Students Dive into Program Development

December 15, 2015

In keeping with its mission to provide interprofessional educational opportunities and to reach out into the community, Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences is offering students in the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs a course that provides assistance to local agencies focused on community health.

“We wanted there to be a mutual benefit,” said Kai Kennedy, professor of physical therapy and one of two instructors in the course, explaining how students would learn more about community programs while giving assistance to programs in need. The course will eventually include students in the MDCHS physician assistant program, which begins next month.

Small teams of students in the community practicum course are paired up with various agencies or service groups to support proposed improvements. Some of those projects may be carried across semesters to ensure sustainability and follow-through in development.

“At no point are students doing PT or OT,” said Kennedy. “They’re never using their clinical skills in the course, but they are using their knowledge base, certainly.”

Second-year students Hannah Leaman, Jasleen Kaler, and Trey Tate chose to work with Churchville-based Health Equipment Loan Program, or HELP, a faith-based organization that lends medical goods to residents in need, free of charge.

The team developed a hybrid inventory tracking system to assist volunteers in tracking upwards of 400 pieces of medical equipment, adding an online component to the existing paper-based method.

The new HELP inventory system will launch January 1.

“Since completing the class we are each planning to continue to volunteer with HELP because we value its mission and want to make sure the implementation of our project is sustainable,” said OT student Leaman. “I enjoy being active in a local organization because I can see the benefit that it provides to the community. We worked with the volunteer population on multiple occasions and heard first-hand stories of the impact HELP has on the people who borrow equipment.”

Tate said he was impressed with HELP’s mission and its value to the surrounding area.

“Without this program many people would be unable to afford the supplies they need,” said the PT student. “Working with the HELP organization has made me realize that as healthcare providers we have a responsibility to not only our patients but to the community as a whole. I believe any community would benefit from an organization such as HELP.”

“As a future OT, I recognize the value of adaptive equipment to help people engage more independently in their daily activities,” Leaman said. “By knowing about programs like HELP that I can use as a resource, I will be able to improve access to medical equipment for people who can’t afford it.”

Other students worked with Mary Baldwin’s wellness program to develop a student-awareness campaign, while another team partnered with the Blue Ridge Area Amputee Group to help the organization achieve non-profit status. Students also provided assistance to Agribility, a program aimed at assisting disabled farmers and gardeners; helped Mary Baldwin Dining Services organize a Food Day event; and developed a marketing campaign for the Valley Program for Aging Services. Other projects involved Augusta Health, local schools, and even Mary Baldwin’s own Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.