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Patients, students benefit from pro-bono physical therapy clinic at Brenau
Program part of Good News Clinics
Brenau University Physical Therapy student Brad Leary examines the movement of arm joints on patient Edward Poelinitz during an assesment examination at the school's Downtown Center. The school has recently opened a pro-bono physical therapy clinic with students getting practical experience on actual patients.

Seven months after starting a physical therapy clinic where money doesn’t change hands and no insurance is needed, Brenau University officials say the program has proven beneficial to both students working in the program and their patients.

“There’s a mutual benefit that doesn’t happen in any other setting,” said Greg Patterson, a physical therapist and an adjunct instructor at Brenau. “If there’s no money exchanged, if you’re the recipient, you know I’m here because I just want to be here to help you. You really need my help and you have no other motive than ‘I just want to get better.’ There’s no other setting where you get that because money is sadly in the way.”

Brenau’s pro-bono clinic is a partnership between Brenau and Good News Clinics. Patterson said he started offering his services at Good News Clinics about six or seven years ago. In 2016, he began talking to officials about using Brenau’s facilities to help patients in need and give physical therapy students experience using the skills they are learning in the classroom.

The program started in January. It remains a part of Good News Clinics. All patients must be referred by Good News in order to be seen at Brenau. Students do the work under the supervision of licensed physical therapists.

“This is a student-run pro-bono clinic,” said Mary Thigpen, associate professor of physical therapy at Brenau and faculty adviser for the Monday night clinic at the university’s downtown campus. “We’re trying to teach them not just patient care, but leadership, altruism and how to make relationships. The goals were beyond letting you practice your skills. Part of our code of ethics is to help the community.”

The student physical therapists see about 8 to 12 patients each week during the two-and-a-half-hour time frame on Monday nights.

“We give them things to do at home; we have a phone number where they can reach us if they need us,” Thigpen said. “If we pick up on something medical, we communicate with Good News Clinics. We caught a lady with a blood pressure of 200 over 100 the other night. We interact and do this holistic approach with the patient.”

Thigpen said she believes the program is meeting its goals.

“These are hard-working people; they have hard jobs and they hurt from muscle sprains, strains or fractures, but they don’t any hands-on care for those hurts,” she said. “After two or three physical therapy sessions, some education, some adaptation to the way that they work, and they are so much better.

“And in the same light I think the students are getting their eyes opened wide open to the fact that there are a lot of different layers of people in this world and this is a group of people who wouldn’t immediately get to see you,” she added. “They learn about how effective they can be.”

Daysi Linares came to the clinic three times last month, hoping to get some relief from a shoulder injury she got as a result of a fall in the spring. She said she has already begun to see positive results.

“At first I was not able to lift my arm,” Linares said. “I am still having some problems, but now I can lift it up. They do the exercises and give me some exercises for me to do at home. They are students, but they have a leader that is checking to make sure they are doing the right thing. They are doing a great job.”

Steven Hightshue, a third-year physical therapy doctoral student, is a student leader in the program and has been working with it since the developmental stages about a year ago. He said he sees the benefits for students and patients.

“We’re able to take what we’re learning in the classroom and apply it to an actual patient,” he said. “For the patient, they’re receiving free services from us and they’re able to interact with someone who is getting ready to become a physical therapist.”

Patterson said the clinic also teaches students an important lesson.

“The most unique thing about this clinic is the ability for our students to realize that giving back to the community is probably going to be one of the most rewarding things you ever get to do,” he said. “All the years and all the hard work that all the folks at Goods News Clinic put into developing that program just set us up for a perfect collaboration.”

Patterson said the experience is also unique for patients.

“They rarely get in a setting where they work with a provider that is as energetic and excited about helping others as our students are,” Patterson said. “They have fresh technical information and the opportunity to use that with a population that wants to get better, needs to get better. You just don’t have that in the real world settings they’re going to experience in a hospital or an outpatient clinic.”