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Ariel Freehill

MSHA student Ariel Freehill talks about her Applied Practice Experience

Students in the Master of Health Administration program in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois have had to adjust their internships—known as Applied Practice Experiences—because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Periodically, we will speak with them about how those changes have affected their summer plans and potentially career paths. Ariel Freehill was supposed to be working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, but instead is helping a rural hospital complete a Community Health Needs Assessment.

Q: How are your experiences different from what you expected?

A: Going into grad school, I knew an APE was required to graduate. I was fully expecting the experience to be relatively the same as the internship I had to complete for my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, that is not how this experience has panned out. Instead of working full-time hours with a preceptor, I am spending my days completing online workshops and skill development courses. It is definitely different from what I was anticipating, but I am still enhancing my skills and knowledge just on a self-paced basis instead of being in an organization.

Q: Are you doing something different for your APE than what you trained for?

A: Actually, no. Aside from the online tasks, I’m helping a rural hospital complete a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). This is a report that is done every three years, and I’ve had extensive exposure to this report in my class work leading up to this APE. COVID-19 has obviously impacted how that’s being done and it does affect the data collection but completing the report itself is fairly similar.

Q: Does your APE work lead you to think about a different career path?

A: Not at all. I love kids, and I have always dreamed of working for a children’s hospital. This alternate APE experience does not include any tasks that would heavily influence me to change my career path. 

Q: What happened to your original APE?

A: My original APE was supposed to be done with the Volunteer Services Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. That entire facility is full of immunocompromised, cancer-fighting kids, so my APE was canceled around mid-March due to COVID-19.

Q: Are you working remotely?

A: I am working from home, but all of my required activities are self-paced for the most part. Which is a blessing, but also a curse. It’s nice to not be restricted to a timeline for this alternate APE, but it also makes it hard to find the motivation to get started some days. 

Q: Has anything been frustrating about your change in APE status?

A: The most frustrating thing was the cancelation of my APE with St. Jude. I have dreamed of working for St. Jude since I was in elementary school. When I was informed of our required APE experience, I knew I was going to try and pursue St. Jude. My application for the position passed through five stages before being offered an in-person interview, and that interview was a four-hour interview in Memphis. Even through all of that, I had been offered the position. So, getting that call in March to say it was canceled was the most heartbreaking and frustrating thing that has happened during this pandemic. 

Q: What are you missing out on because of the pandemic, in terms of working face-to-face with people?

A: There are so many good things that come out of a face-to-face internship. I can confidently say I learned so much from my undergrad internship, and that is definitely what I am missing out on the most. I can complete all of these tasks that have been assigned to me, but it does not compare to the growth I could have had from being in-person on site. Even though I am helping with the rural hospital’s CHNA, I am still missing out on collaboration with others, especially because the process is so straightforward. I think I am most sad about missing that opportunity to be at a facility that I have dreamed about my entire life. 

Q: What advice do you have for future students who might have disrupted internships or APEs?

A: Expect the unexpected, be flexible, and give thanks to those who deserve it! Even before I got the call about my APE being canceled, the University had already told us we were not coming back after Spring Break, so I had a gut feeling that my cancelation was coming, but that did not make it any less frustrating. And because of all of these cancelations, myself and the others in my cohort, are now completing tasks that we never would have thought about doing because we have to have some sort of APE experience. Most importantly, I have to say a huge thank you to my program directors who spent so much time finding these alternative tasks for us that would still qualify for our APE experience. I know they spent countless hours researching items to complete and are still in constant contact, so I am very grateful for everything they have done!

Q: What other ways has COVID-19 affected you? Have you traveled? Have you been able to go home, see family?

A: I am not one who likes to stay home all of the time, I like to go places and see new things and I have not done that. So being cooped up in the house since mid-March has been driving me a little crazy. I do try to get out every once in awhile to see my family. My hometown is only about an hour away, so getting home to see and spend time with them is super easy, and I’m grateful for that. 

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