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Clarke DPT Students Offer Free Practicum to Local Patients

April 1, 2019

Clarke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students host a clinical practicum in the Robert and Ruth Kehl Center on the campus of Clarke University every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. They serve patients from from the tri-state area who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. This service is free and the positive results are two-fold. Students get hands-on experience with actual patients in real-life situations, and patients receive one-on-one consistent care throughout the year. The students also travel to places such as Mount Carmel, Mt. St. Francis, the YMCA of Dubuque, Assisi Village, and Oak Park Place to provide patient care.

The practicum on Clarke’s campus began in 2001. The idea was to provide free, accessible care for those in need, while providing DPT students the ability to evaluate a patient, decide on a plan of action, and implement the care.

Bill O’Dell, Chair and Professor of Physical Therapy, said, “The clinical practicum has grown signifantly over the years. It started with students seeing a small number of patients in the Kehl Center. We now reach out into the community and provide up to 90 patient visits per week for indivduals who otherwise would not receive appropriate care.” He said that faculty have conducted research on the value of this type of experience and published ‘Utilization of an Integrated Clinical Experience in a Physical Therapist Education Program’ in the Journal of Physical Therapy Eduction. He continued to say that students consistently state the practicum is a strength of the program.

Tim Ehlinger, Adjunct Instructor of Physical Therapy, has been involved in this effort since 2010. He said, “Most of these students are in the first or second year of their DPT. Usually a second-year student mentors a first-year student for a semester, and then the next semester that student is on his or her own. It’s an amazing opportunity for our DPT students to get comfortable working with actual patients and the varying levels of pain they experience.”

Louise Ottavi began attending the practicum when her doctor diagnosed her with lower back pain. She said, “Coming to this practicum at Clarke has helped me immeasurably. When I first arrived here, I could barely make it around the track once without limping terribly. Now I’m proud to say that I completed a 5K walk! I really wanted to do this for my family vacation, so I would be able to keep up and not hold anyone back. And, I’ve been very successful!”

Jenny Wicks is the first-year student who is currently working with Ottavi. She said, “My process is to evaluate the notes from her doctor and conduct my own evaluation to determine her mobility and pain level. I find out what her goals are and run through some movements with her to check her for deficits. I plan her physical therapy sessions around all those factors.”

Jennifer Mai, Associate Chair and Professor of Physical Therapy, has published research on the effects of the clinical practicum on the students during their first, full-time clinical education experiences. Students who completed this type of experience prior to their first, full-time clinical experience demonstrated significantly better interpersonal skills and improved confidence compared to students at other programs who did not have this type of experience. She notes, “Clinical practicum allows students to gain confidence in talking to patients, practicing their hands-on skills, and through mentoring. Patients benefit from the personalized experience as each exercise program is tailored to the individual. Faculty benefit as we can assess how the students are implementing skills taught in the classroom. It truly is a win-win-win situation.”

Nick Dolezal is a first-year student working with Bernadette Hilby. He shared, “When I met Bernadette, she could barely move her legs when in a sitting position. We began by what we called ‘marches,’ which consisted of lifting the leg a half an inch or an inch off the ground – whatever she could manage. Now she can lift her legs high enough to tap an upside-down cup on the floor in front of her. It really is amazing watching the progress.”

Hilby, who was sporting some colorful floral sneakers, said with a smile, “I am always sure to wear my pretty shoes when I come here since I know I’ll be working on my feet and legs.”

The patients who come to the practicum praised the program, saying it has not only helped them physically, but also they like the opportunity to socialize with the other patients and with the DPT students.

Douglas Hilby, who comes to the practicum to work on his balance, said, “I enjoy chatting with other people who might be facing the same life challenges. And, of course I like to hear about what these young folks are up to. Keeps me young and on my toes.”