You can learn how the body is put together, memorize the muscles and tendons of the shoulder, practice feeling a pulse or stretching a calf, but how do you learn to talk to someone who is chronically sick, or to a frightened child? How do you develop a caring attitude? How do you educate empathy?
What does it take to become a good health care provider? Knowledge, sure. Critical thinking, too. And technical skills.
But a kind heart, an attentive ear and a compassionate soul are all at least equally important, though they may be more difficult to teach. At Carroll, there is a growing emphasis on the “care” in health care and numerous efforts underway to build compassionate, well-rounded students.
Craig Joerres has dark curly hair, a warm smile and a genuine affection for the students and faculty at Carroll’s Therapeutic Abilities Clinic. “I love it here,” he said. “I don’t like to miss this. I get so much value from it.” He’s been coming to TAC for six years now, maneuvering his wheelchair into the Sentry Building clinic every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. When he arrives on this Thursday afternoon, he’s warmly greeted by faculty and students. Spend time here, and it’s hard to know who benefits most from his visits.
Joerres suffered a stroke at age 42. He’s accepted now, he says, that he is never going to get that life or that body, pre-stroke, back. “No,” he explained. “My only interest is in my quality of life.” Which is why he comes, twice a week, to work with students in Carroll’s Physical Therapy Program.
Here, he’s paired with students who will spend a semester at the clinic. For nearly four months, they will work with him, gently guiding movements, recording his progress, listening to his feedback, joking back and forth.
“We’ve made some great gains—small gains, yes—but positive ones, over the years,” said Joerres. Those gains mean small but measurable improvements in his quality of life. That keeps him coming. That, and the laughter.
“I am kind of known for joking around and giving the kids a hard time,” he admitted.
More importantly, he is sharing his experience as a stroke victim with these students. Working with him and with the other three dozen clients who attend the clinic, they experience real bodies with disabilities and other health issues. This is far different from practicing on themselves or on each other in class. This is real life.
“We definitely need each other,” said graduate PT student Malerie Kurt ’15. “I’m just so grateful to the members of the community who come to our clinic and facilitate this experience for us. By being able to apply what you have learned to someone who isn’t completely healthy, you learn so much more.”
You also learn to give. “This program does that, it teaches us that giving back to the community is important,” said Kurt. “That’s such a big part of Carroll’s mission.” The training may be professionally oriented, but the lessons extend to all parts of life.
Students start the semester getting to know their clients, by conducting interviews with them and consulting with notes left by previous classes and other students who may have worked with the person. In so doing, they practice the collaborative process that will mark their professional life. And, while they may begin by seeing a disability, they quickly come to see a whole person. Bonds are forged during the semester, the casual laughter and friendly joking building intimacy. Joerres noted that he has attended several commencement ceremonies over the years to support his new friends on their big day.
Gary Schoenicke has been coming to the clinic for three years. “It doesn’t seem that long,” he said. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Schoenicke has cerebral palsy. When a job ended several years ago, he lost more than employment, he lost the opportunity to spend time around other people. The clinic, which is free, provides him with valuable therapy, but the time he gets to spend among the students and other clients is priceless.
“We’re here to provide wellness services to clients with neurological issues,” said adjunct lecturer Kris Erickson. “And part of one’s wellness is your social life. It’s not just the students and clients bonding, the clients bond with one another and with their families.”
“You don’t realize what a benefit this is for us,” Schoenicke agreed. “When my work stopped, I missed that social life so much. So I try to give back and help (the students). I let them know how I’m feeling, what feels right and what doesn’t. It benefits us both.”
Unsaid but just as important, it benefits the men, women and children these students will one day treat as professional physical therapists.