Student clinic fills gaps in patient need

(Edmonton) Call it a health centre, a research facility or both, but a student physical therapy clinic at the University of Alberta serves an important need for an underserved population of patients with few affordable options.

The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s student physical therapy clinic provides hands-on opportunities to treat athletes and serve the health-care needs of students and patients who otherwise can’t get private care. Nearly a year since expanding to year-round operation, the not-for-profit clinic is proving a success for patients and students alike.

“Our students are so energetic and highly motivated to be successful, they do a really good job with our patients,” says Geoff Bostick, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and co-ordinator of the Corbett Hall Student Physical Therapy Clinic. “That combination of students’ energy and desire to learn, and a good group of physical therapists with a capacity and willingness to teach, gives the patients a really positive experience.”

The Department of Physical Therapy expanded the clinic last March to give students enhanced learning and research opportunities while serving an important role in the community.

In addition to serving students who can’t afford private physiotherapy, and serving Golden Bears and Pandas athletes, the clinic also helps people with unique physical therapy needs, such as recovering stroke patients. Bostick says such patients may have achieved their rehabilitation goals at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, for instance, but cannot afford private services to advance their recovery.

“It’s good for the soul to have people who care about what they’re doing.”

Six months of treatment at the student clinic has helped Larry Villetard regain mobility in his arm two years after suffering a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. Tasks such as opening a door or steering a shopping cart are again possible.

“To an able-bodied person it might not sound like much, but it’s a big deal to me,” says Villetard, 63, a retired plumber and electrician who has spent his entire life working with his hands.

It’s also the type of progress he wouldn’t have achieved without the student clinic because he can’t afford private therapy. He enjoys the treatment and his role in student learning.

“Working with these students, they’re so enthusiastic it’s really a treat,” says Villetard. “And besides the physical therapy, it’s good for the soul to have people who care about what they’re doing. They’re so thrilled they can bring about some change in your condition.”

The clinic gives students an opportunity to work with patients to fulfil clinical placement requirements, and provides additional training opportunities as an elective. Students work with trained faculty, but can also mentor their peers, which is another important skill, Bostick says.

Clinic has national and global appeal

The model has not only attracted the interest of local physical therapy students, but also pharmacy and kinesiology students who benefit from clinical experience, Bostick says. The clinic is also generating interest from physical therapy students across Canada and internationally.

Yung Wong, a second-year master’s student in physical therapy, appreciates the extra learning time students have with patients, peers and clinical instructors. She’s had a chance to learn from as many as five clinical instructors; in a private clinic there might be one or two, Wong says.

“The clinic provides a wide variety of learning and you are given a lot more time to learn, which absolutely helps me as a learner,” she says.

Wong adds she chose the U of A because it’s the only physical therapy school in Alberta and because it has a diverse faculty—factors that will yield strong career opportunities. Her experiences at the student clinic have only reinforced that decision.

“It has been affirming that I’ve chosen the right place to go.”