By Kayley Perfetto, Ph.D. Student, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
In March 2020, I was faced with a choice. I was nearing the end of the second semester of my first year in my Ph.D. program in Health Quality (HQ) and the following semester I was expected to begin an internship. In order to apply the knowledge and skills gained during two semesters of course work, first-year Ph.D. HQ students are required to complete a 200-hour internship at a location that aligns with their areas of interest. Based upon a suggestion from my Ph.D. supervisor, planning had been underway since November 2019 and I was excitedly preparing for a trip to Yorkshire, England. I had been looking forward to spending two weeks on-site with the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research (YQSR) Group which hosts the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (YH PSTRC), assisting with two pre-determined research projects. Unfortunately, at that time the COVID-19 pandemic had started to take hold of the world and my carefully laid out plans had to be abandoned and I needed to decide what to do next. The faculty at Queen’s provided my classmates and I the option of completing, what was supposed to be an in-person internship, virtually, or delaying our internships for a year, and hope for the best that international travel could occur in a year’s time.
To provide a bit of context, I will share a little bit about Queen’s University and the HQ program that I am fortunate to be a part of. Queen’s University is located in beautiful Kingston, Ontario, Canada, a city with a population of 136 000, along Lake Ontario. Queen’s University is Canada’s oldest University as it predates the founding of Canada by 28 years. The university was modeled after universities in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
I live in London, Ontario, a city that is roughly four hours from Kingston and therefore my Ph.D. is being completed virtually. The HQ Graduate programs are designed for individuals like myself, health care professionals who are working in the field, who want to further their education in quality and patient safety. I am a physiotherapist by training, and I am currently working as a Patient Safety Specialist in a hospital organization in London, Ontario.
After careful consideration and meetings with my supervisor and the YQSR team to discuss whether my internship could be made virtual, I decided to give it a go and hope for the best. Utilizing a variety of virtual technologies and many emails, I have been able to contribute to three research projects, (one of which I am currently contributing to) one of which used qualitative data to understand the experiences of patients with learning disabilities and how these experiences impacted patient safety. The other project was a scoping review, completed as the first phase of a large five-phase study, which explored the current involvement of patient and family members in serious incident investigations. Both projects are ongoing at this time and both will be submitted for publication within the next few months. I was invited to present the key learnings from my internship at a virtual YQSR staff meeting in March 2021 and I shared my experiences at the academic series held at Queen’s University.
Through the guidance and support from the YQSR team, this internship allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my substantive area of interest, patient and family involvement in patient safety, the knowledge that has been invaluable as I develop my thesis. During my internship, I was able to (and continue to!) work alongside and network with some renowned researchers in the field, learn more about their current projects and hear their perspectives on the direction research in this area is heading. Being part of these three projects, allowed me to consolidate what I learned in my first year Ph.D. courses, gaining an increased understanding of the practical aspects of conducting research.
This internship provided me with so many opportunities, but what I feel most fortunate about is having the opportunity to meet such wonderful people. The team at YQSR was warm and welcoming and was genuine in the desire to make this experience a success. They provided resources and experiences that they felt would be helpful for me and shared information about themselves and their experiences going through the pandemic. This internship was possible due to the commitment and collaboration between the team at YQSR and Ph.D. HQ team. When my original plans were unexpectedly altered by COVID-19, both groups worked together to ensure that I was able to continue with and benefit from my internship. For their dedication to ensuring that I had the best experience possible, I offer a heartfelt thank you and hope someday soon I have the opportunity to thank you in person.