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Service Learning

What a difference a year makes. Last year eight Emory DPT students ventured to the Dominican Republic to provide educational workshops, perform home visits and train local providers in basic physical therapy techniques. In March, a second group of students made the same trip, but with some important modifications.

“Last year we did primarily home visits,” says Sara Pullen. DPT, MPH, CHES, assistant professor. “The homes are very far apart and you have to travel over rough terrain between houses. That made it difficult to see as many patients as we wanted.”

This year the Emory squad organized a community health model. “We had patients come to us at three different health centers,” says Pullen. “We coordinated with the Dominican partners to get the word out in advance, so when students arrived there were already people waiting to be seen. We were able to see about three times more patients this year, as a result. But we also visited those who could not travel to the health center in their homes, so we tried not to leave anyone out.”

For students, the Dominican Republic trip is a chance to use the skills they’ve been learning and discover just how much they actually do know. “It’s wonderful to watch their confidence blossom,” says Pullen. “They gain such a breadth of experience there. They see everything from infants with cerebral palsy to seniors recovering from a stroke, so it really runs the gamut.”

It’s also an opportunity for students to give of themselves. “There are no physical therapy services in the hospital and there is only one private physical therapy clinic, but it’s very expensive, so the majority of the people there just don’t have access to services,” says Lucia Rodriguez, a third-year DPT student who made the trip for the second time. “It’s mind-blowing. You see all these young guys who have had orthopedic surgery and have had no rehab afterwards and end up having problems that are totally preventable.”

In addition to treating patients, the students spent a lot of time educating local providers, patients and families about exercises and techniques they can keep using after the students leave. “I think that’s how we can make the biggest impact – teach them what they can do for themselves after we are gone,” says Rodriguez.

For more about Rodriguez’s experience, see the Student News section of this newsletter.

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