Costa Rican Communities Warmly Embrace Care from USC PT Students

Costa_Rica-2015BY YASMINE PEZESHKPOUR MCM ’17

Earlier this spring, 12 division students accompanied by one alumnus and faculty member traveled to Costa Rica for an eight-day service-learning excursion.

During their clinical visit, they saw patients from populations across the spectrum. From cardiopulmonary to neurological to orthopedic cases, the student volunteers saw more than 100 patients of all ages during their trip.

Click to view a photo slideshow of the trip.

Practicing physical therapist and alumnus Allen Mour DPT ’14, who previously volunteered and worked in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama through International Service Learning prior to enrolling in physical therapy school, brought the opportunity to his former classmates and accompanied them on the trip.

“Going through the DPT program, the idea and desire to provide services abroad was always in the back of my head due to my prior experiences in Costa Rica.” Mour said. “As I progressed, I began to realize the huge impact that PT can make in someone’s life even in a short amount of time.”

Each day of service was different from the next. On the first day, the students went door to door in San Miguel, inviting members of the neighborhood to visit the clinic that they had set up with their local partners.

“The neighborhood patients and their families were unbelievably loving and welcoming,” said Jason Manalili DPT ’16, president of Physical Therapy Multicultural Leadership Alliance (PTMLA). “The moment we explained to people who we were, they invited us into their homes and offered their warm hospitality.” As a representative of the PTMLA Manalili worked closely with Dr. Mour and division leadership to bring the service learning opportunity to the student body.

The patients seen had varying backgrounds and needs such as waitresses without health insurance to mothers and children with extensive medical histories to community elders with long standing physical impairments.

“The clinic we set up was a true test of our independence and skill development, so professionalism was a must, “ said Ben Kwan DPT ’16, one of the student volunteers who took the trip to challenge his clinical experience and Spanish skills. “Each individual treated was given a thorough evaluation, treated immediately after and provided with a plan of care for staying healthy, including exercises and the like.”

The ensuing days were spent visiting and providing aid in assisted-living facilities, community homes and working alongside local physical therapy students in the area.

The opportunity even allowed for a little downtime where the volunteers toured the diverse wildlife of Manuel Antonio National Park before setting up one last clinic in San Jose.

“By the end of the week, our volunteer group saw 100 patients!” said student volunteer and PTMLA service learning coordinator Alice Chow DPT ’16. “It was a really awesome feeling to know that not only did we reach a wide breadth of the community, but also the care we provided was meaningful and impactful to them.”

With formal service learning experience being a requirement of the DPT program, trips abroad provide students cultural insight and an understanding of what it means to make a global impact.

“The objective of the trip is the willingness to serve,” said Mour. “The learning will come naturally, but being open and prepared to be of service will ensure that the patient’s needs are being met and that they are the priority of the trip. That is exactly what this recent group embodied for approximately 100 patients.”