WU Physical Therapy Department lives the Mission on service trip

WHEELING — Transforming lives is at the heart of Wheeling University’s physical therapy department’s service-learning program in Mexico.

For the past 20 years, the department’s service-learning program has been changing the lives of students and faculty, as well as the patients they serve. The experience provided valuable hands-on learning, as well as the opportunity to live out the University’s mission to be ‘men and women for others.’

“This service-learning trip is a transformational experience in our students’ lives. They not only get to fulfill the University’s mission to serve those in need, but also witness the lack of medical care and social services have in the regions that we visit,” said Mark Drnach, clinical professor of physical therapy at Wheeling University.

This year a group of 20 students and four faculty from the school spent a week treating the underserved residents of Merida and Izamal and provided educational instruction to the staffs at the sites they visited. Additionally, the students applied classroom instruction in real life situations by providing care to patients.

“The joy received from giving cannot be measured. I always say that the week we are there gives me a month of happy memories,” said Allen Marangoni, director of physical therapy at Wheeling University. “More importantly, our students benefit from the hands-on training they receive. Our students treat hundreds of needy patients during the week.”

Noelle Adams, an assistant professor of phycical therapy, believes the trip is important for the students’ educational experience for various reasons.

“It serves as a confidence boost as they prepare to head out on their final clinical experiences before graduation. More importantly, it teaches the students the value of service and giving back to communities in need. It exposes the students to a different country, which is important to their development as clinicians. They learn to be culturally sensitive and understanding of those who are different or less fortunate,” she explained.

Bryan Raudenbush, a professor of physical therapy at Wheeling University, added, “The faculty believe exposing the students from different countries gives them an appreciation for cultural differences that exist. Our students interacted with patients they would never see in the Ohio Valley, which make us better clinicians and educators by providing challenges we don’t encounter every day.”

The students who participated found the experience to be enjoyable.

“On a professional level, this trip really opened my eyes to the need for healthcare services in neighboring countries. I believe every healthcare professional should be given the opportunity to make a trip similar to this one in order to experience what healthcare is like in different countries,” said Luke Senko, a student Broadview Heights.

Student Caleb O’Neil of Fayetteville, W.Va., said he learned a great deal from the trip.

“I had the pleasure of working with Drnach throughout the week and what I learned will follow me throughout my career. While I learned many professional skills, perhaps the most important thing I discovered was from a Mexican physical therapy student. On the last day at Ciudad Vicentina, the student spoke about the important responsibility that physical therapists have of finding the potential in each of patient – no matter how bleak the prognosis — because each patient truly does have potential, we just have to find it,” he explained.

Amanda King, a student from Strasburg, had never been outside the United States. The trip is one she said will have an impact for the rest of her life.

The school’s physical therapy program has a long history of providing services locally, regionally and internationally


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