Clinton Serafino and Timothy Serrano, students in the physical therapy doctoral program at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), were two of the three physical therapy students in North Carolina to win Albert Schweitzer Fellowships for 2011-2012.
These two students will join approximately 240 other graduate students who will be serving as Schweitzer Fellows at 13 program sites throughout the country. A total of 24 students selected from North Carolina will partner with community-based organizations to develop and implement yearlong, mentored services projects that sustainably address health disparities in communities across the state. Their Schweitzer project work will be in addition to their regular graduate school responsibilities.
Serafino and Serrano will be conducting a project to bring pediatric physical therapy screening services to the underserved populations in the eastern areas of Winston-Salem using WSSU’s mobile unit, RAMS Know HOW, and the latest iPad technology. They are the second and third Fellows to be named from WSSU’s physical therapy program.
“Most children in our target population have access to medical care through Medicaid, but that may not include easy access to the screenings, evaluations and educational efforts our physical therapy students will be providing,” said Dr. Dora Sole, who served as the students’ advisor in developing the project. “These students will be working with infants and pre-schoolers in the mornings and with children up to 18 years old in the afternoons when they arrive back from school. In addition to evaluating such things as motor skills, they will be working with older children in such areas as healthy lifestyles and recommended physical activities.”
Serafino admits that he did not truly understand the need for or the importance of pediatric therapy until he began working on this project.
“After our first test session, I was hooked,” he said. “I realized that if we can catch problems early, it can make a huge difference in the lives of these children. We know that limitations in one area can affect progress and development in a multitude of other areas. Sometimes, however, it is important to just educate mothers on what their children should be doing at specific ages.”
Serrano, on the other hand, has always enjoyed working with children and even initially planned to work with them.
“So, this opportunity was perfect for me,” Serrano explained. “I also appreciate the approach the Schweitzer Fellows program takes. The organization fosters openness and creativity and is there to help us continue to develop our project.”
The first step the students had to take was the research necessary to develop the scope and logistics of the project to be sure that they were meeting the needs of the community they sought to serve. After determining need in the community and the numbers they could possibly serve, they worked with a medical director to develop the scope of services to be offered. Then came the work necessary to establish a referral network to serve the children who required further medical help.
“While we have the opportunity to continue developing and refining our project, we know that the goal is to have a sustainable program,” said Serrano. “We have a great template for that in Alex Stovall’s project at the Community Care Clinic.”
Stovall was WSSU’s first Schweitzer Fellow and in 2009 his project created an on-going physical therapy service at the Community Care Clinic. Even though Serrano is a coordinator of that effort for the physical therapy students, the Community Care Clinic cannot see the children he and Serafino are targeting because they don’t have insurance through Medicaid.
“As students at WSSU, we also have access to other resources within the university,” said Serafino. “Our healthcare management students helped with our needs assessment, waivers and marketing. Occupational therapy students are available for educational programs such as working with students on how to properly use backpacks to keep from creating injuries.”
“Also, we will be using some of the technology we have at the university such as iPads that will translate for children or their parents who do not speak English,” said Serrano as he demonstrated how the iPad program works for medical translations. “It is great because it doesn’t just give you the translation, it actually says it for you so anyone can ask a patient how long their foot has been hurting or if they have an injury. It also will allow us to print instructions for all parents so they don’t have to rely on their memories and that helps ensure they will follow any recommendations more correctly.”
In addition to providing the screenings, education and referrals if necessary, the students have to demonstrate the effectiveness of the work and a measurable impact on the community they are serving to the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
“We would love to track every child we see,” said Serrano. “In reality, we will target 10 to 20 children for follow-up to see if we did provide help and if there were things we could do differently. We want to be sure this project is improving the lives of the children and the community.”