Friday, May 9, 2014

Saint Louis University Physical Therapy Students and Staff Now Providing Pro Bono Therapy Services to the St. Louis Community

Plans to provide pro bono physical therapy services to underserved communities in St. Louis has been in the works for a number of years.  Dr. Barbara Yemm of the SLU Program in Physical Therapy began attending continuing education programing pertaining to student run free clinics in 2011 to help bring a student run initiative to fruition.  However, it wasn’t until Spring 2013 that Dr. Yemm found physical therapy students that shared that same passion.  I remember distinctly when Dr. Yemm approached Hilary Obert (a peer in the SLU DPT class of 2015) and me about joining her in this mission; it was at our poster presentation at the SLU Senior Legacy Symposium.   Hilary and I were both members of SLU Global Medical Brigades, where we traveled abroad to provide medical care to underserved cities in Honduras, Nicaragua and Ghana.  At the Symposium, we presented on the importance of physical therapy in medical missions abroad.  We both recognized the need for practicing physical therapists in holistic care for such communities in third world countries, but it was Dr. Yemm that drew our attention to the healthcare access disparity here at home in St. Louis.  We were hooked instantly. 

SLU PT students Sean McInerney and Amanda DiGangi (Class of 2015) at the HRC

With the help of Tyler Zahrili, a SLU School of Medicine student and Health Resource Center lead responsible for the strategic integration of physical therapy services, we were able to make this mission a reality.  In fall 2013, we drafted our proposal to integrate pro bono physical therapy services at the Health Resource Center(HRC).  The HRC is a primary health care service that is run by students from the SLU School of Medicine located in the Victor Roberts Building, 1408 N. Kingshighway Blvd.  The HRC offers many different clinic sessions to meet different patients’ needs.  These include: asthma and allergy clinic, pediatric clinic, well-woman clinic, and general adult clinic which takes place every Saturday.  After a semester of planning and organizing, it was on January 4, 2014 when we officially began offering physical therapy services at the HRC.  Since that day, we have had active physical therapy clinic for 14 weekends and have provided a total of 75 treatment sessions.  On a given weekend, we have two third year physical therapy students treating patients with the help of a supervising faculty physical therapist, and at least two second year physical therapy students involved with medical consultations.  The second year students are alongside School of Medicine students collaborating to decide if the patient they are seeing would benefit from physical therapy intervention.  It is this aspect of the clinic that makes the HRC unique, and one that we are very excited about.  Not only are we treating uninsured and underinsured individuals of St. Louis, we are also instigating interprofessional communication and collaboration between SLU healthcare students.  As the HRC continues to expand services to include other health professions, SLU students will further develop interdisciplinary skills that will resonate into their professional practice after graduation.  

SLU PT students Amanda DiGangi, far left, and Hilary Obert, far right (Class of 2015) with
SLU PT faculty member Barb Yemm, center

After years serving others through various clubs, medical missions abroad and this pro bono work in St. Louis, I know that as I pursue a career in physical therapy I will continue to serve my community as a practitioner, and especially as a volunteer.  Due to the time we have put into this pro bono mission and the gratitude it has brought each of us, I can confidently say that wherever life takes me, I will seek out opportunities to extend my vocation for service and physical therapy to those that cannot afford therapy services. 

-Amanda DiGangi, Student Lead and Co-Founder of the Physical Therapy Services at the HRC

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