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Uzma Khan ’20 spent the spring semester interning with two clinical sites: the crisis unit at the Chapel Hill Police Department and the UNC Medical Center heart transplant, lung transplant and left ventricular assist (LVAD) programs; both internships migrated to telehealth platforms as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Uzma Khan
Uzma Khan

Khan, a native of India, said the police department tasked her with following up with people who needed support with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and asked her to connect them to necessary resources via telehealth. Khan said the experience brought her a renewed sense of appreciation for being with people and responding to situations in the field.

“I missed that part a lot—responding to those in a tough situation,” Khan said. “But what I did enjoy is still being able to reach out to the community and see what they might need.”

Khan said part of her internship included outreach to Chapel Hill’s most vulnerable populations, including those who were in need of housing. She said she worked on a sheltering project and researched how other cities and towns navigated housing resources for those with insecure housing during the pandemic.

“I was grateful that I got to be part of something that big,” Khan said. “The pandemic has really changed our lives, and we feel helpless and frustrated, but just being able to know that we’re still able to help the community through telehealth makes me feel good.”

Khan completed her UNC Medical Center internships alongside Eileen Burker, professor and the director of the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program in which Khan’s master’s degree program is housed. Burker is also an adjunct associate professor with the Department of Psychiatry and is the transplant psychologist who evaluates patients prior to heart or lung transplants and provides counseling to patients as they go through the transplant process. Khan had the opportunity to provide counseling to several individuals who were waiting for transplant.

“This is the type of work I want to do,” Khan said. She said she is considering a role as a crisis emergency clinician, such as work as a case manager or on a crisis intervention team.

Khan said these experiences field of mental health fostered resilience and inner strength, which she drew from in order to work with patients during the pandemic.

“I feel like I made a good decision to choose mental health as my field,” Khan said. “This is the time when people need support the most and need to talk the most.”

Khan said the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end is something that can bring about anxiety, both in clients and in mental health professionals.

“I want mental health providers out there to know they have to take care of themselves, too, and to not forget their own needs,” Khan said.

The Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Eileen Burker, PhD, CRC, is also a professor in the division.