Given the well-developed relationship between athletic trainers and student-athlete, this delivery of health care from a distance wasn’t as anomalous for the athletes as we thought it might be. Our athletic training staff communicated repeatedly that we would remain responsive to their mental and physical health care needs day and night. We reminded them we remained “just a call away.” We wanted (and expected) to be the first call when they got sick (their first fear), sprained their ankle or had a question for one of our team physicians.
A strength of the athletic trainer as a health care provider has always been creativity. This pandemic made that skill essential to success.
We were creating at-home rehab programs that could require no equipment germane to the programs they walked away from in Evanston, Illinois. It’s been wonderful to see how detergent bottles, soup cans, bath towels and staircases have been turned into rehab tools by our innovative staff. We also have built off one of our staff strengths — collaboration — to share successes among athletic trainers and strength coaches to maximize the impact of each athlete’s program through shared solutions.
Technology also has been the friend of the athletic trainer.
We’ve completed numerous video-based communication “calls” to observe and educate our student-athletes in the rehabilitation process. We’ve remained on schedule with some longer-term projects by implementing movement screens via FaceTime with siblings or parents holding the phone. While it took about a week, we’ve used another secure, HIPAA-compliant platform to provide injury assessments as new injuries are now becoming more prevalent.
We’re learning how to give our patients more control and ownership over their own rehabilitation. They have responded very well. Daily interactions in the athletic training clinic have been replaced by weekly or biweekly calls. Our patients, who are as used to seeing our faces as much as we are theirs, are learning the necessity of deliberate communication. It’s impossible to stop into the AT clinic and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m feeling this or that” from California or Texas.
Not only have we figured out how to succeed with new surroundings and novel workflow, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as it pertains to resiliency.
We’ve realized the importance of maintaining our daily and weekly routines and have encouraged our student-athletes to create their own, as well. For our staff, gathering for recurring staff meetings via video technology has become a highlight of the week. Mini staff calls and virtual lunches have kept us connected on more of a personal level.
Beyond patient care, we have reidentified purpose and autonomy through work groups, goal groups and assigned administrative responsibilities. We’ve remained steadfast in these unit expectations, not allowing the distancing to be an excuse. Yet we are proud to have remained mindful, respectful, empathetic and supportive of each staff member’s individual challenges with working at home.
What have we learned about one another? We’re full of compassion and empathy.
The first question from colleagues on most phone calls is, “How are you doing?” The contact and interaction we were accustomed to giving and receiving, rooted in physical contact, is lost, of course. So, leading with a big smile means more. Authentic excitement to see each other over video really matters.