This winter, students and faculty with the College of Allied Health Sciences’ doctor of physical therapy program took their classroom lessons to Cancun, Mexico, for a week of international service.
Back home, participating students say the trip’s lessons are still shaping how they view their future careers.
Second-year DPT student Kelli Barton says she signed up for the trip to be exposed to different cultures than she’s seen in Cincinnati.
"Our profession encourages us to meet the health needs of all people, so I thought it would be valuable to see the health disparities and experiences in another country,” says Barton. "Taking that experience back home, you see that these disparities aren’t just located in a rural part of Mexico. It’s inspired me to reach out and work to empower people.”
The group included eight students and four faculty members, as well as a community physical therapist and Rehabilitation Sciences program manager Beth Bextermueller. In the weeklong trip, the group provided services to children at a pediatric facility and senior citizens at a Catholic home and presented on healthy movement and diabetes to workers at a Cancun resort. They also spent a day in the city center, turning a local office into a free PT clinic.
At the resort, they talked with workers and their families on how to prevent injuries using good form, as well as how to protect past injuries and manage pain. They also presented on diabetes and biomechanics. In the end of the day, team members saw almost 125 people at the resort.
"We worked with everyone, from the manager to the maintenance staff and their families,” says student Barbara Zoretic, "For some of them, they weren’t able to see a doctor. As a physical therapist, ideally, we like to see patients over time, but here, the education we provided them with was the greatest thing we were able to leave them with.”
In addition to working directly with clients, much of the trip was spent working with caregivers at the residential communities. On the final day of the trip, some members stayed at the hotel with Resort employees, and others returned to the senior facility at the request of the Catholic nuns who ran the home.
Zoretic credits the return trip to the City of Happiness senior home as a highlight of her week.
As volunteer caregivers, the sisters were passionate about their work, she says, but lacked the equipment and training to move and position the residents. UC’s team spent several hours working with the nuns on proper techniques to avoid falls, injury and muscle tightness for the house’s population.
"The staff was originally very hesitant to ask questions,” says Zoretic. "But by the end of our time there, they were bringing us their questions and asking how to help their residents. It was the most rewarding part for me.”
The December 2013 trip was the first for the physical therapy program, and the group has already been invited to return.