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CMU students, community come together through physical therapy

Class assignment provides care for local residents with MS, Parkinson’s

Contact: Curt Smith

​​​​​​​​​For Central Michigan University physical therapy students and faculty member Jamie Haines, learning is more than the lessons taught in​ a classroom or lab. It also is about giving back to the community.

One of Haines' class assignments — PT CONECT — did just that last month by providing four weeks of free physical therapy services to community members from the mid-Michigan and Saginaw Bay regions who are managing neurologic conditions. ​

PT CONECT, which stands for Physical Therapy — Chippewa Outreach in Neurorehabilitation and Education with Community Teams, gave students the chance to work with these volunteers under the close supervision of Haines. Like CMU's student-managed Hands for Health Clinic, which offers services to the underinsured and uninsured, the assignment was another way for students to put into practice the latest techniques and best practices learned in their classes.

Residents from Saginaw, Midland and Mount Pleasant took advantage of one month of free weekly physical therapy through the program. Haines arranged for group transportation for the volunteers, also called community partners, from Saginaw and Midland to the university's Mount Pleasant campus. CMU students and residents in Houghton also participated, bringing the total number of volunteer community partners to 25.

The volunteers' conditions included multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Some individuals were newly diagnosed and just beginning to understand how to manage their disease, while others have progressed further in their diagnosis and care.

Haines, who began as an assistant professor in CMU's doctoral program in physical therapy this fall, introduced the new hands-on component to her patient care class after witnessing the impact on students and the community at her former school. Her students were grateful for another chance to put their skills to work.

"I like to be able to practice the things we learn, so I really enjoy this," said Megan Jones, a second-year physical therapy student from Macomb. "It feels good to be able to help people meet goals that help them live the life they want to live."

Students taught each community partner physical therapy techniques and power moves, which incorporate big movements and equipment such as boxing gloves to build strength, stability and range of motion. They also provided directions on how to perform the exercises at home.

The community partners said the experience provided them with tools and techniques they will use for the rest of their lives. For the students, it was both a learning experience and the chance to affirm their commitment to helping others.

"Working with our instructor has been amazing given her enthusiasm and passion," said Rachel Michalski, a second-year physical therapy student from Troy. "This experience has given me confidence and excitement about being a physical therapist and working with people who have neurologic disorders."

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