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Really Lending a Helping Hand: Health Sciences Students Put Their Classroom Skills to the Test

Written by Conor Harrington
9/29/2011

Jessica Hulse '12 works with a client at Longview.
For some stroke survivors, getting themselves out of bed, making breakfast, and getting dressed for the day is a seemingly impossible task. Ithaca College health sciences students are helping to make these things possible for many of these people. 
 
In exchange for one to three credits and valuable experience, aspiring health professionals go to Longview, a residential senior retirement community up the street from the College, to work at IC’s Center for Life Skills, which operates on an outpatient basis with people, both Longview residents and not, who have suffered from strokes, aneurysms, or other brain injuries. 
 
The students’ routines with the participants range from simple seated exercises to more advanced mobility training. Students majoring in physical therapy, occupational therapy, therapeutic recreation, and speech therapy programs all join in a team-based fashion on treatment plans for each participant. The interdisciplinary nature means that all majors work together to foster global goals for the client. For example, with a client for whom speech was the greatest concern, the physical therapist worked on a physical therapy goal while also working on speech-related goals such as word finding.
 
Katie Lichtenberger ’11 spent every Friday at Longview during the fall of her senior year. “It’s a great experience to work with your own patient and make a plan and see what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives,” she says. Each participant has different needs, so part of the process is for the student to determine the best course of action. With Lichtenberger’s client, she says, “one thing we worked on was getting her down to the floor and back up into her wheelchair, which is something she can use when she’s in her apartment alone.” 
 
Last summer, Lichtenberger worked at Long Island Sports and Rehab Center for her first clinical affiliation as a D.P.T. student. (When you apply to IC’s physical therapy program, you’re signing up for a six-year program—after four years, you get your B.S. in clinical health studies, then there are two more years of both coursework and four required clinical affiliations to get your doctorate in physical therapy.) She was grateful for the training she got at Longview. “It’s a good experience that I was happy to get before my first clinical affiliation,” she says. 
 
Jessica Hulse '12 and Elaina Mazzola '11 discuss how to teach a client to use a new type of cane.
 
The Ithaca College and Longview partnership has been in place for 10 years. Kathy Beissner, professor of physical therapy, is currently supervising students in the program. “The students realize the real takeaway is that they can make a huge difference in these people’s lives,” Beissner says.
 
Of the many things the program at Longview teaches students, Lichtenberger and Beissner agree that communication is key to delivering quality treatment.
 
“Learning how to communicate with people of an older generation, especially those that are hard of hearing, is a big thing,” Lichtenberger says.
 
“Communication skills are number one, as some of the patients have severe language problems such that they cannot speak or process language very well,” says Beissner. “Just getting them to do things they may not want to do is a huge skill.”
 
And the clients at the Center for Life Skills are eager to work with college students.
 
“They need to be excited to be there and they love interacting with young people,” Beissner says. 
 
Jessica Hulse ’12 was one of the first juniors to participate in the program since the center began accepting younger students this year, and she was impressed by how her client improved. “It’s rewarding at the end of the semester to see how they have progressed,” Hulse says. Even the small things offer a big reward for budding physical therapists: “We had a patient stand for 30 seconds today, which was a huge feat for her.”
 
Jessica Hulse '12 works with a client at Longview.


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