Students Gain Experience with Patients Before Clinicals

Brittany Turner and Tom Horgan
Physical therapy student Brittany Turner treats Tom Horgan for shoulder pain.

By Karen Angelo

After surgery, Clinical Assoc. Prof. of Nursing Sandra Mote suffered with neuropathy in her feet, which caused balance issues. She found help at the university’s free physical therapy clinic, which opened on South Campus last fall. 

“My balance, strength and endurance have all improved,” says Mote. “It’s so convenient to have weekly physical therapy sessions on campus.” 

The Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology’s pro bono clinic was developed to provide opportunities for students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program to gain more clinical experiences on campus. Located in Riverview Suites, the free clinic is available to all UMass Lowell students, faculty and staff. 

Faculty in the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology designed the clinical experience for first- and second-year DPT students to practice interacting, admitting and treating patients prior to their formal clinical education assignments. Second- and third-year DPT students gain additional clinical experience while mentoring other students. Lou Coiro ’82 and Heather Jones ’10, ’13, both practicing and licensed physical therapists with decades of experience, supervised the students in the fall. 

Lucas Abreu with Tom Horgan
Lucas Abreu works with Tom Horgan.

“I monitor the students, but do not intervene initially,” says Coiro, who will continue to supervise the students during spring semester. “I want them to use their current level of knowledge and skill to assess the patient, develop a treatment plan and initiate treatment. I tend to ask questions that help expand their critical thinking skills in terms of assessing a patient’s response to treatment and alternative interventions that may be indicated.” 

Jones was impressed with the students’ professionalism. 

“The DPT students were deeply invested in the recovery of their patients,” says Jones, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Physical Therapy and Kinesiology. “They researched techniques between visits, consulted with other therapists and tried new skills to provide the best care possible.” 

Assoc. Teaching Prof. JoAnn Moriarty-Baron, who is a member of the steering committee that planned the development of the clinic, is the liaison between DPT clinical faculty and the students. She says the clinic provides a key link between classroom learning and professional experience. 

“Our pro bono physical therapy clinic allows our students to apply the knowledge they are learning in class and lab to actual patient care,” she says. “Working as a team for the good of the patient develops a sense of camaraderie and support between students.” 

Second-year student Brittany Turner treated Thomas Horgan, who suffers with pain in both shoulders due to past injuries. 

“The on-campus physical therapy clinic allowed me to practice my patient interaction skills rather than having almost a year’s gap between the summer clinicals,” says Turner. “It was also great to work in groups to see how other students approached treatments.” 

Horgan, a mechanical engineering manager for the Submillimeter-Wave Technology Laboratory (STL), sees the clinic as a win-win for the university community. 

“I get physical therapy with no copay, and the students get valuable experience with patients,” he says. “I still have a way to go before I am pain-free, but I intend to keep up the exercises and get back into the clinic during spring semester and continue until my shoulder pain is totally gone, or at least improves significantly.” 

Sarah Jordan and Sandra Mote
Sarah Jordan guides Sandra Mote in exercises to help with balance issues.

Horgan and Mote were both motived to get treated by students to help them learn. 

“I love being part of student education,” says Mote. “The students are very enthusiastic and caring.” 

“I have been mentoring the mechanical engineering students working at STL for over 35 years and thought that I could also help physical therapy students,” says Horgan. 

For second-year student Lucas Abreu, who also treated Horgan, working in the clinic built his experience in outpatient orthopedics. “It’s always a good idea to get exposure to as many different patient cases as possible to be a more well-rounded clinician,” he says. “Both Lou Coiro and Heather Jones are very attentive and offer great feedback.” 

Note: Members of the UMass Lowell community who are interested in being treated at the clinic may email or call 978-934-5312 to find out more and book an appointment. Students see patients on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 4 to 6 p.m., in Riverview Suites.