When a child falls and skins their knee it can be made better with a Band-Aid® and a juice box, but for the elderly, losing your balance can present serious health risks. The Department of Physical Therapy partnered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Pacific (OLLI@Pacific) to offer a balance clinic. Preeti D. Oza, PT, PhD, NCS, assistant professor of physical therapy, oversaw the clinic. “Participants from the community get free balance and fall risk assessments,” said Dr. Oza. “They learn about benefits of physical activity and physical therapy. They learn exercises to improve balance and get reminders of simple home modifications to decrease their falls risks.”
At each session, doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students provided OLLI@Pacific members over the age of 65 a one-on-one balance assessment. The students then reviewed and discussed the results of the assessment with the participant. “With those results we can give them exercises to improve their balance and coordination,” said Suhani Patel ’17. Fellow student Kristina Chang ’17 shares that the goal of the students is to “help our patients understand what they can do on their own to decrease their fall risk.”
Patel and Chang volunteered to be the clinic’s student leaders. As student leaders they were responsible for determining the best physical assessments for students to administer. They also created handouts which reviewed the recommended exercises and provided information on fitness programs available in the community, many of which are free.
The clinic offered students the opportunity to practice applying the knowledge and skills they are learning in the DPT program. Dr. Oza elaborates, “Students who volunteer to organize the balance clinic get the opportunity to develop leadership and organizational skills. All of the students who take part in the balance clinic get an opportunity to improve the assessment and communication skills required to be a good physical therapist.”
Both Chang and Patel discovered that the clinic challenged them to hone their communication skills. Chang explains that in an academic setting patient care is discussed using highly technical terms. One of the benefits of getting out of the classroom is to encourage students to practice communicating with their patients in a way that it is easy for the patients to understand.
Patel describes the role of a physical therapist as someone who helps others reach their goals. She believes that the key to successful physical therapy is keeping the patient motivated. Throughout the DPT program, students develop the skills they will need in the future when establishing partnerships with their patients. “[We are] learning how to build a relationship with a patient; build that trust,” said Patel. She adds, “Our entire careers are based off interactions with patients.”
Dr. Oza believes that community outreach enriches the community. She shares, “Community outreach not only enables the individuals from the community to benefit from the services provided by our DPT students, but also provides the students opportunities to ‘get their feet wet’ with skills required to be a physical therapist. Students get to practice their interview skills, examination/evaluation methods and clinical reasoning skills required for appropriate interventions.” She adds, “We truly value this collaboration with OLLI@Pacific.”