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Clínica Esperanza Provides Student-Driven Health Care for the Underserved

Physical Therapy students, supervised by faculty, serve at Clínica Esperanza, a primary care clinic launched by the UTHSC College of Medicine that provides care to uninsured and underserved Hispanic or Latinx patients in Memphis.

Part of the Department of Physical Therapy’s mission is to meet the physical therapy needs of society by advancing the profession through education, research, service, and patient care. This is made apparent through many areas of the program, including its public service within Clínica Esperanza, also known as the Clinic of Hope.

Clínica Esperanza, with the support of Christ Community Health Services, is a primary care clinic serving uninsured and underserved, Hispanic or Latinx patients in Memphis. Launched by the UTHSC College of Medicine in 2005, the clinic aims to enhance care to those who are often experiencing obstacles with language and communication, transportation, access to affordable health care, and other barriers. Student volunteers operate the clinic and provide hands-on services, under the supervision of faculty, every Tuesday at Christ Community’s facility.

The services students provide include updating patient records, interviewing and examining patients, and translating Spanish. From its inception with the College of Medicine, to bringing on the College of Pharmacy, this past year the clinic has grown through a partnership with the Physical Therapy program.

Chance Arnold

Third-year DPT student Chance Arnold, president of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2023, led the proposal for the program to support Clínica Esperanza and expand physical therapy services to the clinic’s patients.

“When I came to UTHSC, after being involved through high school and college, I looked for service opportunities,” Arnold said. “In 2020, I read about Clínica Esperanza and saw that it was written out for medical students, and knowing about physical therapy’s impact on patient life, I was curious why physical therapy wasn’t mainstream in the clinic.”

At that time, Arnold connected with the student president for the College of Medicine and began shadowing at the clinic to see if patients would benefit from physical therapy. In 2022, Arnold saw an opportunity within the program’s service-learning project and gathered interested patients, physical therapy students, and faculty to discuss the vision for providing physical therapy care in the clinic. After submitting their proposal, student volunteers and faculty have been consistently providing care in the clinic.

“The faculty and staff in the PT department have been nothing but supportive and helpful in the entire process,” he said. “And seeing how eager and engaged the second-year and first-year classes are in this process with continuing this on, it builds what the PT program has to offer for its incoming students, as well as the collaboration experience we receive working alongside medical and pharmacy students and seeing the growth in patients’ quality of life. It’s a wonderful experience and one of the most interprofessional experiences you could get while studying at UTHSC.”

Guest lectures and educational sessions are also held for students and volunteers serving in the clinic.

In the clinic, physical therapy students provide care including examining, giving treatment plans, and providing rehabilitation, preventative, and wellness initiatives to patients. Medical, pharmacy, and physical therapy students also participate in educational sessions at the clinic, amplifying collaboration and clinical education across the various fields.

“What the students gain here is extremely valuable. They gain more experience in doing evaluation and treatment of real patients,” said Richard Kasser, PT, PhD, associate professor and associate dean for Student Affairs. “It is also valuable that we’re on an interprofessional situation where students can learn from one another.”

“As faculty, we’re considered supervised therapists, and it’s an incredible experience to work with patients, provide a treatment plan, and follow up weeks later and hear ‘we’re free of pain,’” said Carlos Clardy, PT, DPT, instructor in the Department of Physical Therapy. “We really want to thank our students because they have been very instrumental in ensuring we’re a part of this, and seeing how they truly care about their patients, I absolutely love it, and it’s a part of that calling of physical therapy.”

Clínica Esperanza is open on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Christ Community Health Services Broad Avenue Health Center at 2861 Broad Ave. in Memphis. The program seeks to increase the number of clinic volunteers, including interpreters, to help with translating at the clinic. To volunteer with the clinic, contact clinicaesperanza@uthsc.edu.

This story was initially published in the Spring 2023 issue of Health Professions Magazine.