Student Physical Therapists Can Play a Positive Role in the Health and Well-being of Community Dwelling Older Adults: A Case Report


The Service Learning Experience (SLE) was developed in 2010 at the University of Southern California (USC) to provide educational opportunities for students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program to learn about social responsibility, advocacy, and the importance of life-long civic engagement through active participation in purposeful volunteer community service. All USC DPT students complete at least 12 hours of community service as part of their SLE.1 This case describes the SLE of a second year student who acted as a "buddy and coach" to an 88-year old community-dwelling adult with a complex medical and social history. The case highlights how service learning provides a meaningful and relevant clinical experience that augments didactic and clinical education.


The patient was seen by a second year DPT student completing a clinical affiliation at the faculty practice, USC PT Associates. Once the student identified that the patient's primary barriers to improved physical function were in the home environment, the CI and student developed an SLE, including student learning goals and patient wellness goals, that would complement the patient's PT plan of care.


The student saw the patient at USC PT Associates for skilled physical therapy services and at the patient's home for a "buddy and coach" experience for a total of 13 visits over the course of four months. The student kept daily notes and an exercise log during the service learning portion of his experience, and as his CI, I provided oversight. The student provided updates on the patient's status, progress towards goals, and future directions approximately every three to four home visits.

At the end of the SLE, the following patient goals were achieved: 1) the home environment was de-cluttered so that walkways in his bedroom were clear of obstacles, 2) a consistent exercise program was established that the patient could recall and complete independently, including a walking program five times per week, and 3) meaningful activities at home were identified, including the patient writing his “life story,” as a way for him to remain cognitively engaged.

Student learning goals achieved included: 1) the cognitive skill of identifying home safety hazards and devising strategies to decrease falls risk, 2) the psychomotor skill of therapeutic exercise instruction for a patient with multiple co-morbidities and cognitive impairment, and 3) the affective skill of identifying contextual factors and psycho-emotional barriers to the patient's health and wellness.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Shaping the Future of Physical Therapy Education

This case exemplifies how the SLE is an avenue through which at-risk community-dwelling adults may receive free social support and physical wellness counseling from student physical therapists. Other physical therapy programs are encouraged to consider implementing service learning as part of their program requirements as a means of providing a unique and meaningful learning experience in the area of health promotion and wellness.


1. University of Southern California, Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. Service Learning website. Accessed April 19, 2014.

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  • Control #: 2248381
  • Type: Posters
  • Event/Year: ELC2015
  • Authors: Dr. Noriko Yamaguchi
  • Keywords:

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