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by improving the health of the individuals
and communities we serve -- especially those
who are poor and vulnerable.

Several years ago, discussions began between University of Saint Mary Physical Therapy Doctoral Program and Saint Vincent Clinic to develop on-site, integrated Physical Therapy services for Saint Vincent’s patient population. Initially Saint Vincent was used as an infrequent practicum site for students. However, starting in the fall of 2016, Saint Vincent Clinic offered weekly physical therapy through this collaboration. This project has allowed Saint Vincent to expand its services beyond primary care services to help improve the quality of life for those who need it most.

Through this process, patients are receiving specialized care and attention for conditions and injuries they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Whether it is an old injury or pain related to arthritis, physical therapy can offer advice for how patients can help themselves regain function with exercises or other strategies for pain relief. Some patients are seen only once with a home program. Others return several times as needed to make a customized plan depending on their needs.

Appointments are offered to patients on Tuesday afternoons, during the weeks students are in session. Throughout the fall semester, 54 physical therapy appointments were conducted.

It’s a great learning experience for the students as well. Working in teams of two, Doctor of Physical Therapy students gain more experience in treating patients and various conditions. For the first year student, this might be the first time that they are directing a patient interview, where they ask questions, get the patient’s medical history and learn more about the specific issue they can address. For other students, they receive real life experience in how they educate patients on exercise or gaining more practice in hands-on skills. No two patients are ever exactly alike, but the students do see patterns that help them make clinical decisions.

“To see the patterns, you must see patients and then evaluate your performance in assessing problems, making goals, and implementing a treatment program,” says Scarlett Morris, instructor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. “The more students can apply the skills that they are learning in the classroom with real patients, the more they will retain and truly understand. It makes all the difference.”

Patients are very appreciative of the program and have only positive things to say about their interactions with students. Scarlett has not received any complaints or concerns. In fact, many patients have commended the students’ professionalism and how good an experience that they had. For example, one patient learned how to properly use a cane. She reported that she wouldn’t have been safe without this training and that this training could help prevent her from more falls. Another patient reported neck pain feeling a lot better after having some hands-on techniques performed followed by her at-home program. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst pain), her pain was reduced from an 8 to a 5. This made her feel like she could return to her job search.

Additionally, they have an opportunity to learn the administrative side and use electronic forms to chart and record patient progress. This electronic documentation allows our providers to receive a report of what happened while we develop this multi-disciplinary approach.

“This is a great program for our patients. It can definitely help improve their quality of life, potentially allow them to go back to work, and learn an alternative way to handle the pain without pain medications,” says Briana Cavinaw, Saint Vincent Clinic Manager. “They’re really benefitting from this project.”

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