Serving and learning – pro bono

UND Physical Therapy clinic gives while providing students best training in the business

Ron Mack of East Grand Forks worked with third-year physical therapy student Carmen Stanhope at the pro-bono physical therapy clinic last fall at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Photo by Wanda Weber/School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Ron Mack of East Grand Forks worked with third-year physical therapy student Carmen Stanhope at the pro-bono physical therapy clinic last fall at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Photo by Wanda Weber/School of Medicine & Health Sciences

When Ron Mack of East Grand Forks had a stroke several years ago, he needed more physical therapy than his insurance provided.

He found help at UND’s pro bono physical therapy clinic, where students worked with Mack to improve his walking and balance.

“They really helped me,” Mack said. “That first year after my stroke, getting back into my life was quite an undertaking.”

Mack continues coming to the clinic, which is held for eight weeks each fall, for physical therapy.

“We’ve been working on my balance and strength,” Mack said. “This is a good place to go. And I hope the students get something out of it.”

They do.

Great experience

Meridee Danks, assistant professor of physical therapy, likes to involve the community with student learning. She sees it as a win-win for students and clients. Photo by Wanda Weber/SMHS

Meridee Danks, assistant professor of physical therapy, likes to involve the community with student learning. She sees it as a win-win for students and clients. Photo by Wanda Weber/SMHS

“The clinic is a great experience, and a way to put all the skills we’ve learned to use,” said Carmen Stanhope, a third-year PT student from Cavalier, N.D., who had Mack as her patient last fall. “It’s very intimidating at first to work with patients, and it feels great to see how much Ron has improved.”

The clinic is held in the physical therapy lab at the new School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

“We involve the community with student learning,” said Meridee Danks, assistant professor of physical therapy. “It’s a win-win for students and clients. We serve patients who would like to continue with therapy but don’t qualify for insurance. The patients like interacting with students and see physical and social benefits, and students love working with real patients.”

Since 1998, the clinic has put UND’s mission of teaching, service and research into action. Located in a new spacious, light-filled lab at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, the clinic gives students experience with patients while supervised by faculty, helps patients be more mobile, and also offers research opportunities for faculty.

“The clinic helps students get ready for clinicals, interact with community members and provides services you can’t get elsewhere,” said Cindy Flom-Meland, associate professor of physical therapy and director of clinical education of physical therapy. The clinic, which doesn’t compete with other health care providers, serves patients without health insurance or whose benefits have run out. Patients are often referred to the clinic by other providers.

Patients become teachers

“Patients have been coming back since we started the program,” said Flom-Meland. “They become fantastic teachers and enjoy working with the students.”

Clients have neurologic diagnoses that can include stroke, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. Clients range in age from 20 to 80.

“We provide therapy to help clients be active, reach their goals, and hopefully have a positive effect on their quality of life,” said Flom-Meland.

The clinic also brings research into play.

“From a medical standpoint, we need to be able to prove that what we’re doing is effective,” Flom-Meland said. “UND physical therapy students have the opportunity to learn about and take part in research.” Faculty and students have worked with other departments on campus, presented their research at national conferences, and also invite physical therapist assistant students from Northland Community & Technical College in East Grand Forks to take part in the clinic. “We’ve had fabulous results, and students learn to interact with different professions,” she said.

Michael Miller and Carmen Stanhope work with Ron Mack to improve his balance. Students are supervised by Cindy Flom-Meland, associate professor of physical therapy. Photo by Wanda Weber/SMHS

Michael Miller and Carmen Stanhope work with Ron Mack to improve his balance. Students are supervised by Cindy Flom-Meland, associate professor of physical therapy. Photo by Wanda Weber/SMHS

Rewarding interaction

“It’s rewarding to see the interaction that occurs,” said Danks. “The experience of communicating with someone after they have had a stroke or who is older than the student is invaluable. You can’t teach that. This is experience we can’t provide any other way.”

“I was always learning,” said Michael Miller, a third-year PT student from Dickinson who worked in the clinic last semester. “I learned to help patients modify activities and to try different things to help them overcome challenging hurdles, such as gait problems. By the end, we had grown pretty close, and it was bittersweet to see them for the last time.”

“This is an excellent integration of education with community service,” said Dave Relling, associate professor and chair of physical therapy, adding that the department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Relling said the department is active in the Grand Forks community, and students and faculty volunteer for programs such as Bone Builders at the Grand Forks Senior Center, Rock Steady Boxing at the YMCA for patients with Parkinson’s, Spin for Kids, and the Stepping On senior fall prevention program by NDSU Extension and Altru Health System.

“This is a good place to go,” said Mack. “The students work very well with me, and all the ‘toys’ help a lot as I get better. And I want to be of help to them as they learn.”