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St. Lucia service trip? Isn’t that a vacation?

We are two second year students, Claiborne Fletcher and Meaghan Dullea, at Lynchburg College’s DPT program. We were lucky enough to be two of nine students who traveled to Saint Lucia in January 2016 to work with children with special needs for a week.

During our trip, we worked in the five special education centers throughout the country for three days. We assessed and made recommendations for children ranging from high-functioning to severely impaired–and we loved every second of it! We then held a workshop on body mechanics, positioning, and handling for nearly 80 special education teachers.

This was our first experience practicing as physical therapists. Yes, we’re still students and have many courses and clinical internships left, but in this setting, we didn’t have to worry about grades, time constraints, or whether we’d know the answer to the next question. It was all about the serving the children, teachers, and parents. It was so awesome!

 

Claiborne Fletcher, SPT

Although I had always thought I would do outpatient orthopedics once I graduated, after attending CSM in Indianapolis my first year, I changed my plan. I was thrilled at the prospect of combining my passion for physical therapy with my love for working with children. Honestly, I’m not sure why it had never really occurred to me before, but ever since then, I’ve been excited about opportunities combining two things I love most.

At this point, I’d been part of a nine-member student group that had been organizing a possible DPT trip to St Lucia. Cue the lightbulb above my head—I was set on putting that plan in motion! By the time Thanksgiving 2015 was here, I knew I was headed to St Lucia with five other second-years and three first-years.

As the trip approached, I began to feel both nervous and excited. I had those typical moments when I questioned if I knew anything about physical therapy at all. Was I ready to see my own pediatric patients after only one course in the subject? But I felt excited–really excited! I was eager to get to St. Lucia and remind myself why I spend countless hours studying in the library or practicing techniques in the lab.

When the day finally came, we were split into groups of three: two second-years and one first-year. We saw child after child, consulted with their teachers, and examined their classroom environments. I don’t think a smile ever left my face the entire week. It was the most rewarding thing I have done in my life.

I was able to work with the most adorable, happy children who, even though they had deficits with which most of us could never imagine dealing, were so full of life and laughter that their joy spread to everyone around them. Working with teachers was gratifying, too. They were all so eager to learn anything we could teach them to help these children fulfill their potentials in the classroom.

Now that I’ve returned, I feel like my love for physical therapy has been renewed, which is a great feeling to have as I start a new semester. Although my nervousness is not completely gone, I have amazing memories and pictures that serve to remind me that not only am I able to do this, but it is more than worth all the hours in the classroom and lab, late nights in the library, pep talks with my classmates, and tears that are bound to occur this semester.

This experience built my confidence, and I was able to prove to myself that this profession is truly something I will be able to do in 18 months when I graduate.

Claiborne is a second-year PT student at Lynchburg College. Her favorite aspect of physical therapy is helping patients rebuild confidence as they progress physically. 

Meaghan Dullea, SPT

I still find myself battling with confidence issues and the stress of school in general. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of a grueling doctorate program, so when I originally chose to participate in this trip, I didn’t realize how much of a change it would make in me as a student.

I grew up as an athlete and played in college. Not surprisingly, I came into school with a die-hard sports and orthopedic interest. However, after listening to my professor one day, Dr. Lori Mize, that quickly changed. Since then, women’s health has been at the top of my list. Just as unexpectedly, another curve ball was thrown at me when I went down to St. Lucia–I loved pediatrics and neuro, too!

On the first day, I was definitely nervous, but by the end of the trip, I was disappointed to not have spent more time in the schools. I had so much fun working with the kids and teaching. It was an awesome drive-by of what being a physical therapist is like. Not only was it fun, but my confidence also took a turn for the better.

When we had our workshop, for instance, I was a little apprehensive, since I’ve only ever presented to my peers, but I enjoyed every second of this as well.  I was amazed at how exciting it was to watch the light bulbs go on as we explained why certain techniques were safe or unsafe for them and their students. At the end of the day, we received group hugs and countless thank-you’s from so many people. Probably my favorite comment was, “You guys are some special people.”

This experience revamped my excitement for participating in this profession, and it (almost) got me excited to get back to the books. I think I’m still interested in being a women’s health therapist, but this experience certainly made me consider heading elsewhere. I’ve realized I love service, and I think our profession is perfect for advocating that more PT students attend these trips if they have the opportunity.

A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Dullea wants to specialize in women’s health and orthopaedics. She loves physical therapy because it promotes an active, healthy lifestyle combined with education and helping patients live pain-free.

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