Helping hands

Helping hands

PT students run free clinic

By Shayna Brouker and Kim Libby

Students Steven Hunter and Laura Hayes treat Paul E. Cohns Sr. who has arm and back pain after many years of working in construction. Photo by Maria Belen Farias.

Yvette Headley, 45, has two kids, but they are too old to qualify her for Medicaid. Her income does not afford her the luxury of health insurance. She suffers from piercing, persistent headaches.

With nowhere else to go, Headley comes to a small building in downtown Gainesville once a week to be tapped, twisted and stretched by young adults half her age.

“It’s a blessing,” she said with a smile. “I’d be hurting without this place.”

This place is UF’s Physical Therapy Equal Access Clinic, where physical therapy students and patients plagued by financial and bodily woes enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. An affiliate of the College of Medicine’s Equal Access Clinic, the clinic offers free physical therapy services to patients unable to afford treatment elsewhere. Located at the Gainesville Community Ministry, the clinic welcomes walk-in appointments and is open from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Thursday.

Students provide most of the care while faculty members and local clinicians supervise and offer guidance. Students founded the clinic in 2009 so they could apply classroom knowledge to actual patients.

Second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student Tony Lauretta has already seen the clinic benefit patients.

“They don’t know why their back hurts or why they have pain at certain times of days,” he said. “If we can help them with a treatment plan or point them to someone who can, they realize they can get better, which drastically improves their quality of life.”

The work in the clinic is divided among students, who are assigned roles based on their level of education. The first-year students take vital signs and observe while the second- and third-year students examine patients, develop a therapy plan and offer advice to younger students.

It’s the middle of the summer semester and Shannon Burton, a first-year student, is volunteering at the clinic for the second time. Although first-years’ interactions with patients are usually limited, a third-year student instructs her to test a patient’s reflexes by tapping below his kneecap with a tendon hammer.

“It has definitely changed my outlook on patient care,” Burton said. “It teaches you to be more interactive and to build a trusting relationship with the patient.”

This special dynamic, or “peer learning,” is just what faculty adviser Mark Bishop, P.T., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, and his fellow faculty members hoped would spring from the clinic’s cooperative environment.

“I think it is profoundly effective,” he said. “If you look at the clinical literature, peer learning tends to be a strong way of conveying information because you’re more likely to listen to a peer than to me. This group of students has exceeded my expectations. We made the decision several years ago to recruit people that had both evidence of leadership and investment in service into the program. I think this is reaping the benefits of that.”

Ashley Kennedy shows Yvette Headley exercises to relieve her headaches. Photo by Maria Belen Farias.