Grant Builds Bridge Between Physical Therapists at Pacific and in Malawi

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Elisa Carey ‘14, and Kristen Damazio ‘14 with Malawian children

A unique aspect about programs at Pacific, specifically the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, is that students have access to experiential learning opportunities that help shape practice-ready professionals. Student physical therapists are building their skills by applying them in international settings, providing physical therapy to patients and assisting in training Malawi community volunteers in providing proper care.

In December, Dr. Casey Nesbit, Assistant Professor and Director of Clinical Education, along with Carolyn Coghlan ‘14Elisa Carey ‘14, and Kristen Damazio ‘14 traveled to Malawi where they were able to participate in service learning, teaching and research. The trip was partially supported by the Rupley-Church for International Relations Grant.

As part of the service learning component, the students participated in an elective course taught by Dr. Nesbit which helped them plan and prepare for the trip. In Malawi, the students spent the majority of their time at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in a palliative care ward caring for patients who suffered from a physical disability.

“I’m so thankful to Dr. Nesbit for welcoming us into her Malawi family, for her commitment to St. Gabriel’s and her efforts to improving the quality of care in Malawi. When I reflect on my Pacific experience, I know that I made the right choice. I love that Pacific values international and local relationships and partnerships, and I love that they are hiring professors, like Dr. Nesbit, who can tangibly bring that mission statement to life,” said Coghlan.

Carolyn Coghlan ‘14, Elisa Carey ‘14, Kristen Damazio ‘14, and Dr. Casey Nesbit with Malawi community workers

St. Gabriel’s is home to 300 community health workers who dedicate their spare time to the community assisting patients who need additional care at home or those who live in rural areas. Due to the lack of physical therapists and home care resources in Malawi the workers are the only resource for these patients. As part of a new program, Dr. Nesbit and the students coordinated a three day training session for 20 community health workers. The training consisted of lectures, practical teaching and application during a home visit. Participants were provided with a manual of 22 newly learned skills such as range of motion, how to properly roll someone in bed and how to use a cane. Once the skills were taught, the workers were tested on how well they learned each skill. Dr. Nesbit and the students also shadowed the volunteers on home visits to see how well each skill was applied in a real life setting.

“Our hope was to teach skills that were devised for carryover. I saw the effectiveness of our service through the knowledge assessment, the skills competencies and the observation,” said Dr. Nesbit. “I believe our students made a big impact in that they created a huge bridge between Pacific and Malawi. Hospital staff and patients were impressed because once the students returned home they kept asking where the students went,” she added.

The manual that was distributed during the training received high praise from the director of the National Palliative Care Association of Malawi and, as a result, will be be distributed as part of the national guideline for their respective training. Dr. Nesbit will be continuing this collaboration with St. Gabriel’s to graduate 20 individuals from her training each year.The students were also grateful for this unique opportunity. Coghlan explains “When I witnessed the enthusiasm that the community health workers had in learning basic physical therapy techniques and the excitement they had while applying this new knowledge in their community, I realized it’s these moments that make me proud to be a physical therapist and honored to share my knowledge.”

In addition to the training, Dr. Nesbit taught two courses to two classes at the University of Malawi in the School of Physiology. Each class was made up of 40 students and these students represented the first ever student physical therapists in Malawi. She also conducted research focused on physical therapy ethics in a global context.

When asked about the personal impact of this trip Carey replied “The biggest personal impact was working with a people that experienced so many daily hardships yet exuded joy like no one I have ever met. They were an amazingly welcoming community, always excited to share their culture, all the while eager to learn from us too.”

Dr. Nesbit has a long standing relationship with St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Malawi which allowed for a smooth transition. For the past eight years she has been spending two months out of the year practicing physical therapy there.