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New physical therapy clinic run by students

STAR clinic
DPT students Matt Connor (left) and Alex Sexton (right) show a patient the different parts of the knee joint and how they function in a healthy individual.

A new physical therapy clinic on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus is serving the community while offering students in the university's Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program real-world experience.

Patients for the Student-led Therapy and Rehab (STAR) clinic are selected by The Community Helping Place, a nonprofit organization serving Lumpkin County residents in need. Once recommended by the organization and accepted by the clinic, these patients enter the care of three DPT students for hour-long therapy sessions, supervised by faculty members of the program.

"The biggest help the STAR clinic is offering is a treatment option for people who have serious problems, such as orthopedic or neurologic issues, as we sometimes don't have long-term treatment options for these people," said Paula Payne, clinic director for The Community Helping Place. "Having this option is really great, and it's proving to be a wonderful collaboration. The patients have been very pleased so far."

The faculty advisors of the clinic, who are all licensed physical therapists, can oversee a maximum of three students at one time, allowing for a close-knit, hands-on environment that will help the students take their learning to the next level. The clinic involves DPT students of all levels, and the arrangement allows for patients to receive high-quality care free of cost, and provides students the opportunity to practice clinical skills and patient relations in a controlled setting.

"We are in class eight hours a day practicing on healthy classmates; this will radically transform our learning experience because we will be working with real patients with real issues," said Michael Petron, one of the third-year DPT students who helped come up with the idea for the clinic. "This experience will be really helpful for gaining confidence in the workplace, and will make our program at UNG so much more marketable to prospective students."

Petron, along with students Emily Dearing, Ronnie Pierce, Clay Power, and Dr. Don Walsh, associate professor of physical therapy, saw a need for physical therapy services in the uninsured and under-served populations of Lumpkin County. Petron said the idea for the clinic was born when they paired that need with the desire for students to gain more hands-on experience to supplement their academic curriculum.

"It's an incredible opportunity for students to learn how to administer a clinic," said Dr. Mary Ellen Franklin, head of UNG's Department of Physical Therapy. "It's something I would have liked to have experienced during my time as a student."

Walsh said they hope to expand the clinic's operation and services in the future.

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