Early service learning opportunities for first and second year physical therapy students: A collaborative partnering with community based falls prevention programs


Institutions of higher education often encourage service learning as complements to their mission, while providing opportunities for practical applications of educational curriculum.1-3 Collaboration between community based entities and institutions may facilitate win-win opportunities. Government departments or entities on aging often sponsor community based fall prevention programs as 1/3 of adults 65 and older will experience a fall.4-7. However, an ongoing challenge is finding healthcare providers to assist with these programs. A viable option may be entry-level physical therapist students. The purpose of this report is to describe how student participation in a community-based falls reduction program effects their physical therapy education.


Fifty-seven first and second year physical therapist students (RMU-SPT) participated in a collaborative partnership with the Utah County Health Department (UCHD) in Provo, Utah. UCHD sponsors the Stepping On program, a seven-week community based falls prevention program offered to adults 60 and older. RMU-SPT were trained by licensed physical therapist faculty members regarding program activities prior to assisting UCHD with the Stepping On program. RMU-SPT assisted with: 1) instructing participants with balance and strengthening exercises; 2) monitoring participant adherence and progression to program activities; and 3) instructing participants in ambulating with an assistive device. Following participation, RMU-SPT were asked to reflect on their service learning experience via an electronic survey. Responses were evaluated for recurrent themes in assessing the educational value of this program.


UCHD coordinators reported that: 1) RMU-SPT are a viable option and improved their ability to provide the Stepping On program in local communities; 2) participants received personalized instruction, and 3) professionalism and attention to detail was demonstrated by RMU-SPT.

Collaborative partnering between UCHD sponsoring the Stepping On program and RMU-SPT provided educational opportunities for early acquisition of procedural and declarative knowledge components requisite for task performance.8 Specifically opportunities to: 1) develop professionalism and value of service to community 2) perform age specific tasks learned in courses, 3) communicate in lay terminology, 4) observe activity performance and provide appropriate feedback, 5) problem solve when activities were to simplistic or complex, and 6) apply concepts and principles of exercise and balance.

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

Service learning opportunities for physical therapist students provide valuable learning experiences in the development of future clinicians. Educationally, participation can provide valued understanding of didactic concepts through supervised application and the value of community service. Future research may include exploring other service learning opportunities that provide educational opportunities in the development of the physical therapist student.


1. Knapp TD.; Bradley JF (2010). "The Effectiveness of Service-Learning: It's not always what you think". Journal of Experiential Education. 3 33: 208–224
2. Gazsi GC, Oriel KN. The impact of a Service Learning Experience to Enhance Curricular Integration in a Physical Therapist Education Program. Journal of Allied Health, 2010: 39(2): 61-67.
3. Tinetti ME, Speechley M, Ginter SF. Risk factors for falls among elderly persons living in the community. N Engl J Med. 1988 Dec 29;319(26):1701-7.
4. Shumway-Cook A, Gruber W, Baldwin M, Liao S. The effect of multidimensional exercises on balance, mobility, and fall risk in community-dwelling older adults. Phys Ther. 1997 Jan;77(1):46-57.
5. Rubenstein LZ. Falls in older people: epidemiology, risk factors and strategies for prevention. Age Ageing. 2006 Sep;35 Suppl 2:ii37-ii41.
6. Tinetti ME, Kumar C. The patient who falls: “It’s always a trade-off”. JAMA. 2010 Jan 20;303(3):258-66.
7. Soriano TA, DeCherrie LV, Thomas DC. Falls in the community-dwelling older adult: a review for primary-care providers. Clin Interv Aging. 2007;2(4):545-54.
8. Sugrue, B. (2013, March 6). A learning science alternative to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Learning Solutions Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com

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  • Control #: 2290701
  • Type: Posters
  • Event/Year: ELC2015
  • Authors: Dr. James McWhorter
  • Keywords:

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