My SP Story During COVID

Author: Mary Gray
Submitted by: Kerensa Peterson and Todd Lash

I graduated with a degree in theatre, specifically performance, from that school up north in the 1980’s. A job with a for-profit company brought me to Columbus upon the completion of my degree. The company transferred the Columbus native to the Detroit area, and me, the Detroit area kid, to Columbus. A bit of a joke on someone’s part, I suppose, and now home to me for over three decades.

Turns out I was not cut out for life outside of the arts and my passion eventually led me to arts administration positions in both theatre and later, visual arts. After a satisfying 26-year run, I retired as the director of the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in February 2019. Several retired friends told me it would take a couple of years to settle into my new life and to figure out what I wanted to do with the blank slate of my future. I knew I wanted performing to play a part, I would have time to devote to it. Within the first six months of retirement, a Columbus actor friend and a cousin who works at University of Central Florida College of Medicine introduced me to the foreign-to-me concept of a standardized patient. My cousin’s enthusiasm for her work as a standardized patient educator at UCF, and her high regard for the program at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, sparked my interest and put me into action.

On October 4, 2019, a couple of months after completing a detailed application, a phone interview, in-person training and a background check, I worked my first SP event. From day one I was smitten with the work of an SP, the program administrators, my peers, the students, the environment, and much to the surprise of everyone who knows me as a devoted Wolverine, the Ohio State University. SP work offers me the chance to learn, to be of service and to use my acting skills. What more could I ask for?! I fully embraced each encounter and was always looking forward to the next recruitment email. I was as happy as I had ever been with what really does not feel like work to me – then COVID-19 struck in mid-March. As the reality and severity of the virus set in, one SP event after another fell off my calendar as it did for all SPs. I was heartbroken because I had found such a good match and I genuinely enjoyed being a new member of the SP family in which I feel so comfortable and welcome. I feared my SP days were over, at least for the foreseeable future.

Within a couple of weeks, an email was sent to all SPs with a survey regarding our computer proficiency and access. Approximately six weeks later after an incredible amount of behind the scenes work/magic was performed by staff, I was one of a few SPs recruited to test drive Zoom encounters. Fortunately, while not perfect for learning, Zoom gives students the opportunity to test out telehealth and explore various medical scenarios with SPs.

Though I deeply miss coming to campus to work face to face with students and to see my fellow SPs and the staff, I am beyond thrilled to be back in the saddle doing what has become a true passion for me. Before and after each encounter, I check in with other SPs and the staff, so it does not feel like I am working in a void. Until we can safely meet in person, I will continue to be grateful for all opportunities that come my way. I look forward to the day when I once again get to share a bathroom, ha-ha, potluck meals and stories with the people I have come to really enjoy.

PS One upside to the cancellation of Big Ten football this year, Michigan cannot lose to OSU.

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