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Ronald Powell receives physical therapy from ECU PT student Claire Harrison and assistant professor Dr. Christine Lysaght at a new student-run clinic. The clinic opened this summer in partnership with ECU Physicians Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (Photos by Cliff Hollis) 


Student-run physical therapy clinic aids training, patient care

Sept. 30. 2016

By Kathryn Kennedy
University Communication

East Carolina University physical therapy students are gaining valuable career experience and improving access to care for patients in the East through a new, student-run clinic.

Launched in July, the clinic is a partnership with ECU Physicians’ Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center. It’s an extension of the patient-focused, interdisciplinary care that is taught across ECU health sciences programs, said Dr. Christine Lysaght, clinical assistant professor in physical therapy.

The students – under faculty supervision – are helping bridge a frequent gap in insurance coverage that causes many Physical Medicine and Rehab patients to forgo the physical therapy they need. 

Physical therapy student Laura Needham works with patient Ronald Powell.

“Seeing patients slip through the cracks of their health care coverage without the ability to pay for services out of pocket is heartbreaking,” said PT student Blaire Conner.

“By allowing students to provide services, help comes at a significantly reduced cost,” added Jennifer Langdon, a third-year student.

Langdon is among those who collaborated with faculty and physicians to secure a clinic space, establish patient scheduling and assess the financial viability of the project. As a class coordinator, Conner acts as a peer leader in preparing students to practice physical therapy at the clinic.

“I think most of us were drawn to physical therapy because we wanted to help people,” Langdon said. “Living in pain is a very difficult way to live, so if I can help people return to their normal lifestyle, there’s nothing better than that.”

While the students are focused on the benefit to the patient, faculty members are excited by the learning that occurs in those interactions.

“The soft skills of listening and communication are so important to what we do,” Lysaght said.

“What you see in the book is very different than what you see in actuality,” agreed Dr. Jayveeh Navarro.

A clinical assistant professor in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Navarro previously worked as a physical therapist and was delighted when the clinic found a home in his practice.

“There is a lot that comes into play – (the patient’s) attitude, physical condition like weight and how many limbs they have. Your interaction is very dynamic.”

Second- and third-year students will get that valuable training by seeing patients in the clinic, while first-year students help with scheduling and obtaining patient histories.

“We really see it as another avenue to enhance their education while serving,” Lysaght said.

The Department of Physical Therapy is housed in the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences. It offers a Doctorate of Physical Therapy – a three-year program that admits 30 students annually, with preference given to North Carolina residents.

This new clinic complements the training that comes from ECU physical therapy’s affiliation with hundreds of hospitals, clinics and facilities in and out of state.

“A student-run clinic gives us freedom to make clinical decisions…and gain experience with documentation, electronic health record, and billing systems in an open learning environment,” Conner said.

“We’re learning along with our patients, which is pretty awesome.”

Ronald Powell is assisted in walking by physical therapy students and faculty during a PT session. Students are offering care through a new clinic that bridges access to services for patients with insurance obstacles.

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