By Kate Hunger
Riley Morgan was stressed out during his first day providing physical therapy services at a clinic in the Dominican Republic this summer. Then a man who came in complaining of shoulder pain walked in.
“I did three simple techniques that we all learned in our first year,” said Morgan, a third-year Physical Therapy student. “At the end of the exam I asked him to raise his arms again, and he was able to raise both arms above his head and didn’t complain of any pain at all. It was a beacon of hope for me. That patient helped turn my mindset around.”
Morgan was one of seven School of Health Professions students who joined students from the Long School of Medicine this June to participate in Project Hispaniola, an annual trip to provide health care services to people at several inland villages, called bateyes, near sugar cane fields.
The five third-year PT students and two Physician Assistant Studies students treated 147 people in five days, and the entire team saw more than 500 people, said Michael Geelhoed, D.P.T, OCS, MTC, associate professor and director of clinical education. PT students saw patients with back pain, knee aches and other conditions who were referred to them for treatment by medical students.
This summer marked the third time PT students have participated in Project Hispaniola and the first time students from another program in the School of Health Professions have participated, said Geelhoed.
“We visited the same five bateyes from prior years, and it was kind of neat because we recognized some folks,” he said.
PA student Jennah Hernandez said participating in the trip reassured her that she is on the right path.
“It’s amazing to see how much you can change someone’s life from a quick 10-minute visit,” she said. “I was able to do that for someone. In that respect, it reaffirmed that I am in the right career because it’s rewarding, but I also loved to do it. I woke up ready, thinking, ‘Let’s go and do it! I’m ready to serve people.’”
Hernandez also appreciated the opportunity to educate her student peers in other programs about what physician assistants do.
“Some of them had heard of PA but they didn’t necessarily know what our goals and responsibilities were,” she said. “That was also a good moment for me to be able to share what I do and why I’m here.”
Morgan learned two lessons on the trip: that he can help more people than he thought he could and to be thankful for what he has in life.
“As a student, you are constantly learning from someone who knows more than you,” he said. “In a setting like this, a person walks up to you and you are the one who can help them. That was empowering for me. It was a huge morale boost.”