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Trip to Dominican sharpens students’ skills

The students of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program recently took a getaway to the Dominican Republic, not for vacation, but to sharpen their skills and put their physical therapy lessons into use.

The program traveled to the Dominican Republic Jan. 21 – 29 on a mission trip where students worked with locals. Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate students Mandy Wright and Sadie Salsman said the trip gave students an early look at working in the field. The students worked in a clinic and utilized what they learned in classes by practicing on Dominican patients.

“We spent time in one of the clinics down there, treating therapy patients,” Salsman said. “The trip gave me real experience working with people, which is something you can’t teach.”

Wright and Salsman said Northwoods Church in Peoria helped coordinate the opportunity. The church has a relationship established in the Dominican Republic and has volunteered for years. Wright said her professors were nothing but supportive for the opportunity, including assistant professor Melissa Peterson.

“We have had faculty and students go on mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Haiti for about three years,” Peterson said. “My first trip there was this past January with Mandy Wright.”

Peterson agreed the practice was a unique experience to her students’ education and she encouraged students to participate. The students got to work on typical PT issues, but also learned the stories behind their patients’ pain.

“I wanted to enable PT students to apply what they have been learning in PT school in a unique environment,” she said. “The patients we worked with were very different from my patients in the U.S. in some ways, yet very much the same in others. Many patients arrived with complaints of back and neck pain, but their pain might be due to carrying buckets of water on their head for several miles, or spending every day bent over working in a field.”

Wright said the students had free time during the trip and used it to enjoy the local cuisine, past times, and the warm weather. Besides their mini-vacation, both Wright and Salsman said the trip was an amazing opportunity to develop their PT skills.

“It was very fun,” Salsman said. “Their culture is amazing and I would love to go back and work alongside the Dominicans again.”

After spending time abroad, Peterson said she’s thankful for the opportunities Americans have.

“I learned to be more appreciative of what I have here, but at the same time, I gained an appreciation for making do with much less,” she said. “[The locals] seem to focus more on what they have, rather on what they are missing.”

In all, Wright said the Dominican Republic benefitted her education. She said the opportunity was irreplaceable and the extra experience will help her achieve her goals.

“I have a constant fear in the back of my mind, ‘Am I going to be a good PT?’” she said. “The only way to get better at something is to practice and that is the single greatest opportunity this experience provided me.”

Wright said she encourages anyone to go on mission trips, whether they are interested in PT or not.

“We all desire to feel needed; fortunately there is a world full of people who could use your talents and abilities,” she said. “Get out of your comfort zone and make your corner of the world a better place.”