Surrounded by students in white coats holding clipboards and measuring tools, members of the Tri-State Amputee Support group did something few amputees prefer to do in public. They took off their prostheses.
They discussed what led to their amputation, from disease to disabling falls, and they answered students’ questions about how their injury has changed their day-to-day life.
Volunteers from the group make the trip to assistant professor of rehabilitation sciences Rebecca Leugers’ class once a year at French East.
There, students in the College of Allied Health Sciences’ Doctorate of Physical Therapy program are able to learn about amputations from the patients themselves, as well as practice assessments before they start clinical work.
"It’s good to get experience before you actually see patients in the clinic, just to have an idea about what to expect and what you’re supposed to be looking for,” says student Amelia Teffeteller. "And when you’re working with someone who has been living and coping with an amputation for several years, you can learn more about different techniques that could work for other people.”
Leugers regularly brings volunteer patients into her classes, though she says it’s taken her years to develop a network of people who will "come in year after year … and who are willing to let the students fumble around with them and learn.”
But she says it’s crucial for students to be able to talk with patients candidly, "to put themselves in the patient’s shoes and understand, holistically, how a catastrophic problem like having a stroke or amputation has affected the whole person.”
For her holistic teaching methods, Leugers received the 2011 Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching. In the recent class, students clustered in small groups, each working with two volunteers to conduct a general assessment and measure functional mobility.
After the class, everyone sat for a potluck dinner to honor the support group’s founder, Rich Friend, who died in 2010.
Group member Tim Shafer has been coming to the class for seven years. He says it makes him feel important to be a part of future physical therapists’ education.
"I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, out of giving back to the students,” he says. "Rebecca’s a great teacher and I think she can impart a lot of knowledge to her students. It’s a good teaching tool, I think, for the students to have a hands-on experience in class.”