In 2010, the physical therapy students in the doctorate program at the University of Evansville were itching to put their skills to use. After spending a summer working with licensed physical therapists practicing out-patient therapy, two students decided they could do more.
“Their idea was to start a free clinic,” says Mary Kessler, dean of the college of education and health sciences. “I was chair of the physical therapy programs at the time … and in a leadership role, I felt like I couldn’t say no. I had to say yes and empower them to do this.”
Nine years later, the Ace CARE pro bono program still continues at the university, offering not only out-patient therapy with Ace + PT but two other programs to vulnerable populations including the underinsured, uninsured, and homeless in Evansville — ACErcise, a group exercise session for those with neurological conditions, and AceBuddies, a program that works with children and young adults with special needs.
Second year PT student and Illinois native Tyler Heflin has worked in all three Ace CARE programs and currently serves as co-coordinator of ACErcise. For him, Ace CARE has allowed him to stay centered on his reason for studying physical therapy — the patients.
“I think in school we get so caught up in the classwork and the grades,” says Heflin. “For me, interacting with the patients helps you focus on what really matters.”
“They get to practice their skills right away, which is awesome because whatever they are learning in the classroom, they can turn around that week,” says Katie Whetstone, assistant professor of physical therapy and assistant director of clinical education.
Whetstone, an advisor to the program with Kessler, is a 2012 UE graduate and one of the first students to participate in the Ace CARE Clinic and serve on its board.
Students volunteer for one or all three of the programs — an aspect that makes Ace CARE unique — and are supervised by licensed physical therapists who also donate their time. Ace CARE students complete screenings, plan exercises, and lead activities to help around 50 participants weekly. Ace CARE also is governed by a board of all students.
“The students who are actively involved in the programs never complain about extra hours or feel the burden is too great. I think it speaks to their demonstration of social responsibility,” says Kessler. “It’s all about the therapeutic relationships developed between the student and participant, and empowering the individuals we serve.”