PT student gained interprofessional experience serving patients in Guatemala

A group of PT students and staff stand in two rows in blue shirts behind a stone wall in front of a light blue building

July 1, 2024 – DENTON – For most students, experiential learning is an integral step toward earning a degree. For Sammy Jo Shaw, it was profound.

Shaw, a third-year doctor of physical therapy student at Texas Woman’s, was among a team of 14 graduate students and four College of Health Sciences faculty members that provided therapy services at various clinics in Guatemala. As part of a TWU experiential learning program, the group spent 10 days in May working with Hearts In Motion, an organization that offers medical care to people in need.

“It was incredible, life-changing really,” Shaw said. “Full perspective and appreciation of life. It was the best experience ever. I loved every second of it.” 

Shaw caught glimpses of other people’s lives in Guatemala and saw how little one needed to be joyful and have a fulfilling life. She saw the differences in healthcare systems. Patients that she saw coming in for PT services in Guatemala, she might not have seen in the United States. They would have gone straight to a hospital or surgery. 

a PT student in white coat stands next to her mother
Sammy Jo Shaw (right) with her mother at her white coat ceremony

“Some of the patients traveled hours and hours from up in the mountains to get treatment,” Shaw said. “Other patients were right down the street and already received therapy from Hearts in Motion every week. You saw such an array of people that already know what PT is, to people who just knew there was a clinic and wanted help for their kid and would travel hundreds of miles to get their kid seen.”

Shaw volunteered with two other DPT students, four speech-language and pathology graduate students and seven occupational therapy doctoral students. They were mentored by six licensed therapists, including Jodi Thomas, associate director in the School of Physical Therapy at the Dallas Center; William Sit, clinical director at the School of Occupational Therapy at the Dallas Center; Kim Mory, Speech-Language Pathology undergraduate program coordinator and Rebecca Jimenez, a Speech-Language Pathology assistant clinical professor. 

“I recommended every one of my friends to go to Guatemala next year,” Shaw said. “I learned so much, not just about life but also clinically. I learned so much about so many different diagnoses.” 

Shaw had opportunities to evaluate and create interventions for a range of patients from babies to older adults. She received hands-on training for patients needing orthopedic care for knee and back pain to neurological cases like spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy. 

“You are sending them home with exercises and referring them to doctors if they need surgeries,” Shaw said. “Or setting them up with ways to get canes or walkers. We are fitting them for braces.”

Thomas has organized the trip with Hearts In Motion for the last three years at TWU but also volunteered previously with the charity organization at her previous institution.

“It is a personal and professional value of mine to serve others and working with Hearts in Motion gives me a chance to do that while combining other passions of mine such as caring for patients and mentoring students,” Thomas said.

Thomas invited colleagues and students from OT and SLP this year, turning the trip from a PT experience to interprofessional education. 

“It’s been great seeing the students of different disciplines work together because it really helps them understand how to work with other professions and to have a better understanding of what other professions can do,” Thomas said. 

Shaw had not worked with students from other disciplines besides a few in-class labs. 

“It was awesome having people next to you that were knowledgeable in similar but slightly different ways,” Shaw said. “I didn’t know anything about speech and got to learn little bits about swallowing techniques and exercises to do. I would never have gotten that kind of exposure if it had just been PT on the trip.”

Shaw is already planning on going on the trip again next summer, after she graduates. 

“It was an opportunity to learn so much within the scope of PT, but as well as culturally and globally and learning about other health care systems. I wanted to go to gain knowledge in every aspect of my life.”  

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Page last updated 1:19 PM, July 2, 2024