Since 2007 Pacific’s physical therapy students have been performing ergonomics evaluations for faculty and staff. Linda Panofsky, PharmD, was amazed by the noticeable difference that can happen after making even minor adjustments. She had several PT students come to her office to do an ergonomics evaluation. She expressed that they were “immensely helpful! They were very professional and so friendly. Prior to their visit, I had no idea how to adjust my office chair and I was sitting in uncomfortable positions while working. They all worked on it until we got it as perfect as it could be and now I am so much more happy working at my office!” She conveyed her gratitude to both the students and “to the program for offering the service.” Adjunct professor Jody Nance ’90, ’03, DPT, MS, BS stresses the importance of applying ergonomics in the workplace. “Office ergonomic assessments are an integral part of industrial physical therapy. Preventing potential injuries is as important as assisting with the recovery process after injury. Office ergonomic assessments apply correct body mechanics to the office situation. It involves looking at the person in relation to the office set up. It includes the chair, the computer keyboard and monitor and the entire working area. […] Appropriate positioning can reduces stresses on our muscles, tendons and joints. This will reduce the chance of injury [and] strain.”
Nance confirms that ergonomic evaluations are beneficial as “Faculty and staff do spend a fair amount of time in an office environment. Any time spent in poor positioning can lead to pain and/or injury. If we can provide some insight and instruction for improved positioning, then we can potentially prevent or decrease pain and stress.”
The students also benefit from conducting the evaluations as it gives them real world experience; bringing them one step closer to being practice-ready. Nance believes that the best way to learn is through practice. Nance asserts that “Being a clinically based instructor it just made sense to have the students take their knowledge and put it to work. I think there is a sense of reward when the students realize what they are learning is applicable and they know what they are doing.”
Getting outside of the classroom gives students an appreciation for the reality of the complexity of situations. “Once you have a concept to put into action is not always as easy as it seems. The practice they get as a student will make them a better practitioner when they graduate.” Nance explains, “Clinical application of learning at a student level allows them to submerged into nuances that are difficult to teach in a classroom. On paper you can see how things might be important. Sometimes is seems basic and easy, but when you apply it to an actual situation it can be an eye opener.”
Nance hopes that what students take away from the experience is that “Every situation is unique. You have to look at each person in their environment. I try to instill the importance of treating each situation as its own and to work with each individual in a manner that will suit them the best, yet be as ergonomically sound as possible.”
One thing that makes this program a valuable experience for everyone involved is it helps bring greater awareness to the dramatic impact of physical stress. Nance thinks that “Injuries are often associated with athletics or trauma. It is important for students, and the people they assist, to understand why positioning could cause as much of a significant impact on their lives as trauma.” For example, “having the keyboard tilted up places more stress on their carpal tunnel and could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.” Having an awareness of these factors can help curb the causes of stress, leading one to be both healthy and comfortable.
To learn more about Pacific’s Physical Therapy program go to pacific.edu/dpt.
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold