PT students get unique training from international rotations

May 11, 2017

By Alex Branch

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The small, one-room clinic in Malawi was usually already full with two dozen mothers and their children when Beverly Owoyele arrived each morning.

To determine what kind of physical therapy each child required, the third-year physical therapy student at UNT Health Science Center often relied on interpreters and the patients’ own health books – passport-type logs filled with handwritten notes detailing each child’s medical history.

For four hours, she moved from child to child, drawing on her own ingenuity to perform therapy without many of the resources available in the United States.

The four weeks Owoyele spent in the African country this spring was one of a growing number of international training rotations available to students through the UNTHSC’s Department of Physical Therapy.

“The experience was so unique from the other rotations I have done,” Owoyele said. “You don’t have the resources or equipment you are used to having, so you really have to rely on your mind and body to give the best therapy you can provide.”

Since the physical therapy program was established in 2009, 11 PT students have done international training rotations in Malawi. Brandy Schwarz, DPT, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and coordinator of student rotations, said that in September she plans to travel to Swaziland in partnership with Rotary Club of Fort Worth and Fort Worth Sister Cities to explore the possibility of establishing a student rotation in the southern African country.

The department recently created a new rotation in Italy. Student Catherine Williamson will be the first to train there in 2018.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to learn about how Italy practices physical therapy in comparison to the U.S.,” Williamson said. “Hopefully I’ll gain a unique perspective and incorporate what I will learn into my own practice, so I can better patients’ lives.”

International rotations are important because they offer exposure to illnesses, conditions and clinical settings different from what students may see at home, said Yasser Salem, DPT, Department of Physical Therapy Interim Chairman.

In Malawi, for example, Owoyele treated a high number of children with cerebral malaria, a neurological complication that blocks blood vessels in the brain and can cause brain damage.

“International experience strengthen our students’ sensitivities to other cultures and exposes them to other countries’ health care systems,” Dr. Salem said.

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