By Kate Hunger
Five physical therapy students and two faculty members traveled to the Dominican Republic in late May to offer mobile health clinics for sugar cane plantation laborers who lack regular access to health care.
The trip marked the first time physical therapy students have joined Project Hispanola, a team of medical students and faculty advisors from UT Health San Antonio which has been making trips to the region since 2008, said Michael Geelhoed, D.P.T., OCS, MTC, associate professor and director of clinical education of the physical therapy department.
"They had noticed the past couple of times that there were patients who had aches and pains, things a physical therapist can treat," he said. "So they invited us along this year for the first time."
Geelhoed attended the clinical week of the trip, in which the group treated adults and children in five inland villages, called bateyes. About 600 patients were triaged and the physical therapy students treated 140 patients, often showing them stretching extension and core exercises to alleviate pain.
"Most of them were laborers who had back pain or knee pain," Geelhoed said.
"There were a few that had machete wounds that we dressed and cleaned. But we were able to make a difference ... most reported they felt better right away."
Rebecca Smith, a third-year physical therapy (PT) student, said the trip was a great way for PT students and medical students to learn about what each has to offer. The PT students spent a second-week helping the 11 medical students on the trip conduct their public health research survey.
Smith said the poverty she observed was striking.
"When I first got selected for the trip, I started researching and I had no idea a few miles inland these people are struck with poverty, hunger. They don't even have basic resources," she said. " Getting to see that firsthand impacted me big time."
Resourcefulness was a necessity, she said, describing how the team pushed school desks together to make exam tables and use a curtain as an improvised modesty drape for patients.
"We were really challenged and had to think on our feet that way," Smith said.