A nine-hour road trip produces new insights into physical therapy

Four physical therapist students were working on their clinical rotations outside Florence, Italy, when they learned that seven of their professors were flying from Boston to Geneva, Switzerland, for the world’s largest international PT conference.

Determined not to miss the opportunity, they rented a car and embarked on a nine-hour road trip through the Alps to join their professors for a weekend dedicated to the latest research and practice protocols.

Their trip, which was financed by alumni donors, was a memorable experience.

On the road to Geneva: (left to right) students Kelsey Hanahan, David Klein, Rosalie Caracciolo, and Lisanne Horwitz.

“While I was getting coffee one morning, I met Emma Stokes, president of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy,” said David Klein, DPT’20. “I was blown away by the fact that as Northeastern students, we had this type of opportunity.”

Klein attended a session on the latest robotics and technology in the field and participated in a round-table discussion about aquatic therapy, led by one of the world’s foremost researchers in the field, Johan Lambeck of The Netherlands. To hold his own among the experts, Klein was able to call upon his experiences during an aquatic therapy co-op in Hawaii.

The World Federation of Physical Therapy Congress on May 10 was equally productive for the seven professor, whose trip was funded by the department and the provost. They presented their own research on topics ranging from how patients with chronic pain experience physical therapy, to the effects of race and ethnicity on hip replacement recipients.

Lorna Hayward moderated a panel of international experts on pediatric physical therapy and plans to incorporate what she learned from Dutch researchers into an annual trip she leads to orphanages in Ecuador.

Diane Fitzpatrick and Ann Golub-Victor, two Northeastern professors, were appointed to the leadership team of an international group studying how PT patients with disabilities are treated around the world.

“This conference is like the Olympics of physical therapy,” said professor Christopher Cesario, who organized the trip. “It’s an opportunity for our faculty to present their scholarship on an international stage.”

For Pam Donlan, the conference was a chance to network with international colleagues and learn more about one of the biggest trends in physical therapy: preventive care.

(left to right) Professors Chris Cesario, Marie Corkery, Pam Donlan, Ann Golub-Victor, and Diane Fitzpatrick.

“The takeaway for me is that the future of our profession lies, in part, in developing our skills in health and wellness,” she said.  “In the U.S., there is a broad initiative for physical therapists to get involved in preventive healthcare. This paradigm is being adopted on a worldwide level.”

She was particularly interested in a session on how sleep affects physical therapy outcomes. It’s essential, she said, for physical therapists to understand how good sleep habits can help prevent injury and reduce the lung and cardiovascular ailments that often drive the need for PT interventions.

The networking paid off when one of the Swiss researchers sent her an enlightening study about the role physical therapists can play in sleep education. She plans to incorporate what she learned into her classes in coming semesters.

“This research is shaping the nature of our profession,” she said.