EHS students and professor serve at Dominican clinic

March 21, 2012

By Tim Belter ’13

A recent service trip to the Dominican Republic helped broaden the horizons of Bradley physical therapy professor Dr. Melissa Peterson, physical therapy doctoral student Mandy Wright and junior health science major Sadie Salsman.

“We gained a wider perspective,” said Dr. Peterson. “We’re such a small percentage of the world’s population.”

Dr. Peterson and the students worked with a group called Solid Rock International in a clinic in San Juan de la Maguana. They assisted the therapists there in treating patients, teaching them exercises and therapies and helping them work toward healing.

“It was nice because the students just get to jump in and use all the skills they’ve learned,” said Dr. Peterson.

“This trip was an incredible experience for me academically,” said Wright. “A week in the Dominican Republic doing physical therapy is incomparable to a week in the classroom.”

The trip provided plenty of practical learning and unique experiences, including injuries and ailments not often seen around Peoria.

“One woman had suffered from a brain parasite and another had a sore neck from carrying things on her head,” said Salsman. “Things like that just don't happen in the United States.”

Conditions were tougher than in the United States, as well. Things taken for granted at clinics here were unavailable in the Dominican Republic, and other new challenges arose.

“We didn’t have much equipment, and all of the medical records were in Spanish,” said Dr. Peterson.

The language barrier could provide some trouble, but perseverance and the desire to help the patients always helped the group jump that hurdle.

“I found that when people have a desire to communicate and are willing to put forth the effort, an issue as great as a language barrier is not as big of problem as you would expect,” said Salsman.

Dr. Peterson and the students built a genuine connection with their patients and made plenty of friends in the Dominican.

“I fell completely in love with the Dominican people.  They are so welcoming, warm, and loving,” said Salsman. “This trip was not a one time deal - I forged way too many relationships for that.  I will be going back.”