TSU is First HBCU to Open Student-Run Physical, Occupational Therapy Clinic - Higher Education
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TSU is First HBCU to Open Student-Run Physical, Occupational Therapy Clinic

by Sammy G. Allen

Student Janae Swift (right)

This week marks a historic first for Tennessee State University as it becomes the first historically Black college or university to open a student-run physical and occupational therapy clinic.

The clinic, which is part of the College of Health Sciences, opens Aug. 30 and is located in the basement of Clement Hall on the main campus.

It will mainly handle cases such as knee injuries, shoulder pain and lower back pain. The more serious cases will be referred out to local clinics.

“The ultimate goal is to serve the community, inclusive of TSU as well as the surrounding communities,” said Dr. Andrea Tyler, director of Graduate Student Services and Graduate STEM Research. “It provides the students a more hands-on type of instruction as it relates to the clinicals.”

TSU students, faculty and staff will be the initial patients. The clinic will serve as a referral source for physical and occupational therapy clinics in the area.

Dr. Rick Clark, assistant professor of physical therapy at TSU, will oversee the program, which joins 37 other student-run physical therapy clinics nationwide. Clark said the fact that the clinic is student-run is what he likes most about it.

“It’s a teaching opportunity for them,” said Clark, who was in the military for 25 years and ran multiple clinics. “I want them to not only be great therapists, but if they want to go out and start their own clinic, they now have a better understanding of what is involved in doing that.”

Dr. Andrea Tyler

Clark added that the clinic’s “primary emphasis is on outpatient orthopedic and sports injuries, with the ability to treat neurological conditions on a case-by-case basis.”

Janae Swift of Memphis is in her second year of TSU’s doctor of physical therapy program. A fellow in TSU’s POTUS (Preparing our Tomorrows Uniquely in STEM) program, she heads the 12-member board of students who will operate the clinic.

“This is an amazing experience,” said Swift, who plans to operate her own facility one day. “I love the opportunity to serve, to give back, especially to the faculty and students, and the TSU community as a whole.”

Dr. Ronald Barredo, dean of the College of Health Sciences, said he’s looking forward to the clinic’s impact at the 107-year-old university.

“I think it will help tremendously with regard to the local community, our campus community,” Barredo said. “The clinic would not have been possible without the support of TSU’s POTUS Fellows program, which aims to provide POTUS Fellows with opportunities that will empower them to excel in their academic programs. The plans are, once this gets into full gear, we want to extend this outward to the community to provide care for the underserved, uninsured and underinsured.”

Clark said that without Tyler’s support through federal grant funding, the program “would not be possible.”

U.S. Department of Education Title 3 grant funds for land-grant schools pay for supplies, equipment and one POTUS fellow, Tyler said.

“The POTUS Fellowship supports African-Americans in areas of STEM where they are underrepresented. That particular fellowship supports them by paying their tuition, stipends, supplies and conferences,” said Tyler, who has degrees in engineering and higher education.

“I came to TSU from the University of Dayton,” a predominantly White institution, she noted. “Being a Black female in STEM, it’s always been my passion to address the underrepresentation, particularly of females, in the STEM areas. That’s one reason I came to TSU, seeking a wider availability of minorities in STEM. Even though it’s an HBCU, we are still a minority. In trying to address that, this program was written.”

Dr. Rick Clark

TSU is building a state-of-the-art health sciences facility that’s expected to be complete next year, and the physical therapy/occupational therapy clinic will become part of it.

“This project will not only bring together a number of excellent programs under one roof – nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, cardiorespiratory care and health information management – but will also be a hub for collaborative practice, community service and clinical research,” Barredo said.

The clinic will join the Department of Dental Hygiene and the Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology as a community outreach healthcare clinic. The dental clinic provides service to nearly 600 patients a year, including faculty and students, as well as the Nashville community.

“In physical therapy, in the third year, students are required to go out and work in a real-life clinical setting. They are matched with a clinical rotation and get their hands-on experience,” Tyler explained. “Basically, the clinic is going to lend itself to the curriculum that is being taught the first and second years. So those first- and second- year students can get hands-on experience prior to them going out and getting the required clinical experience in that third year. It also provides, from a TSU and community standpoint, for the students to engage with the community and provide a service.”

Tyler said some students, like Swift, have expressed interest in owning or operating a physical therapy clinic once they graduate.

“So,” Tyler said, “this also gives them an opportunity, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, to run a clinic, to manage a clinic and to oversee a clinic – the whole leadership aspect.”

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