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Clarkson University Physical Therapy Students Learn From Patients

Nothing beats a walking-talking lesson in healthcare, so Clarkson University physical therapy students learn in clinics as well as in the classroom.

PT ClassroomIn fact, 23 students just completed a crucial segment of their education -- a two-week pro bono clinic working with 10 Potsdam-area residents who have neurological impairments such spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease or cerebral vascular accidents (strokes). The annual event has earned resounding cheers from the patient volunteers as well as the students.

"This is a great learning experience," says Clinical Assistant Professor Vicki LaFay, the director of clinical education for Clarkson's Doctor of Physical Therapy program. "It lets the students put their skills to the test. The patient volunteers came to campus for an intensive clinic, where teams of students practiced examination and evaluation skills, set up individualized treatment plans and home exercise plans, and provided group education. Students got to practice skills they would use in a traditional clinic, which prepares them for clinical internships and future practice as physical therapists."

LaFay's colleagues at Clarkson University, Clinical Assistant Professor Rebecca Martin and Part-time Instructor Heather Shattuck, also took part in the clinic.

PT GroupMartin, LaFay and Chairman and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy George Fulk have written a compendium, Balance Assessment Lab and Integrated Patient Experience, on this model of education. LaFay reports that the Neurology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association deems it an example of best practice and excellence in teaching.

Student Britni Keitz says the clinic was an "awesome experience" that allowed her to apply everything she has learned this past semester.

"I had my patient do waltz dancing for the first time," Keitz says. "His wife came in and they waltzed together. She said she loved it and she thanked me. To help someone this way makes it clear this is the right profession for me. We saw positive results from our work in two weeks and it's wonderful knowing we made a difference."

The patient volunteers enjoy the clinic so much that some of them come back year after year, and keep in touch with students after they graduate, LaFay adds.

The physical therapy students also received help from some local businesses. Keitz contacted Great Northern Printing Co., which donated shirts with a special design for the volunteers, and Harris Medical gave an educational talk on durable medical equipment and adaptive equipment. The volunteers also learned about water therapy, winter safety, and preventing falls. As a small but helpful gift, students prepared laminated wallet cards listing the participants' medications, dosages, emergency numbers, etc.

At Clarkson, physical therapy is a graduate program that goes year-round, allowing the students to complete their studies in eight semesters. For Keitz and her classmates, every semester is a new major topic. She really like it this way, and says, “I think it will make us better clinicians in the future.”

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

Group photo caption: Students in Clarkson University's Doctor of Physical Therapy program conduct a free two-week clinic each year as part of their studies. Front row from left: students Rebecca Martin, Vicki LaFay, Heather Shattuck; Second row: participants Bill Lewis, Bill Swift, Ellen Hall, Sharon Norbach, Terry Shantie, Shirley Lamendola, Tom Lazore, Dave Williams, Richard Geiser. Back row:  students Britni Keitz, Marissa Cook, Bill Slapar, Sean Dodson, Jacob Poole, Paul Colbert, Kyle Brabaw, Stacey Garcia, Catherine Wright, Peter Ihrke, Jason Guennel, Caitlyn Hennessy, Sam Fain, Erik Obey, Samantha Williams, Kayla Brabaw, John Yeaton, Morgan Burgner, Jordana, Reich, Christian Eggleston, Brittany Sharlow, and Courtney Popsie.

Classroom hands-on photo caption: At Clarkson University, second-year physical therapy students work with patients with spinal cord injuries. From left are Morgan Burgner, Heather Shattuck, Marissa Cook, Tom Lazore, Courtney Popsie, Caitlyn Hennessy, and Jason Guennel.

[Photographs for media use are available at and .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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