Student-Led Initiatives: Reimagining Physical Therapy Education with a Culture of Personal Sustainability
Purpose: To illustrate a series of student driven strategies to fully integrate concepts of sustainability throughout physical therapy education that target student and faculty well-being on individual and community levels. Description: While physical therapy curricula traditionally focus on the cognitive domain of learning covering health and wellness topics, the academic rigor imposes significant challenges for students to balance academic success with physical fitness, nutrition, and sleep. This demanding schedule often results in a suboptimal culture falling short of health and wellness ideals. Adopting a framework of personal sustainability with an eco-centric model of care will provide opportunities to address this cycle of stress early in the educational process and ultimately prevent future clinician burnout. Recognizing that health of the individual and society must occur within the context of the environment, the Emory Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program introduces students to theoretical constructs of sustainability with emphasis on individual, professional, and civic roles. Building on previous student initiatives, the Emory DPT Sustainability Club was established as an innovative approach to facilitate partnership with faculty to collectively build a culture of well-being. Complimenting the concurrent curriculum, these initiatives include faculty and student lead fitness activities, novel approaches to nutrition in collaboration with university wide culinary medicine programming, and a mental health awareness campaign with campus counseling services. To evaluate the impact of these initiatives, students developed a comprehensive survey to identify areas of need and guide future initiatives. The survey evaluates student attitudes toward sustainability, experience of well-being, and perceptions of the Emory DPT community’s role in supporting student well-being. Longitudinal and cross-sectional data will be gathered across classes to track students as they progress through the program. Outcomes will help guide and refine future initiatives to better equip students to inspire healthy and sustainable cultural change in their future communities after graduation. Summary of Use: By integrating a sustainability and well-being survey tool with experiential sustainability and wellness programming, the Emory DPT program will promote lasting positive change in graduate students. This vision for sustainable DPT education and associated programming will serve as a framework for other graduate health science programs. A cultural, eco-centric approach to sustainable physical therapy education will foster a more prepared network of future clinicians with well-being and sustainable practice at the forefront. Importance to Members: Adopting theoretical models of sustainability can guide the development of innovative strategies to cultivate cultures of well-being within the demanding DPT educational environment. Building foundations of personal health and wellness skills in DPT curricula may reduce future clinician burn-out and improve patient-centered care.