The team, which included three alums, spent 10 days gaining valuable experiences while treating patients and assisting local physical therapists and students
Second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student Sydney Campilii went to Guatemala with the goal of helping physical therapists and local PT students, and to work with patients. What she came away with from the 10-day service trip was eye-opening.
“We went there to give the PTs and PT students presentations on such things as stroke care and hip dysplasia and how to transfer patients without hurting their backs, but I got so much more out of it than what I gave,” said Campilii, who was part of a team of six DPT students and three alumni serving as clinical instructors who traveled to the Central American country in earlier this month during the semester break. “They taught me new techniques that I never even knew existed. It was an incredible experience.”
Led by Dr. Jane Baldwin, an assistant professor in PT and coordinator of the IHP’s Marjorie Ionta Physical Therapy Center for Clinical Education, the trip was a collaboration with Move Together, a U.S.-based non-profit that collaborates with various physical therapists and physical therapy educational programs aimed at assisting healthcare providers at Guatemalan facilities throughout the year. The goal of these collaborations is to foster sustainable healthcare and to improve the health of local communities.
“They have no monetary resources. They have no infrastructure resources. They have no health literacy resources,” Baldwin said, noting that the students saw maladies they might only see in the poorest of regions in the United States. “We have our issues with our health system and have major health disparities here, but it’s nothing like what they experience.”
The team spent the first several days at a clinic in Villa Nueva just outside Guatemala City, where they focused on providing educational resources to the Guatemalan physical therapists and students, as well as co-treating patients. The learning was collaborative in nature, as IHP students learned much from the Guatemalan students. Learning to be creative with limited resources was a recurring theme.
The team then traveled five hours north of the capital city to the rural mountainside village of Canilla, where they worked in a health clinic that also included a nursing home. The region is so remote that there are no physical therapists working there; patients are treated by health workers who have little PT experience and facilities that pale in comparison with those at the Villa Nueva clinic.
Teaching continued in Canilla and included how to use a newly acquired Hoyer lift that makes it easier to move patients. The lift is used throughout the United States but is not readily available in this underserved community.
“That was one of the most rewarding moments, watching them learn how to use it,” said Campilii. “I just got so excited about how many patients they could use that for and how helpful it would be for them day to day.”
Campilii, along with classmates and fellow trip participants Diana Berthil, Christine Kane, Miranda Milunsky, Amanda Wan, and Ryan Wills, had completed their first clinical rotation back home, where they had treated patients several times and had the chance to see their patients’ steady improvement over time. During their time in Guatemala, Campilii and her classmates were challenged to provide meaningful patient education including home exercises during a short visit as many patients did not have the resources to return for follow-up visits.
“It gave the students insight of how important patient education is,” noted Baldwin. “It emphasized the importance of meeting the learner - whether it's the client, their family member, or their caregiver - where they're at, assessing what their learning needs are, and prioritizing what needed to be done.”
There were bright spots. Campilii recalled working with a patient who had a spinal cord injury who suffered an infection that led him to have no feeling in his legs and feet. That condition had led to one toe being amputated and the likelihood of needing a second amputated. But after being treated, the man was given the green light to use his hand-pedal bike again.
“He came back the next day pedaling by us, as happy as ever,” Campilii said. “He really didn't let his injury stop him, mentally or physically, which was extremely inspiring.”
Laura Vinci de Vanegas, a 2017 DPT alum who has worked with Move Together for several years, acted as liaison between the non-profit and the IHP. She first went to Guatemala in 2016, after having a chance encounter with the group’s founder, Efosa L. Guobadia. De Vanegas enlisted several classmates to go with her and gave a presentation to faculty and other students about the trip when she returned to school.
“I saw that and said, ‘You know what, I really want to make this an official trip and have it be part of our health promotion course’,” Baldwin recalled. She led teams from 2017-2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic preventing in-person visits although she organized virtual visits in 2022 and 2023.
For de Vanegas, who works at the University of Utah Health system, it was the fourth time returning to her husband’s native country (they had met as volcano tour guides before she attended the IHP) to help the next generation of physical therapists.
“Just to see the students’ development was great,” said de Vanegas, for whom this was the fourth year of working with an IHP team. “We all learned something new and were challenged to think differently of how we apply principles of physical therapy. I loved watching the students go from being a bit timid to building their confidence each day.”
Baldwin said the assistance provided by de Vanegas and 2020 DPT alums Sidney Argueta and Xavier Brito, both of whom traveled with her in 2019 as students, was invaluable.
“It was nice to see our grads see the continued importance of these projects and want to continue to be involved,” Baldwin said. “We're very fortunate that we’re able to continue collaborating with Laura and Move Together. It would have been challenging to have such a good trip without that connection.”
But it wasn’t all work. The team hiked a nearby volcano, toured a coffee bean farm, visited Mayan ruins, and had dinner with a former mayor and presidential candidate. They also carved out time throughout the trip to reflect on what they were experiencing.
“Laura and Efosa shared their motto: serve local but think global. It was really cool to put into perspective that you don't need to travel all the way to Guatemala to serve those who might not be as fortunate,” Campilii said. “There are places and people in Boston that also need just as much support, so remembering that, I can use what I learned in Guatemala to shape how I’ll be as a physical therapist wherever I end up working.”