PA, PT Students Collaborate to Share Knowledge, Improve Interdisciplinary Care

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 29, 2014

Physical therapist or physician assistant? That’s the question facing students seeking to earn medical degrees through Arcadia. While both treat patients, their approaches differ. Physician assistants perform physical examinations, diagnose common illnesses, and counsel patients concerning their medical problems. Physical therapists, on the other hand, focus more on overcoming and preventing the effects of a disease or injury.

Seeking to enhance communication between these fields, physician assistant and physical therapy students came together on April 4 in the Castle Rose and Mirror Rooms to educate one another on these differing approaches and discuss ways to enhance cooperation when treating patients.

Student representatives from the PA program presented their roles to PT students and vice versa. Students also participated in case studies and discussions in large groups and within smaller groups of 2-3 students from each profession. For one case, the patient participated in the session, providing valuable interaction and feedback to the students.

In addition, faculty from both the PA and PT programs facilitated the case studies and discussions. Representing PA were Mike Huber, Melissa Justice, and Tom Lynch, assistant professors in the PA program; Diana Noller, assistant professor and associate director of the Christiana campus; Chris Sim, director of clinical education; from the PT program were Jim Baniewicz, adjunct professor and clinical instructor; Kristin Day, assistant professor of physical therapy; and Amy Miller, assistant professor of physical therapy.

PA student presenters included Nicole Corvino, Holly Filak, Amanda Hestand, and Mikaela Koch. Jessica Vaysman and Kristine Koch presented from the PT program, and several PT students helped prepare information for the session: Abby Dingle, Kelsy Espy, Megan Hufnagel, Jessica Jennings, Kristen Leonhardt, Ben Norton, and Jessica Straughn.

“The workshop not only met our stated learning objectives but overwhelmingly exceeded our expectations,” said Donna Agnew, associate director of the Physician Assistant program, who helped arrange the event. “Both the qualitative feedback and written evaluations so far have all been positive.”

PA students gained insight into PT practices, and PT students developed a stronger understanding of the PA approach to health care. Students felt the exercise strengthened lines of communication between the two groups and that it gave them more options moving forward in terms of making a referral for physical therapy. Many PA students commented on adopting a more goal-oriented view of patient care and gaining a better understanding of patient expectations, two approaches typically employed in physical therapy.

“It was wonderful to see these future health care providers gaining a deeper understanding of the role each would play, as well as jointly creating strategies to help patients achieve optimal health and function,” Miller, co-organizer and curriculum director for the PT program, said.

Noller, the associate director of the PA program at Arcadia’s Christiana campus, also recently conducted an interprofessional exercise among Christiana PA students and nursing students at Cecil County Community College.