June 24, 2016
A team of East Carolina University graduate students from three College of Allied Health Sciences disciplines spent a recent Friday conducting a fall prevention clinic for seniors - and also learning how their careers will intersect after graduation.
Eighty students from physical therapy, physician assistant studies and occupational therapy converged on a church in the rural Black Jack community June 10, conducting assessments as a health care team for about 20 local seniors.
The outreach event began four years ago because PA Studies faculty member Kim Stokes "wanted students to work and talk with elderly people outside of a nursing home setting - ambulatory folks." After an occupational therapy student working with Stokes mentioned what a good exercise it would be for her peers, Stokes reached out to colleagues from that department and physical therapy.
This was the first year all three groups were present in Black Jack.
"They're learning how to work on an interdisciplinary team," said Jennifer Radloff, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy. "We selected tools…where they could have 'ah-ha' moments about skills that cross over, and also things that are distinct to their fields."
With each senior patient, the PA students gathered basic vitals and history, asking about past falls or significant medical incidents. Physical therapy students then put them through a series of exercises testing balance and gait. Occupational therapists administered vision tests and other mental tasks.
Beyond the important clinical interaction, the students said they benefited from spending time with one another.
"We all had questions about each other's professions," said Bansari Patel, a physician assistant student.
"I don't think I realized how much these two (physical and occupational therapy) worked together," added Danielle Koch, also from PA Studies.
In small groups they discussed similarities and differences in their coursework, what health care settings might hire them in the future, and how they would approach patient care as a team.
"I measure success by whether the students learned something they didn't know before," Stokes reflected after the event. "Either about how to address the geriatric population or another professional.
"From the patients, it's hearing them say things like, 'these students were professionals. I want them to take care of me as I continue to age.'"
Along with Christine Lysaght from the Department of Physical Therapy and Young Joo Kim from occupational therapy, Stokes and Radloff are conducting research around the student collaboration. They're measuring whether students' attitudes about interprofessional activity change after such interactions, and also if there are changes in their knowledge and perceptions about fall risk prevention and screenings.