With the simple greeting, Muli bwanji, or “Greetings from Malawi,” a professor and her team of physical therapy students were met with a multitude of smiles and soccer games as they treated patients and trained community health workers. “It was a truly welcoming culture that was appreciative of any education or physical therapy skill that we were able to provide,” said Katherine Samstag ‘15, who was part of the December 2014 team.
Casey Nesbit, DPT, DSc, assistant professor and director of clinical education shared her passion for training health care workers with her students. Since 2006, Dr. Nesbit has visited Saint Gabriel’s Hospital and organized two-week trips for students. Last year’s trip included Samstag, Michael Dessel ‘15 and Meiying Lam ‘15. The students prepared for the Malawi trip with an elective course consisting of weekly seminars to discuss common health conditions as well as the local Chewa culture and the Chichewa language. In addition, they prepared materials for a community health worker training course.
The three-to-four day physical therapy course trains 20 health workers who serve villagers with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The program is essential to the local population because according to Dr. Nesbit, the hospital lacks a physical therapist and “there are only 25 physical therapists” in the entire country. The education the School provides is vital to a country where “physical therapy is a relatively novel idea,” said Dessel. As the students trained health workers, they were able to improve their Chichewa skills and eventually were able to have simple conversations and provide therapy instructions to their patients.
The collaborative educational experience is one the students benefited from and will use in their new careers. Dessel plans to begin his physical therapy career in New York City upon completion of his clinical internships. He hopes to eventually obtain his orthopedic clinical specialist certificate. Lam anticipates working in outpatient care as a certified orthopedic specialist for under-served communities after completing a residency. Samstag plans to move back to her home state of Washington. She looks forward to working as a pediatric physical therapist in Seattle.
Dr. Nesbit will keep living up to her teaching philosophy and “focus on active engagement, self-direction, reflection and guided discovery.” Every year, she plans to continue the incredible, real world education that the Malawi trip provides for the students at the School.