital setting, adjusting to my kids being home virtually for school, and my husband's hybrid work schedule was a bit unusual. Since I was working at a large hospital on a pediatric acute care unit, it did not preclude me from the covid stay-at-home orders and being able to work from home was not an option. My schedule was adjusted constantly, and I had to adapt to the changes needed to survive working through a pandemic. The hospital I work for was entirely converted to a covid hospital which was daunting. The fact that I was going to work and passing the medical examiner's office during the height of NYC devastation was surreal. To say the least, daily life was different, work was different, commuting was different, but we all had to play a part and I managed to juggle my responsibilities. The one silver lining was being able to participate in the virtual fellowship. It just seemed to click into the new dynamics that transformed our world during this pandemic. I was hesitant at first because it is a non-traditional way to learn and committing to a year-long program was questionable with all the unknowns of this odd year. I had my reservations, but it ended up being one of my favorite ways to learn. There are only so many projects I could do around the house during these stay-at-home orders so after repainting and organizing space around the house for 5 people to work and have school virtually, I also dove into the process and looked forward to the weekly zoom classes. I have been a therapist for over 25 years, in the field of pediatrics and have many skills in this area but hand therapy is its own niche and has always been an interest of mine. I realized I needed to begin with the fundamentals specific to the hand and upper extremity. This fellowship offered me a format that allowed me to become familiar with the framework to build my knowledge base in hand therapy. This virtual format of synchronous lectures was amazing as it fit my schedule and allowed me to continue working in my current job. The fellowship was flexible so that if I had to work and missed the scheduled weekly lectures, I could view the lectures at my convenience through video recordings. The course was so well organized, motivating, and provided a format through zoom meetings that was appealing to participate in. I also learned a few new tech-savvy applications needed for online learning platforms. Most important of all, the founder, Mirella Deisher, is an awesome educator and passionate about hand therapy. She made the content manageable for all levels of learning and the fellowship was organized in a manner that each topic builds on one another. One may wonder why I decided to participate in a change of practice area as a seasoned clinician, but I really didn't think of it as a change. I thought of it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge base and continue to pursue my career ambitions in the world of hand therapy. I also connected with clinicians from all over the United States and internationally which is an added bonus.

Thank you, Mirella Deisher, for launching this virtual fellowship. It does not escape me that this fellowship you developed has been in the works way before the pandemic, but the timing of this virtual format couldn't have come at a better time.