The North Broad Physical Therapy Center (NBPTC) started as a dream among physical therapy faculty 15 years ago. The idea came closer to reality in 2014, after a group of PT students returned from a service trip to Guatemala and felt they needed to do something to help underserved communities in Philadelphia. They envisioned a pro bono clinic with care provided by doctoral PT students under the supervision of licensed physical therapists acting as clinical mentors. Thanks to recent support from the College of Public Health, as well as contributions by students, faculty and staff, that dream finally came to life earlier this year.
Since the clinic opened in January 2016, it has demonstrated a gap in healthcare: The minimal health insurance plans that many people have do not cover the physical therapy services they need but cannot afford. The clinic is open two evenings a week and treats as many patients as the schedule allows. More than 90 students are now involved, and there’s already a client waiting list. “The NBPTC is a beautiful model for training students while providing an important service to the community,” says David Sarwer, associate dean for research at the college.
The clinic is also becoming an exemplar of interdisciplinary healthcare. In addition to its core physical therapy practice, it has begun to include pharmacy, medical and dental students who can provide additional services to clients during the same visit. “We know that client needs are multifaceted,” says Mary Sinnott, associate professor of physical therapy and faculty advisor to the clinic. “The objective is to bring professional students from different disciplines around the common goal of improving the health and well-being of the client.”
One NBPTC client is Lisa Hardy, a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia who lives in North Philadelphia. Last spring, Hardy received physical therapy for neck and back pain, but her insurance covered only a limited number of sessions. “I have a pinched nerve, and it was really getting to me,” she says. Her pain had stopped responding to medication, so her primary care physician suggested the clinic.
During her sessions at the clinic, the care team gave Hardy exercises to do at home and talked through the rationale behind everything they did. “That’s what I liked the most—being part of their learning process,” Hardy says. “Sometimes people don’t have experience in certain areas, but others do. So I figure working together is beneficial.”
Besides gaining experience, the students here are demonstrating how efficacious physical therapy can be in helping clients reduce their reliance on medications and regain the abilities they had previously. Hardy says that after her sessions at the clinic, she saw results immediately, and her symptoms have not returned since. “Each week I was taking less and less pain medication, and I don’t take any now.”