PT department serves the underserved at Heartland Clinic

Physical therapy students Jessica Holloway (left) and Danielle Cooper (right) assist a patient at Heartland Clinic.

October 7, 2011

By Tim Belter ’13

When Dr. Steve Tippett became chair of the Physical Therapy department in 2009, he set a mission to have the department serve the community in a meaningful way. Three times a week, the PT faculty and students fulfill that goal by providing free services at Heartland Community Health Clinic.

Tippett began working with Heartland’s medical director, Dr. Gregg Stoner, three years ago to find a way for the Bradley PT department to help out, but it wasn’t until this past May that they underwent a credentialing process and became physical therapy providers at Heartland. Prior to that, Heartland had no physical therapy providers. Now, Tippett, Dr. Melissa Peterson, Dr. Dawn Hall and more than a dozen PT students volunteer to see patients at the clinic.

“We wanted to provide a necessary service within the community,” Peterson said. “A lot of people in the area need physical therapy, but don’t have insurance or the ability to pay.”

Tippett, Peterson and Hall are typically each there one day per week and students can sign up for times to accompany them. The patients are referred to the PT program by other doctors at the clinic, and the patients receive evaluations, therapy and home-exercise plans for their recovery.

“The students get to do whatever we think appropriate for their level in the program,” Tippett said. “Ideally, they get to do it all.”

“Things we talk about theoretically in class, we can show to our students in practice. We can see how they interact with real patients and real situations,” Peterson said.

It can be difficult to treat patients without a regular schedule, so the department has to take on some patients as a team. They prescribe a lot of home exercises so the patient’s recovery can continue even if he or she is unable to be in the clinic with the therapists and students.

“It would be nice to see patients on a more frequent basis,” Tippett said. “A lot of our availability is dictated by the clinic’s schedule.”

For the therapists and students, the minor difficulties are insignificant. The experiences at Heartland have been more than worth the effort for everyone involved.

“The opportunity to practice alongside our professors and see firsthand how they treat patients is invaluable,” said Mandy Wright, a PT student who volunteers at Heartland. “I always walk out of there having learned something I never could have learned in the classroom. I’m very grateful that the professors volunteer their time to provide this service not only to the community, but to us students as well.”