Palmer Proud Magazine

Always Learning

Creating Solutions for Unprecedented Times

Richard Yu, Palmer West student portrait

Richard Yu, Palmer West student.

Becoming a chiropractor wasn’t part of the master plan for Richard Yu. Nor was attending Palmer West in California. Nor was attending Palmer during a worldwide pandemic that has made his final quarters at Palmer a whirlwind of life adjustments.

“Nearly every day has been unpredictable,” the 12th quarter student says from his apartment in San Jose, where he’s spent more time than expected over the past five months.

“My years at Palmer have been an invaluable learning experience. And recently, well, I’ve learned more about chiropractic—and life—than I ever anticipated.”

Nicholas “Cole” Phillips was looking forward to the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. No matter what decade a graduate attended Palmer’s Main campus in Davenport, alumni will recall the festive shenanigans and revelry every March at Mac’s Tavern or Kilkenny’s Pub at the bottom of Brady Street hill. Cole didn’t necessarily have plans to meet his classmates this year for a green brew, though—he’s a new father.

It was Friday the 13th, and Cole had a weekend ahead of him that would balance studying and playing with his 11-month-old son at home.
“We had just started another trimester and hadn’t gotten through two weeks of classes before life upended,” the eighth trimester student recalls. “One day we were studying in-person, and the next day I was learning at home—with a toddler crawling at my feet.”

As that mid-March week was coming to an end, academic administrators at colleges in the United States—and around the globe—were discerning the information they had at-hand about the novel coronavirus and making the best decisions they could for their students. Every news channel and talk show had something different to say about it. Information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed by the hour. Some states shut down—others remained open.

The world was in a heightened state of always learning, and as a result, always adjusting.

At Palmer College, the one constant in the ever-changing environment was its focus on the students—and the education it was committed to continuing, no matter what.

Cole Phillips, Palmer Florida student portrait.

Cole Phillips, Palmer Florida student.

“This was unprecedented—the very concept of the entire country shutting down was historical, and certainly not something any of us were expecting,” Cole says. “How long will this go on? What will this mean for students, or for potential jobs someday? Will I graduate on-time? It was very easy to be anxious.”

As Cole sought answers, so too did administrators at Palmer College. “The truth is that we were monitoring COVID-19 very closely prior to March—and we started to look at what we needed to do to continue to educate students and the patients we care for safely,” says Ron Boesch, D.C. (Main, ’91), executive dean of clinics for all three of Palmer’s campuses in California, Florida and Iowa. “Sure, we’ve had to pivot before due to consecutive snow days or hurricanes—but this had the prospect of being monumental. It would require a 180-degree shift in how we educate.”

While in-person classes and labs continued in early March, faculty and clinicians were already preparing to move to an online format should local, state or federal directives require it, or the school determined it was best for the safety of students and patients. “I think the calves of a lot of our faculty grew three or four inches because everyone was stepping up to do what we needed to do so that we could continue to educate,” says Dr. Boesch.

By day’s end on that fateful Friday the 13th, a worldwide pandemic had been declared by the World Health Organization and hotspots in northern California and central Florida meant the cancellation of in-person instruction at Palmer West and Palmer Florida. Two days later, the same was true at Palmer’s Main campus in Iowa.

“It was as if a machine had come to a grinding halt,” Dr. Boesch recalls of that mid-March weekend. “And, here we were rearranging all of those gears so we could take an interactive, hands-on approach to our students’ education and move it online so that the commitment we made to our students could continue.”

Down in Florida, Reinier “R.J.” Cinco was in his seventh quarter at Palmer Florida. “We were at the disposal of our emails,” R.J. says, now a 9th quarter student. “First, we were told only certain aspects of our education would be online, and then hours later, all of it would be. It kept changing.”

Now nearly seven months later, it’s a hot and humid day in Florida and R.J. is heading toward the student union. He’s just completed his first day in the student clinic—something he wasn’t sure would happen months earlier. “You know, there was so much change starting in March, but one thing that didn’t change was our expectations: the expectations students had for the education they would receive, and the expectations faculty had for our learning. I take my hat off to the faculty for pivoting online so quickly.”

Indeed, the weeks and months ahead would not be easy for anyone—for students, faculty, clinicians and the nation. “At first, I stayed in my apartment here in Port Orange,” R.J. says. “After I figured out that our 8th quarter was likely going to be online, I headed home to shelter-in-place with my family in Virginia. I left Florida not knowing what was going to happen.”

At home, R.J. found himself immersed in evening conversations with his father—a nurse working on the frontlines caring for patients with COVID-19. “He was seeing what the virus was doing to people, and was seeing the death it caused, and we both understood how important his work as a nurse, and mine as a future chiropractor, is to living with optimal health.”

While nothing can replace the hands-on instruction and clinical experience Palmer students have received for nearly 125 years, investments the College made in technology over the past two years allowed faculty and clinicians to continue their work educating students and caring for patients as COVID-19 continued to dominate the airwaves—and national dialogue.

“There is little upside to what Palmer College, and the world, is going through still today,” says Dennis Marchiori, D.C., Ph.D., chancellor and CEO. “However, the innovation and creativity and sheer will to deliver the best education possible that has been exhibited by our faculty and academic staff is extraordinary. Our decisions have changed as necessitated, and our community has adjusted with us.”

For students in their first quarters and trimesters, this meant lectures being delivered online—and small-group study sessions among classmates on Zoom. For students learning technique, this meant that fellow classmates became stand-in patients as faculty instructed technique courses in real-time. Students starting their clinical experience gave routine physicals or check-ups to their spouses or children as faculty assessed online. Clinics in all three states were deemed essential, and students were welcomed back into the clinic as soon as safety protocols were put in place and patients resumed care.

Reinier “R.J.” Cinco, Palmer Florida student, in mask.

Reinier “R.J.” Cinco, Palmer Florida student.

One plus to emerge out of this moment: a new digital library full of hours and hours of instruction and case studies is now available online—a resource for students whenever they seek additional support.

Now in the seventh month of the pandemic, students continue to adjust to learning in the age of COVID-19. Richard, who’ll graduate from Palmer West this winter, is getting used to the routine of putting PPE on and the additional safety protocols that have been put in place. A resident of Canada, where chiropractic was not deemed essential, he intends to stay in the United States after graduation and practice on a work visa. He is worried about being able to sit for national boards, because canceled examination dates with the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners have created a backlog. Until then, he’ll continue to study.

“My parents remind me that my education is still important—and it is still 100% in my hands. I cannot become complacent, just because the world around me is changing,” he says.

For Cole, the pandemic has been an extreme lesson in being adaptable. “I’m lucky to have learned most of the hands-on technique we are taught before the pandemic hit,” he recognizes. “We’re trained to assess what a patient needs, and to use the toolbox we have been given to help them achieve their health goals. The same applies to life: we’re presented with a situation, and it’s up to us to make the best of it for ourselves, and those we come in contact with.”

R.J. has been reminded how valuable in-person instruction is, and how important it is to make the most of the time he has been given from his professors. “It can be easy to take advantage of the hands-on time we are given, but I’ve learned not to take that for granted anymore. While there are limitations to technology, there are not limitations to learning. This is a unique time—and how we move through it now will shape how we practice in the clinic, and live outside of it.”

Back in his office in Davenport, Dr. Boesch is hopeful because of the lessons learned.

“It’s the defining moments that move us forward,” he says. “When we stress any system, there will be failure—or there will be adaptation. We haven’t done everything perfectly, but we’ve done everything with the intention of delivering the best education we can for our students and remaining open for patient care. There’s a big world out there, and all of us have to learn how to adapt to work and live in it if we’re going to get back to normal.”

It’s time for his next appointment, but before he turns to go he has one other thought.

“We love what we do. We love educating students. We love what Palmer stands for,” he says. “There’s a lot of opinions out there—and every single one of them helps us continue to be the very best chiropractic college. You better believe we’re continuing to listen and continuing to learn.”

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