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High school students gain graduate-level experience

DPT interns
Varun Rangnekar (left) of Johns Creek High School works with several DPT students in learning palpation methods, which physical therapists sometimes use to feel for injuries and other bodily issues.

Six high school students from Fulton and Forsyth counties are taking advantage of a summer internship in the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Department of Physical Therapy that is providing experiences usually not available until graduate school.

In a 10-week program, Vaishnavi Bavadekar, Shriya Athalye and Atharva Athalye of Alpharetta High School, Rohan Rege and Aditya Bhave of South Forsyth High School, and Varun Rangnekar of Johns Creek High School get the chance to learn about anatomy, physical assessment skills, dissection, and other similar medical topics while being mentored by students in UNG's Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

"We wanted to move beyond community engagement to give high school students a chance to gain knowledge and experience that is very difficult to find before graduate school," said Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of UNG's College of Health Sciences & Professions. "These 10 weeks will greatly inform the choices these students make for their schooling and their careers, which is very valuable at this stage of their lives."

Kerr met the students during presentations representing the Georgia Thrombosis Forum, an affiliate of the North American Thrombosis Forum, which strives to educate communities about the dangers of thrombosis — a condition where a blood clot can occur and stop blood from flowing in tissues and vital organs. The students showed great interest in the opportunity to visit UNG's Dahlonega Campus to make use of DPT learning spaces and equipment. They are learning many of the skills and concepts directly from DPT students, which Dr. Atul Laddu, founder of the Georgia Thrombosis Forum, said can offer the high school students an immersion experience that is useful for "all-around development."

"The ability to describe concepts in physical therapy to another individual is important, because I will need to be able to describe these things to patients, so this is very valuable practice," said Mariah James, a first-year student in UNG's DPT program. "Building leadership and mentor skills with the high school students is also very important, as I will need to lead my patients in their recovery, such as continuing their exercises inside and outside the therapy facility."

James added that this is an invaluable opportunity for the high school students, and that she would have relished the same opportunity during her years in high school.

"I definitely want to go pre-med, and having this experience — specifically dissection skills, for me — is a wonderful opportunity," Bavadekar said. "It's hard to find experience like this even in undergraduate programs, let alone high school."

UNG introduced its DPT program in 1992, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The program accepts 30 students each year, and from 2007 to 2015, graduates of the program achieved a 97 percent licensure exam pass rate.

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