One of the less prominent aspects of residencies is that of community involvement. While areas like research, teaching, and mentoring may highlight a residency, the ability to interact with the community in a non-clinical setting can have just as much of an impact. This involvement can range from doing free screenings to helping out at an athletic event to presenting at a career fair. In all and more of these ways we are educating the community about health-related concerns and growing awareness of physical therapy as a profession.
Several weeks ago, I participated in a high school career fair as part of my orthopaedic residency. I had participated in several events like this in the past with little interest shown by students. This latest event was much more enjoyable in that both students and teachers were regularly coming up to us and asking questions about various aspects of physical therapy as a profession. A key to this success was having something to attract the students. For us, it was a balance assessment and spine model. We had a blue foam pad and a bosu to show different limits of stability with eyes open vs. eyes closed, feet together vs. feet apart, and adding movements to these positions. Both the students and teachers were amazed at how much difficulty they had with maintaining a static position on the blue foam pad with their eyes closed. This allowed us a chance to explain the 3 primary components of balance: eyes, vestibular, and sensori/proprioception. It was really rewarding to see the passion that already existed in some of the students as they were excited to work towards a potential career in physical therapy. Several students were already asking about beginning volunteering hours or finding a job as a tech!
Overall, the career fair was a very enjoyable experience. While we can have a significant impact on people's lives in the clinical setting, the opportunity to reach out to the community for education allows us to increase awareness of what physical therapy has to offer to the public. I recommend that if you are interested in volunteering at a physical therapy booth for some type of event (race, career fair, etc.) that you have some sort of activity for the participants to experience as this provides a draw and conversation starter.
James Heafner DPT, Chris Fox DPT, and Brian Schwabe DPT, CSCS are recent graduates of Saint Louis University's Program in Physical Therapy.