Wausau Pilot & Review
Alvernia University Physical Therapy student John Brushert, of Wausau, recently served patients in a nine-day interdisciplinary, intercollegiate clinical study abroad experience across five local community organizations in Belmopan, Belize.
“Our goal was to provide sustainable education first and, second, rehabilitation,” said Dr. Robin Zappin, assistant professor of physical therapy Alvernia University. “We wanted to teach as many healthcare workers and community members about wellness, prevention and rehabilitation as possible to avoid ‘combat therapy’ where you drop in, do something and leave. Students created presentations, posters and pamphlets to leave with the community members based on their needs.”
Alvernia University’s physical therapy and occupational therapy students and faculty partnered with Misericordia University’s speech-language pathology (SLP) program and Bellarmine University’s PT program on this transformational study abroad service trip. Brushert worked collaboratively with fellow students and faculty in Mercy Clinic, Help Age Belize, the YWCA, LIFE, and the Inspiration Center in Belize.
“Unlike here in the United States, the people of Belize are not as fortunate as we are here with accessibility and quality of healthcare available,” said Zachary Wanner, PT student at Alvernia University. “It was very important for myself and the students from the other disciplines that I had never met before to come together and determine the major concerns and develop a concise plan with very limited to no resources available to us. It truly amazed me how in such little time, we were able to not only treat the patient based on their individual needs, but also instruct the caregivers on how to continue the care, progress the interventions when gains were met, and utilize household objects to help aide progression of their care.”
This interdisciplinary, intercollegiate model allowed the students like Brushert to collaborate as professionals in their industry while developing an understanding of their patients’ needs for treatment from professionals across other disciplines.
“It was amazing to see each discipline address specific concerns and treat them so well,” said Ashley Martins, OT student at Alvernia University. “It was very patient-centered and efficient. My biggest takeaway is the respect that each discipline has for one another and how an interdisciplinary team can truly address each concern that an individual may have to provide truly patient-centered care and improve their overall quality of life. We all learned a lot from each other, and we will be better occupational and physical therapists in the future because of this experience.”
Prior to treating patients and throughout their trip, the entire group of students and faculty made it a priority to become immersed in the Belizian culture. They traveled to the Belize Zoo, which is a destination cherished by Belizians, as well as toured the Mayan Ruins, another historically and culturally significant archaeological site, among other activities.
“I honestly never experienced such gratitude and kindness from people before,” said Wanner. “It did not matter if the people had to walk three miles to get to a clinic that I was working at, or if they had to wait three hours to be seen for 40 minutes; the amount of gratitude given was astronomical. What really spoke to me the most was to what lengths the people of Belize were willing to do to be seen by students from the United States. I have countless people that I was blessed with treating over my week in Belize that stated that ‘You were a gift from God’ and asked, ‘Is it ok if I pray for you?’ following a treatment session. The community was so welcoming and willing to share their life with me, and I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this service-learning experience.”
Alvernia University is a Catholic comprehensive university with a liberal arts foundation founded by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in 1958. The university serves over 3,000 students in Reading, Pottsville and Philadelphia with a unique blend of rigorous liberal arts education, strong technical training in many high demand majors, ever-expanding experiential learning opportunities through study abroad and internship experiences and community engagement through its Franciscan-based community service model.