PT Alumni Run Experiential Learning Site in Jamaica

By Purnell T. Cropper | August 24, 2010

For more than 15 years, physical therapy students have been able to travel with Dr. Karen Sawyer, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education, to St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica. In July, a group of nine students accompanied Sawyer, Dr. Susan Tomlinson, Assistant Professor of PT, and Dr. Carol Leiper, Emerita Professor of PT, to the clinic to gain hands-on experience and assist the local community.

In Jamaica, the group met with Brooke Riley ’04D.P.T. and Jennifer Brennan ’10D.P.T.,

who run a local clinic full-time and provide outpatient services to persons with neuromuscular diagnoses.

Riley has been practicing physical therapy in rural Jamaica since the fall of 2004. Her physical therapy interests include neurological rehabilitation and pediatrics. In July 2010, Brennan joined the efforts. They are hoping to give members of the community an opportunity to reach their full potential.

“Having Brennan here has been such a blessing,” says Riley. “Like me, she first came to Jamaica as a student and fell in love with the place and the people. I have enjoyed watching her transition from a student to a confident therapist and having the opportunity to be her mentor.”

Visiting Arcadia students work in the clinic four days per week and provide home visits one day per week. In addition to providing physical therapy services, students live with Jamaican families and participate in community activities. “I am always excited to give students the opportunity to be immersed in another culture,” says Riley. “They learn so much more than physical therapy, they learn about a different way of life and are challenged to think differently and are pulled out of their comfort zones where change takes place. For many of them it is a life-changing experience.”

“The patients that I saw were so grateful to receive any kind of treatment that they were willing to do anything I asked of them,” says Derek Landis ’11D.P.T. who participated in the two-week intensive in July. “I got to try a lot of techniques and practice my hands-on skills. It is very rewarding to work with less fortunate patients, especially when you can make a big impact in their lives.”

Sara Gassenmeyer ’11D.P.T. returned from Jamaica on July 10 and says the experience created new facets to her life, both educationally and personally. Noting the benefits of being taught by experienced Arcadia alums, she adds, “I was particularly touched by the courage of many of the stroke survivors and the cerebral palsy children I was able to treat. Many live challenging lives and need therapy in order to live productively and functionally. My eyes have been opened to so many different, unique individuals.”