Those entering the physical therapy field help their patients on a day-to-day basis, but in between appointments and lessons they are working to strengthen their communities as well.

Physical therapists spend their days helping others, driven by the perseverance, strength, and motivation they witness in their patients. 

“I chose physical therapy because at its core it’s about allowing people to find their own strength,” shared Yuchao Wang, DPT ’24. 

With over 578,000 physical therapists at work in the United States, and more than 106,000 students in training to enter the profession, it’s clear this population can make – and does make – a significant impact on people everywhere. Their innate desire to help others lends itself to better the communities around them, as well. 

With this, it comes as no surprise that during Physical Therapy Month faculty and students within the PT program at the MGH Institute are working hard to better their communities and give back – not only this month, but year-round. 

Workshops Bringing Together Clinical Care and Social Impact

Earlier this month, Keshrie Naidoo, Distinguished Teaching Assistant Professor, Director of the Academic Curriculum, and Coordinator of the Clinical Residency in Orthopedic Physical Therapy at the IHP, organized and led a virtual conference which featured many PT alumni speakers focused on the connection between PT practice, social justice, and health equity.

The program introduced the “social determinants of health,” which encompass where individuals live, work, learn, and play, and worked through the ways in which health and wellness are social constructs. 

“The motivation behind the conference was to highlight the integral role that physical therapists can play in ensuring that everyone have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible,” Naidoo shared. “As physical therapists we have the privilege to spend time with our patients often over weeks and months. However, our efficacy is limited if we do not consider the system-wide problems our patients face like limited access to healthy food, housing, school, education, and healthcare.” 

JEDI fellow and OTD student Arianna Bayangos, class of 2024, also played a key role in organizing the conference and felt particularly called to facilitate discussions around these topics with practicing clinicians.

“Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion should be at the center of our work as healthcare professionals and this conference was a great way to emphasize this,” Bayangos shared.

“We were able to show our attendees how they, as physical therapists, can not only make an impact on their individual clients, but also can create systemic change related to the social determinants of health, homelessness, racism, and more. Screening for social determinants of health among patient populations and providing accessible resources that can promote health are critical facets of a work of a physical therapist.”  

Lynn Gray-Meltzer, Senior Physical Therapist at MGH, attended the workshop.

“The program helped me to fully recognize the role of physical therapists in social justice and health equity and gave me practical tools to be an upstander and practice anti-racism in my clinical role,” Gray-Meltzer shared. 

“It was in the workshop that I came to understand the roles of the “forest” and the “trees” – that my patients will only have the best healthcare outcomes if I can provide excellent care in our 1:1 visits and connect them with resources to address the social determinants of health,” she continued. “If we participate in racist and inequitable systems that cause oppression without challenging and improving them, then we too are committing oppressive acts.” 

Getting Involved in the Community

This past weekend, the PT Club participated in the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Global Physical Therapy Day of Service, a worldwide initiative to bring together physical therapists everywhere to educate, serve, and strengthen the communities in which they live and work. Coordinating this effort is Anna L. Lafreniere, DPT ’24 and APTA Representative on the PT Club Board at the IHP. 

“The APTA encourages physical therapy students and clinicians to participate in a PT Day of Service (DOS) each October. Usually, the Massachusetts Chapter will have plans for a larger scale project, but this year they did not, so I took it into my own hands,” Anna said. “I thought that it would be the perfect time, as the PT Club, to leave our mark and create a service project that others could participate in.” 

She sought out a volunteer project that was both COVID-friendly and interactive, versus a donation-based campaign. After some trial and error with various opportunities, she found “Pretty in Pink,” an organization that puts together care packages for breast cancer patients with drain bags, seat bags, seat belt covers, seat belt pillows, chest pillows, and more.  

On Saturday, students, faculty, and clinicians from the IHP and the Boston-area volunteered, using templates to cut fabric and ribbon to create the items for the care packages, donating feminine products, and helping package boxes to be shipped. 

“We are so excited to provide an opportunity to participate in Physical Therapy Day of Service for students and clinicians,” said Amber Asbury, DPT ’24 and PT Club President at the IHP. “Having this day during PT month I think is so important because, as service providers, we value giving back to and impacting our communities in a positive way.” 

Benjamin Adams, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy at the IHP couldn’t agree more.  

“Nothing can match the feeling of seeing your patient’s progress unfold in front of you, or that moment you share when they’ve successfully completed their care,” said Adams. “Working in research and with the community brings a new layer of reward in that we are striving to make meaningful changes in not just our individual patient’s lives, but hopefully make improvements to many lives across the greater healthcare system."

PT student works to create items for care packages
PT student works to create items for care packages