Physical therapy students show “what kind of people are in this profession”

When the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) celebrated its 100th year in 2021, DMU’s doctor of physical therapy students and faculty joined its 100 Days of Service Initiative by participating in a variety of service activities during the last 100 days of the year. Tracy Porter, P.T., D.P.T., Ed.D., assistant director of clinical education for the program and faculty adviser to the Physical Therapy Club, shared the idea with students, who quickly got on board and, under Porter’s direction, formed a steering committee.

“The steering committee was intentional about identifying ways to serve that also allowed us to optimize our identity as movement experts,” she says.

As a kick-off event, in September students and faculty led a warm-up activity for participants in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk Your Way event and shared information on the role of movement in mental health and wellness. In October, National Physical Therapy Month, students offered DMU employees and students balance assessments, ergonomics education, strength and flexibility demonstrations and physical therapy trivia to educate the campus community on the profession.

Service is a core value of APTA and the D.P.T. program. Students in the third year complete a Civic Engagement course, which requires service to the community, to the profession and to the University. But many students come to DMU with that commitment already in place.

“Service is one of those values I’ve had growing up. It’s important to not only serve but also to learn from those experiences,” says Faith Vandehaar, D.P.T.’22. During the 100 Days Initiative, she helped feed the DMU D.P.T. Instagram site, led some activities and promoted them on social media.

The D.P.T. department also partnered with Anawim Housing, Iowa’s largest provider of permanent and supportive housing for people in need, to provide education and demonstrations to its staff on strength training, flexibility, and balance. In November, students, faculty and APTA Iowa representatives joined with Special Olympics Iowa for a 5K walk, post- walk stretching and healthy snacks. Morgan Mills, D.P.T.’22, organized a meal preparation event at one of Des Moines’ Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide places to stay for families who travel to the city for a child’s medical care.

“Being able to set the studies aside, take a break and go help others can help put me in a better head space and feel good about helping people who may be going through a difficult time in their lives,” she says.

Students were eager for service opportunities, largely curtailed in the last two years.

“Service opportunities have been very slim with the pandemic,” says Grace Austin, D.P.T.’22. “This was a way to give back to the community and DMU. I’m always amazed at how quick DMU students are to sign up to help.”

Austin helped plan the final activity of the initiative, a “Healthy Holiday Express” event with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which featured various stations for physical activities, games, healthy snacks and holiday crafts. Kyle Hauser, D.P.T.’24, participated in that and several other 100 Days activities.

“I love being able to talk with different people about why I went into this profession. Each activity let me talk to different age ranges about different issues,” he says. “The 100 Days Initiative shows what kind of people are in this profession. We care and want to help others.”

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