After Andrea Tyszka, OTD ‘18, MS, OTR/L, SIPT, completed her doctorate in the Health and Wellness track in the University’s Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OT), she was drawn toward incorporating something wellness-related into her coursework for her students.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic provided this opportunity and offered a bit of light to an otherwise challenging situation. As a Salus OT associate professor,, Dr. Tyszka was able to institute what she calls “Wellness Wednesdays,” an initiative started in the OT department in response to the pandemic. 

Jessica BischoffThe program focuses on the eight dimensions of wellness — physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, occupational, financial and environmental — and consists of both resource sharing and weekly cyber meetings.

During a recent cyber meeting, Dr. Tyszka posed the question to the University’s Post-Professional Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) students: How can students volunteer to help during the pandemic?

“Many of our post-professional OTD students are actively working in a clinical setting, so they have their boots on the ground and are well-positioned to let us know what the unmet needs are,” said Dr. Tyszka.

The students suggested two populations that could use support during the pandemic: the elderly and healthcare workers.

Older individuals in long-term care facilities have essentially been cut off from visitors as a precaution against the spread COVID-19 to this vulnerable population. That type of isolation can take its toll on people, according to Dr. Tyszka. 

“One therapist, Jessica Bischoff ‘21OTD, MSOT ’18, OTR/L, suggested writing letters to residents, similar to our childhood pen pals,” she said. “It could bring (those residents) an abundance of cheer to make that social connection.” Connections with residents could be fostered by reaching out to the occupational or recreational therapy departments at long-term care facilities. 

Another idea Bischoff had centered on helping short-term rehabilitation clients get ready for discharge; students could make cloth masks based on a template available from the CDC and donate them to rehabilitation centers. These masks could help this at-risk population stay safer as they venture out into the community for essential supplies such as groceries or medication. 

Another suggestion discussed in the Wellness Wednesday cyber meeting was to show support for healthcare workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day by just showing up to work during the pandemic.

Bill Shashaty“Right now, healthcare is more physically demanding and emotional exhausting than ever,” said Dr. Tyszka. “One student, Bill Shashaty ‘22OTD, OTR/L, shared a story about people showing up at the hospital where his wife works with an impromptu care parade with signs showing support for the hospital workers. It had a very therapeutic effect for the staff to see people in the community rallying around them.”

Second-year student Liz Van Horn ‘20MSOT has volunteered to make masks and do food deliveries, but is looking for additional ways to put her skills to use.

“My motivation to volunteer was that this is a really tough time for everyone, but I realize that so many people are having a much harder time than myself and I wanted to help those most impacted,” said Van Horn. “While limited with the social distancing restrictions, I was also hoping that our knowledge and skills as OT students could be put to use in some way.”

Erica Sheehan ‘20MSOT has tried to reflect on the struggles that everyone is facing during the pandemic.

“At Salus, we as students learn that it is essential for us as future healthcare professionals to manage our health and wellness. If we are feeling our best selves, we have the ability to offer our best work to our clients,” she said. “During this pandemic, our lives and daily routines have been altered in one way or another. Our social connections are limited. By incorporating ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ into our week, it allows us to come together and virtually connect with peers and faculty to discuss ways to improve our health and wellness. It is an opportunity to share wellness ideas and lift each other’s spirits. Knowing we are all here for each other, and that we are in this together, pushes us forward.”