Last year we very proudly announced that SLU’s Program in Physical Therapy had 2 active international clinical experiences: Hillside Health Care International in Punta Gorda, Belize and 2 clinical locations in rural Italy. Hillside offers students the opportunity to participate in community based rehabilitation, and combines education regarding physical therapy and treatment. Clinical sites in Italy have been provided by EduGlobal, a company that assists in placing students, and allows students to work primarily with patients recovering from neurological and orthopedic injuries.
Since our last announcement we have had multiple students placed at these sites. Their response to their experiences has been incredibly enthusiastic. Below are 4 accounts from our students, 2 who were placed at Hillside and 2 who enjoyed Italian rotations.
It is absolutely impossible for me to explain my experience in Umbertide, Italy in the detail that I want to relay. Words can never describe how incredible the experience was. While working at Istituto Prosperius, I had the opportunity to work with the Ekso Bionic, which is an exoskeleton robot for people who have paralysis to be able to walk. In fact, my CI was the first therapist in all of Europe to be certified to use the Ekso, so you can imagine the amount knowledge I gleaned from this. Beyond this specialization, all of the students had the opportunity to divide our time between ortho and neuro, and also spent a week in the pool with the aquatic therapist. I learned a popular technique used at Prosperius, called myofascial manipulation, which is similar to trigger point release. But more than the therapy techniques, I learned the art of communication, both verbal and nonverbal. The most Italian I knew going into this clinical was ciao, but I left being able to understand most of what people would say (if they spoke slow enough!) and was able to speak basic conversations. I learned all about Italian hand gestures and had many conversations using these when words could not be found. I created incredible relationships with the patients and therapists, some without ever having a conversation beyond “Ciao, come stai?” (Hello, how are you?). Working in a different country, with a completely different health care system, was an invaluable experience where I learned a new culture, a new language, and gained a new meaning of being culturally competent. I was able to learn many intangible skills that can’t be taught in the states. I sincerely hope everyone can have an experience similar to this in their life. My one piece of advice: Go in with an open mind! Step out of your comfort zone and throw yourself into the situation. I promise you will not regret it!
Katie Veith (DPT Class of 2014)
For anyone considering a clinical rotation in a foreign country, I would absolutely recommend it.
I can’t talk about my experience in Italy without talking about the Italian people. The Italians are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Professionally speaking, I learned the most about communicating with both colleagues and patients. Even those who spoke English very well had difficulty understanding me if I spoke at my normal speed. I had to learn to slow down and use simpler words, which is something I have put to use back here in the US. With most of my patients, I could have nowhere near a full conversation with words. But I learned you do not have to speak the same language to understand your patients. Fortunately for us, the Italians speak a lot with their hands. One of my favorite memories was when my clinical instructor stepped away and I was able to fully understand what my patient with aphasia was saying using only his hands. Of course, I could only respond with a simple “capito” (I understand).
Chelsea Mollenhauer (DPT Class of 2014)
Last year I completed a four week clinical rotation at Hillside clinic in Punta Gorda, Belize. It is difficult to put into words the growth, knowledge, and experience I had during this rotation, but I will try! This international clinical rotation gave me the opportunity to learn and practice in a community-based environment and to view the role of a PT in a different way. This type of practice model is very unique and utilizes education and empowerment of individuals in the community to create sustainable change. I quickly learned the importance of being creative and use the resources that are available in the community, which has led me to continue to think "outside the box" during other clinical rotations.
Another aspect of the rotation that I enjoyed was learning about how the clinic educates children in the community about disabilities. This topic is near to my heart. It was heartbreaking, but yet empowering to meet a young girl in a village that never went to school and never left her home due to a severe physical and mental disability. This experience was empowering because it showed me that there is still the need for education about disabilities in order to enhance the life and education of individuals with disabilities in all communities and countries. This quote from Archbishop Desmund Tutu perfectly summarizes my experience in Belize. "My humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion".
Barb Knezetic (DPT Class of 2014)
Barb Knezetic (center) on her clinical rotation in Belize (DPT Class of 2014)
It is difficult to summarize my time in Belize working with Hillside Healthcare International Clinic using just words, but I think it is important to say that I left Eldridge with more than just a clinical experience. Entering into the profession of physical therapy demands a specific sort of charism, stemming from a desire to work with others to actualize their greatest physical and functional potential. Being at Hillside and working alongside the people of the Toledo district instilled in me a deep humility and a newfound lens with which I may approach my future practice as a physical therapist. My rotation at HHCI was more than an academic experience, I left feeling fulfilled in mind, body, and spirit. As our profession advances, it is critical to understand the impact of what rehabilitation looks like locally and globally. Having been witness to physical therapy and healthcare in El Salvador through studying abroad and Belize through my clinical rotation, I see that international interprofessional communication can only better us as clinicians by urging therapists to be creative and work towards a common good for the benefit of the global community.
Lindsay Noesen (DPT Class of 2014)
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