Real Exams Come Unproctored: DPT Students Discover Strength in Uganda

By schwartzsa | May 4, 2012

Craving adventure, Bethany Wolf ’12DPT departed for a small, rural village in western Uganda in December 2011 to observe care at St. Ambrose Charity Health Centre and to visit her Ugandan colleague, Joseph Birungi. She traveled with her friend and classmate Alana Garcia ’12DPT. Once settled, the two realized their three-week excursion was going to be filled with slightly more adventure than they had originally bargained for.

“This is a trip that I had wanted to do for a long time, and because I had some time off before graduating I felt like that would be my perfect opportunity,” says Wolf. “Alana and I met up with my friend at the airport in Entebbe and stayed with him and the other employees at the clinic.” When they arrived at the clinic, however, they noticed patients lining up to be seen—by them. Feeling bewildered and unprepared to conduct treatment during their stay, Wolf and Garcia initially resisted.

“The clinic had already made an announcement over their radio system that there would be physiotherapy services offered to the local community for a short period of time,” says Wolf. “Once we found out people had traveled very far to see us though, we did not have the heart to turn them down.”

Arcadia had prepared Garcia and Wolf well for this challenging experience. The DPT students were armed with two and a half years of academic training in Glenside, as well as a very applicable international experience. In June 2011, Wolf traveled with Professor Karen Sawyer to St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, where they worked at Friends of the Redeemer United (FORU), an out-patient clinic for neuromuscular diagnoses under the direction of Brooke Riley ’04DPT. Garcia embarked on the same international clinical experience in November. (Read more about the International Experiential Learning Opportunities for DPT Students.)

“In both Uganda and Jamaica, the patients were from impoverished farming communities,” says Wolf. “Not only were the patients lacking in resources but the facilities we were working out of were also lacking. This forced us to look outside the skills learned in the classroom and to be as creative and insightful as possible. These international experiences opened my eyes to a different type of patient than those described in our textbooks and seen on various clinical rotations. They rely almost exclusively on their abilities to farm in order to survive. From a physical therapy standpoint I saw that even a little bit of education and therapy was immensely appreciated and invaluable.”

The word frantic doesn’t begin to describe the pace at which Garcia and Wolf worked. They averaged nine-hour days, six days a week, and had to draw upon all their faculties to provide outstanding health care, whether that meant drawing pictures and composing take-home instructions for the patients or giving presentations to clinic staff on proper posture, body mechanics and preventative exercises. In addition, they provided their services during a two-day medical camp, helping to serve the hundreds who arrived for various medical services, including gynecology and obstetric care, eye surgery, family planning, circumcision surgery and general medicine.

“Sometimes it is difficult to summarize what I took away from the experience, because to this day I am still attempting to piece things together in my mind,” reflects Wolf. “One thing that I absolutely took out of the experience is the sensitivity required when living in a culture so vastly different from your own. At times, it is important to let go of everything you know from back home and just immerse yourself as much as possible in the new culture.”

Wolf notes that she learned some of the local language, dressed in traditional skirts and ate whatever food was placed in front of her. “More importantly,” she says, “I discovered that to gain respect in the local community one has to concentrate on doing whatever it takes to avoid being burdensome and disruptive. We had to drop our own cultural norms and agendas to be able to engage and gain the respect of those around us.”

This summer, Wolf will rejoin FORU to work alongside Riley for approximately six months, providing physiotherapy services.